There was something awfully familiar about Sunday's season finale for the Bears, who rallied late and never quit but couldn't overcome costly mistakes in a narrow loss.
"Today was pretty much a microcosm of our season," coach John Fox said after a 24-20 defeat to the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.
With the loss, the Bears finished the season in last place in the NFC North at 6-10, a one-game improvement over last year. The difference is that they were in most games, with six of their last seven losses coming by margins of 3, 3, 2, 6, 3 and 4 points.
View photos from the game as the Bears take on the Lions at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"I think we just need a couple of pieces," Fox said. "We're not real far. I know it looks like we are record-wise. But we're really not. I think the core of our team is going to be with that group [in the locker room], and they understand it and know how to operate it."
Jay Cutler entered Sunday's finale without a multi-interception game in 14 starts this season, but he was picked off three times by the Lions. One came on a deflected pass in the end zone and the other two occurred when he was hit while throwing the ball.
Trailing 10-0 at halftime, the Bears rallied to tie the Lions at 10 and 17 and eventually drew to within 24-20. But Detroit clinched the win when Cutler's pass from the Detroit 37 was intercepted by safety Glover Quin at the 12 with 1:51 left in the game.
Cutler was trying to connect with speedster Deonte Thompson, but the quarterback was drilled by defensive end Ziggy Ansah while releasing the ball. "I was getting ready to let go and I got hit," Cutler said. "Same as going into halftime. You see the ball floating in the air, it's a very sick feeling because you don't know what's going to happen."
The Bears offense played without its top four receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, Kevin White and Marquess Wilson), its top two tight ends (Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller) and centers Will Montgomery and Hroniss Grasu.
As has been the case most of the season, the defense was unable to generate any impact plays, failing to force a turnover for the seventh time in 16 games.
The Bears scored on four straight possessions in the second half for the first time this year, but the defense allowed back-to-back touchdown drives of 72 and 80 yards—with the Lions needing only one third-down play on the two possessions.
After Robbie Gould's 49-yard field goal, the Bears tied it 10-10 on Cutler's 34-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Bellamy. The Lions regained a 17-10 lead on Matthew Stafford's 36-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson, but the Bears knotted it again 17-17 on Cutler's 23-yard TD pass to Matt Forte.
In what might have been his final game in a Bears uniform, Forte rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 34 yards. His TD reception came on a swing pass and featured excellent downfield blocks by receivers Cameron Meredith and Marc Mariani.
"He is a pro," Fox said of Forte. "He's been that I'm sure for a long time before I got here. I got to witness it day-in and day-out, good times and bad times. He was a captain. He led a young group. I think a big part of their improvement was Matt Forte."
Stafford's 1-yard TD pass to tight end Eric Ebron put the Lions ahead 24=17 with 8:46 left before Gould's 34-yard field goal cut the deficit to 24-20 with 5:39 remaining.
After passing for just 63 yards with two interceptions in the first half, Cutler rallied the Bears by completing 10 of 13 passes for 182 yards with two touchdowns in the second half. Cutler finished the season with a career-high 92.3 passer rating.
Stafford was even better, connecting on 28 of 39 passes for 298 yards with three TDs and a 119.4 rating. His favorite target was Johnson, who caught 10 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown. The Pro Bowl receiver had two 100-yard games this season, both against the Bears.
With Sunday's loss, the Bears finished 1-7 at Soldier Field this season, the most home losses in franchise history and the fewest wins since they went 1-6 in 1973. It was also the first time they've lost all three division home games since the NFL realigned in 2002.
"That's really bad," said right tackle Kyle Long. "There's good, bad and really bad, and that falls under the 'really bad' category. Luckily, it wasn't like we were blown out in every game at home. We had a lot of close games, a lot of very tight contests.
"I think with this regime they'll be able to add more pieces into place that are more beneficial to this team and be able to close that gap and flip those [losses] into wins."