Prior to Sunday's game in Tampa, the Bears had only played once in the preceding 23 days, thanks to a Thursday game in Week 7 and a bye in Week 9. So perhaps there was some expectation that the Chicago offense would show some rust when it took the field on a warm Florida afternoon against the Buccaneers. Many teams take a series or two to work out the kinks following a weekend off. But given that the Bears were sharp in their last game before the break, nobody could have expected that the Bears would play as flat as a pancake in the Week 10 tilt against a Bucs defense that was among the worst in the NFL statistically.
The Bears turned the ball over five times in a 36-10 defeat at Tampa Bay, erasing all of the positive momentum the team had built up prior to the bye. Two of the turnovers turned directly into Buccaneer points - an interception returned 20 yards for a first-quarter touchdown and a fumble that rolled out of the end zone for a safety at the end of the third quarter. Those setbacks were impossible to overcome for the Chicago offense, leading to a tough loss following the week off.
"You can't (turn the ball over) - four turnovers in the first half, I think," tight end Zach Miller said. In key parts of the game, crucial parts of the field - can't win that way, can't put our defense in that situation.
"We were terrible all day."
Jay Cutler was the man responsible for four of the turnovers. After missing five games earlier in the year with a thumb injury, the quarterback returned on Halloween night and had a terrific game versus the Vikings, not turning it over once. Against the Bucs, however, he made several mistakes that cost the team. He threw a pair of interceptions - both in the first quarter - and also fumbled twice. His lone highlight of the afternoon was a 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass thrown to Cameron Meredith on the final play of the opening half.
Cutler finished the game completing 16-of-30 passes for 182 yards, the one touchdown and two picks. His 55.1 passer rating was his lowest in a game he finished without injury since Sept. 13, 2012, at Green Bay.
Three of Cutler's turnovers had a direct result on the final score. The pick-six he threw to former Bears safety Chris Conte in the first quarter, on a screen pass the defensive back read perfectly and jumped in front of, were the first points of the game for either team.
In the second quarter, the Bears had a chance to take the lead, with the ball on Tampa Bay's 4-yard line, only to lose it when Bucs rookie Noah Spence knocked the ball away from the quarterback, squandering the Chicago opportunity. And in the third quarter, Tampa Bay scored two points when Cutler attempted to evade a pass rush, but had the ball knocked out before he was able to throw. The ball eventually deflected off a Buccaneers player before rolling out of the end zone for a safety.
Rookie running back Jordan Howard also committed a turnover, as his fumble in the second quarter gave Tampa Bay possession on the Chicago 29. Four plays after the Bucs took over possession, quarterback Jameis Winston threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Brate.
"Any given week you can win, you can lose, you can blow somebody out, you can get blown out," Cutler said following the loss. "It depends on how you execute, your focus coming into it. Obviously, we didn't get the job done."
Even when the Bears did maintain possession, the Chicago offense looked out of sync. The Bears had just five first downs after halftime, all of which came on the final drive of the game that ended at midfield as time expired. Howard averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, but he too was stalled after suffering a leg injury. Thirteen of the rookie's 15 carries came in the first half, and the Bears as a team gained only 20 yards on the ground after the break.
Now the Bears must re-focus their offense and get back on track. The team plays at the New York Giants next week, knowing that they cannot afford to be as careless with the ball as they were on Sunday in Tampa. Chicago's defense was active against the Bucs in pressuring the quarterback, but it's tough to maintain that intensity when you're on the field for more than 37 minutes, as the offense kept forcing their counterparts into extra work.
"We didn't play well, I didn't play well, offensively," Cutler said. "Too many turnovers, and when you have that many turnovers it is going to be hard to win."