CHICAGO – It was so close. So very, very, very close.
One yard. Three feet. It could have kept the Bears alive for a potential breakthrough win, and for the player who caught it, a needed positive boost after three rough seasons with the franchise.
Alas, Kevin White couldn’t push his way the extra yard for the tying touchdown. Patriots defenders, who missed knocking down Mitchell Trubisky’s 55-yard pass into the wind made sure to take down the receiver before he reached the end zone.
“I thought he was in,” said Trubisky of the throw. “We were that close. It was like one yard, two yards away.”
So close to what would have been a special win. Nothing like beating the defending AFC champions to give the group a boost after a painful loss in Miami. But for a second-straight week, there is only regret over leads lost, plays left on the field as a chance for another key victory fades away.
It’s certainly not the end of the world for the Bears, who may still be ahead of expectations at 3-3 through the first six games of the season. Yet looking at what could have been certainly stung a bit.
“After a loss like that, it sucks,” said Taylor Gabriel of the defeat, which put the Bears in a tie for third in the NFC North with Detroit. “But at the same time, you can take some positive points from the game and just get back to the drawing board Monday.”
One thing that the Bears must look at is the reason this start to the season isn’t truly special – their special teams. For a second-straight week, it failed the Bears at the wrong time.
Last week it was Cody Parkey who couldn’t convert to save what was a so-so effort against the Dolphins in Miami. In overtime, his 53-yarder sailed wide right as the last chance for the Bears to win the game disappeared. All that was left was a chance to preserve a tie, but that didn’t happen either.
Special teams issues crept up again on Sunday, even after a great play early in the first quarter. Cordarrelle Patterson’s collision with a teammate along with a hit by Nick Kwiatkoski forced a turnover that turned into a Bears’ touchdown. But the unit had a costly few coverage errors in the second quarter when they let Patterson juke his way to a 95-yard score, which erased momentum created by 17-straight points by the offense.
“It’s definitely a momentum swing, but at the end of the day we still have to go out there and execute and do what we’re supposed to do,” said Kevin Toliver, who was on the coverage team. “We have to learn from our mistakes and not let it happen again next week.”
Yet it would happen again with a different unit later in the contest – and this one proved to be just as costly. Donta’ Hightower blew through the right side of the Bears’ protection and blocked Pat O’Donnell’s punt rather easily, leaving the ball in place for an easy recovery. Kyle Van Noy scooped it up and took it 29-yards for the score, and gave New England a lead they wouldn’t lose.
“Special teams errors, in general, are just inexcusable, but those especially, against that competition,” said tight end Ben Braunecker, who was on the side that allowed Hightower through to block the kick.
Indeed a Bill Belichick-coached team made the Bears pay for their special teams transgressions. The 14 points ended up being the difference in the game. Sure there were other breakdowns – the lack of pass rush, a few throwing inconsistencies – that led to the final score.
Yet to get a special win, you need the special plays, like the one White came inches from completing at the end of the game. Yet it’s the most ordinary moves in the “special” part of the games that have the Bears out of first place in the NFC North.