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Bears offense struggles in season finale

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Seventeen weeks ago, on the sunny afternoon of September 7, the Bears offense took the field for the first time in the 2014 season. Facing Buffalo at Soldier Field that day, Jay Cutler led the unit on an opening drive that not only matched, but exceeded, every fan's wildest dreams: Two-yard run by Kyle Long, eight-yard throw from Cutler to Brandon Marshall, 44-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery, 12-yard touchdown pass by Cutler to Martellus Bennett.

Four plays, 66 yards and an easy six points.

That type of drive would be rarely duplicated by the Bears this season. In fact on Sunday, in the season finale at Minnesota, it never happened. Chicago fell to the Vikings 13-9, setting a season-low for points scored in a game. The Bears didn't find the end zone once, sputtering on several drives where it appeared the team had a chance to score.

Cutler, back in the starting lineup following the concussion to Week 16 starter Jimmy Clausen, was able to avoid turnovers, but he was unable to make the big plays his team needed against the Vikings. The quarterback threw for just 172 yards, with only one pass going for more than 20 yards. When the Bears faced Minnesota in Week 11 at Soldier Field, Cutler threw for 330 yards and had three touchdown passes – two of which were from 20 yards or longer.

"We knew (the Vikings would) have a good game plan against us," Cutler said. "We knew they would try to take away a lot of the things we did well against them the first game. And they did that, they limited us."

The problems putting touchdowns on the board were especially frustrating given the Bears repeatedly had advantageous field position against Minnesota. Twice, the Bears started a drive inside Minnesota territory – once after a Kyle Fuller interception, another after a 67-yard kickoff return by Marc Mariani. On a third occasion, they took over at the Chicago 44 following a punt.

On those three drives, the Bears got a total of three first downs and six points, thanks to a pair of Jay Feely field goals.

"They showed a lot of different coverages, seemed like we couldn't get a rhythm," Cutler said of the offensive issues.

Cutler completed 23 of 36 passes versus Minnesota, as the quarterback finished the season with a career-high completion percentage of 66 percent. However, many of those passes were short, a reason no receiver finished with more than 59 yards. The inability to stretch the field kept the Vikings defense close to the line of scrimmage and stalled drives, both the ones in Minnesota territory and when the Bears had to march the full length of the field.

There were also issues with penalties, a reoccurring problem that continued to rear its ugly head on Sunday. Chicago was flagged nine times on the afternoon, with seven of them coming from the offense. Three of the penalties occurred on the final drive of the season, when the Bears needed to go 97 yards to take the lead. The drive never was able to get going, thanks in large part to the mental miscues, as Cutler took the Bears to their own 33-yard line before a turnover on downs.

The Bears started the 2014 season showing all the potential in the world. They ended it with a whimper, failing to reach the end zone once in a loss that left the team at 5-11 on the year and many wondering why the powerhouse offense that showed glimpses never fully materialized.

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