In the Wake of the News
8:20 PM CDT, October 20, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. — After Bears quarterback Jay Cutler stayed on the ground for five seconds Sunday at FedEx Field, left tackle Jermon Bushrod knew.
"Usually he gets right back up," Bushrod said.
But on first-and-10 from the Bears' 45 with 9 minutes, 47 seconds left in the second quarter, Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker looped around right guard, twisted Cutler and sacked the season for a loss of hope. Redskins players immediately reacted to Cutler writhing in pain by waving the Bears' medical staff onto the field. Bears fans waved goodbye to offensive stability.
"It just sucks," Bushrod said, echoing the feeling around Chicago after his team's wild 45-41 loss to the Redskins.
Cutler will get an MRI Monday, but you didn't need a medical degree to diagnose instant uncertainty for the Bears offense as the quarterback gingerly limped away like someone twice his age. In the tunnel, one witness heard Cutler groan on the cart and the grimace on Cutler's face captured by photographers said what no injury report can.
"We lost our leader," Bushrod said.
How long remains unknown, though returning later sounds more likely than sooner for Cutler. But even if the Bears lose Cutler for as long as many fear, watching their defense collapse again left an impression as troubling for coach Marc Trestman as seeing Cutler unable to walk off under his own power.
More than Cutler's injury, the defense's ineptitude gave this defeat the feel of a Washington shutdown of the 2013 season. Never before had the NFL's charter franchise scored 41 points and lost. The Bears returned home missing their most valuable player and most visible trait, a double whammy. Which will return first?
The outlook for any NFL team that loses its starting quarterback will change. But without Cutler in the past, the Bears rightfully clung to the belief they could compete due to a defense that kept them in every game. After giving up 499 yards and 45 points, nobody at Halas Hall dare suggest that with a straight face. Life without Cutler understandably lowers expectations. But life with a defense exposed once again as one of the NFL's worst should signal the start of general manager Phil Emery's rebuilding.
To the surprise of many of us, backup Josh McCown replaced Cutler capably enough to think he can manage games and win if only the defense holds up its end. Statistically, McCown was the best quarterback on the field. He resembled a serviceable NFL starter, engineering the offense to 24 points and 313 yards in the second half. He turned in a professional effort, something the Bears defense no longer can be trusted to do. Four Redskins' scoring drives were 80 yards or longer.
Trestman had such little faith in his defense that he gambled trying an onside kick trailing 38-34 with 8:44 left — and it would have worked if Eric Weems hadn't been offsides. Nothing says defensive desperation like a special-teams gimmick.
"It was evident their offense was on the field too much," Trestman said of the decision.
It was just as evident the Bears' defense couldn't get off of it.
You can fool yourself into thinking Charles Tillman's first-quarter interception return to the Washington 10 that set up Matt Forte's first of three touchdowns shows how opportunistic the defense still can be. Or you can focus on three scenes seared into the memories of people paying attention to the slow and steady demise of a defense wracked by age and attrition.
All of them came in the fourth quarter. First, Tillman feebly misplayed a deep ball that Aldrick Robinson came down with for a 45-yard touchdown pass after safety Chris Conte fell. Next, Redskins running back Alfred Morris drove Bears defensive end Julius Peppers for several more yards on extra effort — Morris', not Peppers'. Finally, linebacker Lance Briggs shouted at safety Major Wright on the sideline over lapses Briggs helplessly watched from the sidelines due to an injured shoulder.
"We were discussing plays we have to fix," Wright said. "We love each other too much to go at it. We both know we're capable of making any play."
That was hard to tell on the Redskins' game-winning drive. With Briggs and Tillman out with injuries that reinforced how old the defense is, the Bears failed to protect a 41-38 lead with 3:57 left. On the final snap of a 12-play drive from the 3, Roy Helu Jr. found a big hole against a worn-out defensive line. The result was Helu, touchdown; so long, Bears.
"When the game is in our hands like that, we have to come through," defensive tackle Corey Wootton said.
It felt like more than one game was in the defense's hands after Cutler went down. And the Bears let it slip away.
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