Based on what's transpired early this season, the Bears seemingly had the Colts right where they wanted them entering the fourth quarter Sunday at Soldier Field.
But unlike the previous two times the Bears faced a double-digit deficit after three periods this year, they were unable to rally for a dramatic win. The offense mustered its lone touchdown late in the game, but it wasn't enough to prevent a 19-11 loss to Indianapolis.
Their first defeat of the season dropped the Bears (3-1) into second place in the NFC North behind the Packers (3-0), who host the Falcons (0-3) Monday night.
One week after throwing three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Bears to a thrilling 30-26 comeback victory in Atlanta, quarterback Nick Foles made his first start of the season Sunday.
The offense struggled, however, against a Colts defense that entered Week 4 ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points, total yards and passing yards. Through three quarters, the Bears were held to 67 yards on 30 plays while producing only one field goal on eight possessions.
Foles finished the contest completing 26 of 42 passes for 249 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 76.4 passer rating. His 16-yard TD toss to a leaping Allen Robinson II, followed by David Montgomery's two-point conversion run, cut the deficit to 19-11 with 1:35 left in the game.
But former Bears tight end Trey Burton recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Colts (3-1) ran out the clock to clinch their third straight win.
"Stating the obvious, that was a tough game to be a part of," said coach Matt Nagy. "Offensively, we know that we've got to be a lot better. Eleven points doesn't do it. Getting a free touchdown at the end of the [second] half [with the Colts defense] in cover-two the whole way down the field is not good enough."
Foles received little help from a running game Sunday that was limited to 28 yards on 16 carries, with a long gain of six yards. The Bears entered the contest averaging 138.0 yards on the ground.
"You have to be able to run for more than 28 yards in a game," Nagy said. "And then you can't become as one-dimensional when you can't run."
The Colts took a 7-0 lead on their first possession of the game courtesy of Philip Rivers' 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mo Alie-Cox midway through the first quarter. The TD capped a six-play, 53-yard drive that was highlighted by Rivers' 36-yard pass on third-and-nine to receiver Zach Pascal, who beat Jaylon Johnson on the play.
But after that, the Bears defense kept the Colts out of the end zone on their final 10 possessions, forcing Indianapolis to settle for four Rodrigo Blankenship field goals of 21, 30, 44 and 30 yards without a miss.
"I thought the defense situationally played well and forced field goals," Nagy said. "Nineteen points on defense, you should be able to win games."
While the defense kept the Bears within striking distance, the unit failed to produce a takeaway for the first time this season—although two players came oh-so-close.
In the first quarter, Khalil Mack dropped a sure interception deep in Colts territory after Barkevious Mingo's hit on Rivers caused the quarterback's pass to flutter high in the air. In the second period, Roquan Smith's apparent diving interception of a deflected pass in the end zone was reversed via a replay review that showed he had caught the ball before re-establishing himself in the field of play after stepping out of bounds.
The Colts' only touchdown Sunday came after they had taken over at their own 41 following rookie Jordan Glasgow deflecting a Pat O'Donnell punt that traveled only 18 yards.
The Bears cut the deficit to 7-3 on Cairo Santos' 27-yard field goal with 9:24 left in the second quarter. Foles completed 5 of 6 passes for 82 yards on the drive, but threw wide of Demetrius Harris on third-and-five from the 9. Foles connected for gains of 33 yards to Darnell Mooney and 27 yards to Robinson.
The Colts took a 13-3 halftime lead after two more Blankenship field goals. The second came after Brent Urban sacked Rivers on third-and-goal from the 8. The Colts had reached the 10 on Kyle Fuller's second pass interference penalty of the game, a 28-yarder.
The Bears converted just 1-of-6 third-downs in the first half—just as they did last Sunday in Atlanta. Conversely, they allowed a Falcons offense that entered Week 4 ranked last in the NFL in third-down efficiency to convert 5-of-9 third downs in the first half and 8-of-19 in the game.
With the Bears scheduled to host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers Thursday night at Soldier Field, Nagy's team will have little time to think about Sunday's defeat to the Colts.
"The beauty of a short week when you come off a loss is that you can get rid of it," Nagy said. "You can get rid of it and you need to move on. We have no time—like in the next hour we've got to get right on to Tampa. So that's the positive for that. But we've just got to figure out, 'OK, what can we do? How can we get better to help out all of these guys?'
"What we need to do now, obviously on a short week, we have to pick up the pieces. We just had a talk in the locker room and just understanding that we stick together and that we have a short week against a good football team. I have a lot of respect for our players, and I know that they along with our coaches will do everything we can to get better."