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Ugly loss an all-around failure

Woeful offense, unopportunistic defense fail to minimize damage of Chiefs' fluky TD

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

10:59 PM CST, December 4, 2011

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Go ahead and pinpoint the Hail Mary touchdown pass as the difference in the Bears' 10-3 loss Sunday to the Chiefs at Soldier Field, and mathematically, nobody can argue.

But the Bears weren't beaten by an answered Chiefs prayer. They were beaten by their own Godforsaken offense.

Blaming one play for the Bears' second straight loss obscures how dangerously thin this team's margin for error has become on both sides of the ball in the wake of Jay Cutler's thumb injury.

Years from now we still will shake our heads at Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster catching the desperation 38-yard pass that ricocheted off the hands of Chris Conte and Brian Urlacher on the final play before halftime. The highlight reminded Chiefs coach and former Bears assistant Todd Haley of a similar catch in 2001 by ex-Bear James Allen in the same corner of the north end zone during a win over the Browns.

It reminded me of the last time the Bears failed to overcome a bad play in the final minute of the first half, seven days earlier. That one was an interception, this was a touchdown pass and in both cases the Bears showed how poorly they respond to adversity in the Caleb Hanie era.

Sure, that play hurt, but good offenses and opportunistic defenses find ways to minimize the damage of flukes. The Bears had neither at their disposal on a day everything that could go wrong for them did.

They lost running back Matt Forte and safety Major Wright to injuries. Reliable kicker Robbie Gould missed a makable field goal. Expendable wide receiver Roy Williams let a potential tying touchdown pass slip through his hands. The defense dropped interceptions; the special teams produced more penalty flags than excitement.

And Hanie was Hanie, which meant too often he resembled Chad Hutchinson running the 2004 Bears.

During the week, the Bears laughed when they couldn't remember the name of Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko. "Plank something,'' Israel Idonije cracked. Yet Hanie looked like the one the NFL will forget first.

Not all of Hanie's shakiness can be attributed to Forte's loss. He held on to the ball too long on several of the Chiefs' seven sacks — aided by Mike Martz's rogue return to the seven-step drop. Martz also didn't help Hanie by neglecting rollouts and commemorating Earl Bennett's contract extension by ignoring him in the game plan. Not coincidentally, the offense went 0-for-11 on third down.

Those of us expecting Hanie to make plays overestimated his ability to turn glimpses of growth into quarters of consistency. The Bears still have no alternative but to stick with Hanie as the starter, but as much as Lovie Smith likes his quarterbacks, I would call Donovan McNabb McNow.

"We're going to evaluate our situation and see where we go from here,'' Smith said. "Don't blame one guy for this loss."

Unless that guy is Smith. Teams that show up listless in every phase indict the head coach, and the sleepy Bears played this game as if corporate pitchman Smith passed out bottles of NyQuil at the pregame meal. By the time the Bears awoke from their stupor, a wild-card berth remained realistic but because of the relative weakness of the NFC more than their own strengths.

What are those strengths again? Oh, yeah.

"If we don't get takeaways, we aren't going to win many games,'' Urlacher said.

Even with Urlacher's defense not forcing turnovers and Hanie's offense not moving the chains, the Bears could have tied the game with 4:10 left had Williams concentrated on catching the ball more than absorbing the hit.

"I make that play all the time, but I just saw it late,'' Williams said of the drop that safety Jon McGraw intercepted. "This was tough. They're a good football team.''

No, they aren't. They are a 5-7 team playing on the road with a UFL quarterback who came in with six interceptions in two starts and left with no turnovers and a victory. I asked Williams what another drop did to his confidence.

"My confidence is sky high,'' Williams said. "I was waiting on the ball first, second, third quarter. Just waiting. Things like (the drop) are going to happen.''

Sorry, the only thing sky high should be the jet carrying Williams out of town. Chris Harris had more football capital built up at Halas Hall before the Bears cut him for poor play. Nothing would give the Bears a late-season jolt they need like dumping a guy with accountability problems.

Suddenly the Bears have more problems than solutions.

"We haven't played football like that this year,'' Smith said.

If the Bears play like that again, next year will be here before you know it.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh