The New Orleans Saints blitzed and pressured the Bears constantly on Monday night, and all too often, the Chicago offense had no answers.
After the game, those same offensive players were asked why the team struggled against the Saints and to explain the reason the unit has failed to find a rhythm this season when having possession of the ball. And once again, there were few answers to be found.
The Bears fell to the Saints 31-15 in the Week 15 contest, as the Chicago offense issued another lethargic performance. For the fourth time this season, the team was shut out in the first half, but the struggles did not end at the halftime break. The team finished with 16 first downs and 278 net yards in the loss, which dropped the Bears to 5-9 on the year and extended the losing streak to three games.
"We just have to be more consistent," right tackle Jordan Mills said of the offense's struggles. "When we have a bad play, we have to move on. We just have to be better at what we're doing."
Those bad plays happened all too often against the Saints. Chicago couldn't get out of its own way early in the game – the team's first nine possessions ended with five punts, three interceptions and a turnover on downs after a failed fake punt. The offensive backfield became sack city, as quarterback Jay Cutler was taken down a season-high seven times by the New Orleans defense. And the Chicago receiving corps, playing its first full game without injured receiver Brandon Marshall, was unable to find the space to make big plays, with only one reception of longer than 12 yards prior to the fourth quarter.
"We just never really got going offensively," said center Roberto Garza. "Too many 3-and-outs and when you don't protect the quarterback, it's tough to stay on the field."
The protection failures were especially troubling, considering the Saints came into the game ranked 27th in sacks per pass play. The Bears lost 41 yards on sacks, a major reason they finished with an average of 4.8 yards per play.
"Obviously we didn't do enough as an offensive line, mentally, to prepare," said right guard Kyle Long. "I had a mishap in the first half that got (Cutler) sacked and I think the error that we had was kind of a microcosm of the whole game up front. We got beat – credit the Saints, they have a lot of good players. But we have to do a better job offensively."
Cutler's struggles extended beyond the pressure he felt from the Saints defensive line. The quarterback – who was cited by offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in an NFL Network report about his play last week – finished with just 194 passing yards. Cutler's quarterback rating of 55.8 was his lowest in a game he both started and finished since September 13, 2012.
His three interceptions give him 18 on the season, which lead the league.
Cutler said the chatter surrounding Kromer's remarks did not impact his preparation for the Saints. However, a few teammates said that attention to detail was a problem on Monday. That proved to be evident in multiple ways, from the sluggish start to the game to the five penalties committed by the offense in the loss.
"There was a lack of focus," said tight end Dante Rosario. "I think I'd be lying if I said guys aren't frustrated. We understand that we have good players on our offense, and we've had success before in the past. That doesn't paint a picture of what we'll do in the future, but knowing what we've done and what we have in place, I think we are disappointed that we haven't done better this year than we have."
The Bears offense did show up eventually against the Saints, but by the time Cutler led a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives, it was too little, too late. With the playoffs no longer an option, the final two games will be a test of pride for the Bears and the beleaguered offensive unit. The team still believes it can put together a strong offensive game from start to finish, but if that is actually the case is yet another question that remains unanswered.
(We are) just trying to get better for these next two games," Cutler said. "Just going out and trying to get a good performance offensively."