The Bears were on the cusp of completing the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in their 96-year history Sunday against the Titans. But they dropped the ball, literally and figuratively.
Making his first NFL start, Matt Barkley rebounded from two red-zone interceptions to throw his second and third touchdown passes of the game in the final 8:23 as the Bears trimmed Tennessee's lead from 27-7 to 27-21 with 3:06 to play.
After the defense forced a punt, Barkley completed passes of 14, 21 and 23 yards to Marquess Wilson, enabling the Bears to reach the Titans' 7 with :47 remaining.
On first-and-goal, a wide open Joshua Bellamy dropped a sure touchdown pass from Barkley in the end zone. After two incompletions, a sliding Deonte Thompson dropped a well-thrown Barkley pass in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal with :29 to play, enabling the Titans to escape with a 27-21 victory at Soldier Field.
Though the pass to Bellamy was much easier to catch than the one to Thompson—who had a defender draped on his back—both receivers later conceded that they should have made the plays. Bears receivers combined to drop 8-10 passes in the game, with Wilson, receiver Cameron Meredith and running back Jordan Howard also contributing to that total.
"There were a lot of different guys out there that haven't been in the position to catch or drop balls very many times," said coach John Fox. "I know one of the guys in there, Marquess Wilson, was playing only his second game this season. Those guys fought hard. They did a lot of good things. There were some good catches as well as drops. So just like anytime, if the result isn't exactly what you were looking for, you go back to the drawing board and you learn from it."
Subbing for the injured Jay Cutler, Barkley completed 28 of 54 passes for 316 yards with three TDs, two interceptions and a 72.8 passer rating. Without all the drops, Barkley's stats obviously would have been much better--and the Bears probably would have erased a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win a game for the first time ever.
"It was a tough day for our group," Thompson said. "But we're just going to keep battling and keep fighting and keep coming every day with our 'A' game."
View photos from the game as the Bears take on the Titans at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"We were moving the ball," Meredith said. "I don't think they could cover us. I just think it was a matter of us making the plays. So we're disappointed in ourselves and we hold ourselves accountable."
Barkley was sharp early, throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Brown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead on their second possession of the game. It was Barkley's first NFL TD pass and Brown's first NFL TD reception. The Bears were 3-of-3 on third down on the drive with Barkley completing 3-of-3 passes for 48 yards, including the TD.
The Titans (6-6) then stormed back, scoring on five of six possessions to take a commanding 27-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. Derrick Henry had an 11-yard TD run late in the first quarter, and Marcus Mariota threw second-quarter touchdown passes of 4 yards to Delanie Walker and 29 yards to Rishard Matthews to give Tennessee a 21-7 halftime lead.
The Bears opened the second half by recovering a surprise onside kick. Connor Barth's kick caromed off Titans linebacker Nate Palmer and was covered by Adrian Amos at the Chicago 43.
The Bears reached the Tennessee 5. But on third-and-goal, Barkley's ill-advised pass intended for Meredith was intercepted by safety Da'Norris Searcy in the end zone. Barkley had also been picked off by linebacker Wesley Woodyard inside the Titans' 20 in the first half.
Ryan Succop's field goals of 19 and 31 yards widened the margin to 27-7 before Barkley heated up. The Bears quarterback capped drives of 75 and 69 yards with TD passes of 8 yards to Wilson and 6 yards to Thompson, respectively, to draw the Bears to within 27-21.
But they failed to make one more play they needed in the final seconds to avoid falling to 2-9, their worst 11-game start since they were 1-10 in 1997.