By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
9:44 PM CDT, September 25, 2011
If the Bears were looking for something to hang their hats on Sunday, the Packers locker room was full of players saying the 89-yard punt return for a touchdown by Johnny Knox was the greatest play they've ever witnessed.
Too bad a holding penalty against Corey Graham will prevent it from being remembered for the ages.
It beats what the Packers could have been saying about the Bears after they rolled to a 27-17 victory at Soldier Field in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates. Now, talk this week will center on how once again Mike Martz's offense came close to entering the franchise's record books for futility.
At 1-2, the Bears are searching for an offensive identity and they're two games back of the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and upstart Lions in the NFC North.
A week after there were just 12 rushes and 11 running plays called in a beat down at New Orleans, the Bears had 12 rushes and called only nine running plays. They managed only 13 yards rushing, the fewest in franchise history since at least 1960, and 12 more than they had on Oct. 26, 1952, against the Los Angeles Rams. The 12 carries tied for the second-fewest ever.
Have you seen this game plan before?
"I don't audible," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who propped up the running totals with three scrambles for 11 yards. "You're going to have to ask someone else about that. I don't do the game plan."
OK. Can it work?
"We are 0-2 doing this," Cutler said. "So, it's not looking very good."
Matt Forte carried nine times for 2 yards. He was stopped in the backfield for a loss on six of the carries behind the makeshift offensive line general manager Jerry Angelo said he went to all lengths to upgrade.
"We took a step back," Forte said. "When we first came out the first week, I felt like we made a couple strides forward in where we are going. Last week, I think we took a little step back and this week we took a major step back."
Martz explained that he went into 2-minute mode too early against the Saints, a story that didn't necessarily fit game circumstances. This time, the Bears struggled with the run early, got behind 17-7 in the second quarter and never got going.
"We didn't run the ball because we weren't able to," said Forte, who was limited to 80 yards on seven receptions. "We just played bad out there. Obviously, when they're shutting the run down, we're going to try to throw the ball a little more. It just didn't happen."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (28-for-38, 297 yards) threw three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant gained 92 yards on 17 carries. Green Bay went up and down the field with ease from the start, reminiscent of the NFC championship game in January, gaining an early 14-0 lead.
While Rodgers patiently picked apart the secondary and the Cover-2 scheme with Greg Jennings, who caught nine passes for 119 yards, the Bears only got a few big plays. Johnny Knox caught four passes for 84 yards and Devin Hester had three for 62 yards.
There were some shots downfield here and there, including a 32-yard touchdown strike to Kellen Davis to bring the Bears within 10 with 11:46 to play, but Martz's crew was out of sync. The Bears converted only 3 of 12 third downs and didn't get it right against a defense that Panthers rookie Cam Newton had shredded a week earlier. Two passes targeted for Roy Williams were picked off by safety Morgan Burnett.
Martz, in the final year of his contract, is an easy target, but he works for Lovie Smith, who is on his third offensive coordinator. Cutler had time to throw and didn't deliver. Blame can be cast to all corners of Halas Hall.
"Offensively, we had opportunities," Smith said.
They even had a chance to make it a game when Knox and Hester orchestrated a brilliant play designed by special teams coordinator Dave Toub.
Knox lined up to jam a gunner at the line and then sprinted back. He fielded Tim Masthay's punt in the corner while Hester pretended to be catching the ball on the other side of the field. Green Bay's coverage team converged on Hester while Knox had an easy 89-yard run for a touchdown, wiped out by a holding call against Graham way away from the play.
If the touchdown had counted, the Bears would have been an onside kick and a field goal away from overtime.
"That was the most incredible play I've ever seen," Rodgers said.
Too bad the Packers were marveling over a play that didn't count.
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