The Chicago Bears Continually Fall Inches Short of Success

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Walking through the Chicago Bears clubhouse after their devastating 24-21 loss to the Washington Redskins, I noticed a moment that was the perfect microcosm to what’s become of the 2015 season. It was an ordinary post-game media scrum that was surrounding right tackle Kyle Long, albeit, he was a bit on the frustrated side after a rough game in which he allowed two key sacks, one leading to a fumble. As usual, Long took responsibility for the plays and gave us the typical team leader speak of needing to be better. But what caught my attention was nothing Long said to the reporters that surrounded his locker.

As dozens of microphones and cameras began to disperse from the tightly woven semicircle surrounding Long, I looked over and noticed him staring straight ahead. Then, for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was likely about a minute, I saw the hulking lineman put his head down, looking between his widely spread knees directly at the floor. His hands were folded out in front of his lowered head. In that moment, Kyle Long looked like a beaten man. It’s not that he appeared to lack confidence in himself, or had given up. But he looked as if he just came to the realization that no matter how hard they fight, no matter how close they keep these battles, no matter how much they’ve improved; they are still a team that doesn’t have the inches to consistently win close football games.

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I’m not a fan of the film “Any Given Sunday”. For the most part I find it to be over the top and contrived. But one thing the movie gets right is that football is indeed a game of inches. And in a league where the talent level is so close that the majority of point spreads fall within a score, the difference between a 5-8 team and an 8-5 team are those very inches. And as Al Pacino says in his mostly overrated pregame speech to his Miami Sharks, “The inches we need are everywhere around us”.

Dec 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) attempts to knock the ball down against Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

That was the case for the Bears as they dropped their home record to a dreadful 1-6. Those inches came in the form of just slightly missed passes. Yes, Jay Cutler’s stat line was more than enough to win that football game. The Bears signal caller completed 19 of his 31 passes, threw for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Cutler put up a more than respectable 117.0 QB rating, if that’s your kind of thing. But he also came just precious inches from winning that game twice on the final drive. The first, coming on a 50-yard completion to a wide open Alshon Jeffery. That play put the Bears offense in striking distance in the closing seconds of the ball game, but it was also underthrown just enough that Jeffery had to slow down, turn his body to catch the ball, then turn back up field, giving the defense more than enough time to catch him. If that ball leads Jeffery down the sideline, it’s a Bears victory.

The second coming two plays later when another under-thrown Cutler pass that allowed a defenders hand to get between the ball and Jeffery. Alshon was open on the play, and a perfect pass likely means the end of a Bears win. I don’t say these things to pick on Jay. He was far from the only player failing to get those inches. Had Kyle Long been able to get his right foot just an inch or two over enough to slow down Ryan Kerrigan, Cutler doesn’t get sacked and lose the ball on a drive where the Redskins defense looked confused, out of place and disheveled. If Jeremy Langford cuts out with a wide-open field in front of him instead of cutting in, maybe the Bears find point in a first half drive that would have made the difference. And if Kicker Robbie Gould didn’t choose the last two games to do his best Chuck Knoblauch impersonation, we could be looking at a team that is 7-6 heading into a pivotal week 15 match-up against the 8-5 Vikings.

The problem is those inches are there to be had, they are essential to win, and the Bears can’t seem to find a way to take them. If this roster had inside linebackers capable of making tackles on a regular basis or a healthy wide receiving corp, they wouldn’t need every one of those inches to win football games. But this is the NFL, and that’s what separates the teams that play deep into January and the ones who are spending those weeks planning their draft strategy. The ability to find those inches, take them and not need to steal nearly as many of them as the opposition. Unfortunately for the Bears, they need every inch and when Kyle Long was sitting at his locker with his eyes fixated on the floor, he looked like a man who just realized that reality.