Of all the noise surrounding the Bears' 21-13 loss to the Packers on Sunday, general manager Phil Emery easily could ignore the pregame chatter that revealed his team as one unable to back up big talk.
Emery could tune out telling boos from a fed-up fan base at Soldier Field that greeted the Bears throughout their fifth loss in six games. But if Emery doesn't get the message wide receiver Brandon Marshall sent after the Packers clinched the NFC North title, he is tone-deaf.
"Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs,'' Marshall said, fighting back tears. "It's been this way all year. There's no excuse.''
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- VIDEO: Video: Marshall on being 'accountable'
VOTE: Who gets the blame for the Bears?
- STORY: Bears lose 6th straight against Packers
- Video: Haugh, Pompei on Bears loss to Packers
1000 Football Dr, Lake Forest, IL 60045, USA
Soldier FIELD, 1410 Museum Campus Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
Even if that means jobs.
This wasn't an overwrought sports-talk radio caller hanging up to listen for his answer or any knee-jerk media critic. This was the Bears' best player, a bundle of talent and intensity the Packers contained again, saying what needed to be said under dire circumstances. An air of football finality hangs over the city.
The Bears took another treacherous step toward becoming the first team since 1996 to start 7-1 and miss the playoffs. Their narrative screams for change and, after seeing a team leader like Marshall emotionally call out the organization, the sooner the better.
The accountability Marshall begged for starts with Smith, who did nothing in perhaps his last game on the lakefront to remove uncertainty over his status. Neither, interestingly, did Emery. In a pregame interview on WBBM-AM 780, Emery only increased the ambiguity around a head coach who failed for the sixth straight time to meet Smith's self-proclaimed No. 1 goal of beating the Packers. "I'm just focused on today," Emery answered when asked generally about the future.
Sounds like a GM counting his head coach's tomorrows.
Next in line should be offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who makes Mike Martz seem more misunderstood every Sunday. During the Bears' 1-5 stretch, Tice's offense has averaged 14 points. On first-and-goal from the 5, Tice called three straight Matt Forte runs — or three straight Forte dances — with no misdirection.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, the Bears marked the death of smash-mouth football in Chicago by lining up in an empty backfield. Officials nullified the ensuing touchdown pass by calling Alshon Jeffery for offensive pass interference. Only the Bears offense could turn three chances inside the 5 into fourth-and-goal from the 16. Whine all you want about Jeffery's interference call, but a power-football team with imagination never finds itself at the mercy of a ref's whistle 3 feet from paydirt.
The other man whose job merits scrutiny after a game more one-sided than the score suggested, the guy Marshall never would dare implicate, plays quarterback. The most obvious difference between the rivals remains that the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and the Bears don't. Jay Cutler swung the game's momentum with his 17th interception against the Packers as a Bear, a gift the guy from Santa Claus, Ind., gave to cornerback Casey Hayward.
It came with 1 minute, 36 seconds left in the second quarter when Cutler threw a pass he cannot throw to a spot he expected Devin Hester to zig. Hester zagged. Whose fault? Who cares? Forget the same page, Cutler and Hester have struggled to speak the same language for four years.
"I'll take responsibility,'' Cutler said.
Only because Mike McCarthy made the dumbest decision imaginable by an NFL head coach did the Bears even have a prayer on the final possession. In command with 7:54 left, the Packers called for punt returner Randall Cobb to throw a lateral across the field to Jeremy Ross. The razzle-dazzle fizzled, the Bears recovered the fumble at the Packers' 16, but the NFL's most predictable offense, predictably, settled for a field goal.
"For us to not take advantage of that kind of opportunity is another reason you lose football games,'' Cutler said.
Of all the reasons the Bears lost, resist putting officiating atop your list. Safety Chris Conte deserved the pass-interference call on third-and-13 and Julius Peppers earned the fourth-quarter roughing-the-passer penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rodgers. The three offensive pass-interference penalties on Jeffery indeed were unusual and inconsistent but, after the first two, shouldn't a rookie with a tendency to push off have adjusted?
Packers fans who still remember Golden Tate's shove in the Seahawks loss might say NFL officials owed them one.
"That's not what lost the game,'' Cutler said correctly.
The Bears didn't get jobbed, they got what they deserved. The refs might have been bad, but the Bears were worse on a day they lost control of their postseason destiny.
"We have to get to the playoffs a different way,'' Smith said.
He might need a good ticket broker — and possibly movers.