Bears coach Marc Trestman rested his hands on his hips and stared straight ahead as the referee announced another penalty against his team in the fourth quarter. The Bears' mistakes took on many forms Sunday, and when enough accumulated to secure a 26-18 loss to the Saints, the euphoria of last month's undefeated start yielded to a reality instilled by their second straight defeat.
There is a chasm between the Bears and the NFL's elite. It was clear Sunday in the early pass protection breakdowns and a lost fumble. Their six penalties and 12-minute time of possession disadvantage also showed it.
The Saints left Chicago as the only undefeated team in the NFC after the Bears did not quite measure up.
"They deserved to win it," Trestman said. "On our side of it, certainly disappointed in the way we started this game offensively, and that starts with me and accountability to get our guys going the right direction."
Sunday's deficiencies differed from those in their previous defeat. Against the Saints, quarterback Jay Cutler protected the ball better than he did against the Lions, and the defense didn't miss as many tackles. But the offense started slowly because of failures to pick up blitzes, and the defense did not force a takeaway for the first time this season.
Perhaps different problems on the checklist signify the Bears still are a work in progress under their new coach. And perhaps they'll eventually reflect and see no shame in losing to the Saints, who feature one of the NFL's best coach-quarterback combinations and an improved defense.
However, the Bears fancy themselves capable of avoiding the miscues that doomed them Sunday, particularly those on offense in the first half. That notion was the source of their frustration after falling to 3-2.
"It's all about us, quite frankly," Trestman said. "And it usually is."
The Bears chased the game all afternoon because of a sloppy start. They gained only two first downs on their first five series, and the Saints built a 13-0 lead.
On the first play from scrimmage, running back Matt Forte dropped a toss to the left. He appeared to take his eyes off the ball before he caught it. Cutler had to fall on it for a loss of 10 yards, and the Bears punted.
Their second drive was worse. The Saints blitzed two safeties from the left edge, something the Bears did not expect. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod blocked down, leaving safety Malcolm Jenkins unblocked on the outside.
Jenkins sacked Cutler from behind and jarred the ball loose. The Saints recovered at the Bears' 6-yard line and converted the turnover into a field goal.
The Saints sacked Cutler once on each of the next two drives to put the Bears in separate third-and-17 situations. They had not deployed such aggressive blitzes in the first four games, Bushrod said. That surprised the Bears because they had not previously seen them on video.
"When you're not familiar with something, you kind of get — not rattled, but it kind of catches you off guard," Bushrod said.
The Bears eventually sorted out how to account for the blitzes. That, and the fact the Saints played to protect their lead, helped the Bears average 8.0 yards per play — their highest single-game average since September 1989. Receiver Alshon Jeffery set a single-game franchise record with 218 receiving yards on 10 catches.
Defensively, the Bears' failure to force a turnover left incomplete the formula on which they relied to win their first three games. Quarterback Drew Brees (29 of 35, 288 yards) threw both of his touchdown passes in the second quarter to give the Saints a lead they never relinquished.
"He's a smart quarterback," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. "He didn't force anything. That's why we weren't able to get any takeaways. We wanted them to get into a long drive and give us some more opportunities. He took what the defense gave him."
As the Bears took stock of the loss and their season, there was a widespread sense of urgency.
Their home game against the winless Giants on Thursday night presents a challenge to correct the mistakes quickly. Players welcome the opportunity to bridge the gap between the team they are and the team they want to be.
"We're not playing our best ball yet," Bushrod said. "The positives are that we're 3-2 and we still have a lot more work to do. We can still go a long way."
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