The last pass of the afternoon for Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer fell softly to the turf. Needing eight yards to move the chains late in the fourth quarter, Hoyer's attempt to receiver Cameron Meredith sailed high, leading to a turnover on downs. The Indianapolis Colts got the ball back, killed the clock, and Bears fell to 1-4 on the season with a tough 29-23 loss.
Hoyer's final errant throw doesn't change the fact that the quarterback was remarkably efficient all game long on Sunday. He completed 33 of 43 passes for 397 yards, throwing two touchdowns with no interceptions. His 76.7 completion percentage was the highest ever for a Bears quarterback who completed 30 or more passing attempts.
Despite his impressive stats, the primary thing on Hoyer's mind after the game was that final throw. After taking a lead midway through the fourth quarter, Luck stormed back with a scoring drive of his own, giving the Colts the advantage. Hoyer had a chance to respond with 2:28 remaining in the fourth. Chicago started the drive at its own 25-yard line before Hoyer moved the offense down the field. First down throws to Alshon Jeffery, Meredith and Zach Miller got the Bears into Colts territory. But a pair of incompletions, a short gain to Eddie Royal and a 10-yard holding penalty put Hoyer in the position to complete the crucial fourth-and-8 from the Indianapolis 28 that ultimately failed.
"Obviously you play the game to win so it's disappointing to lose it that close," Hoyer said. "Go up late and then have one more shot at it at the end, and you'd really like to finish it off and follow through. It's as disappointing as they come when you're that close."
There were several factors involved in Hoyer's big day. Jordan Howard anchored the Bears' running game by gaining 118 yards on 16 carries. The Chicago running game as a whole averaged 6.6 yards per rush, forcing the attention of the Colts' defense. That allowed Hoyer the chance to spread the ball around, as seven different receivers caught passes. Meredith and Howard each caught touchdowns from Hoyer in Week 5.
Chicago's offensive line also helped the quarterback succeed. Hoyer wasn't sacked once in the game, giving him time to read the defense and find open men down the field.
"I think we have a talented group," Hoyer said of the offense. "The offensive line is really coming together. I don't think I got sacked today. However, many pass attempts, no sacks, receivers getting open, running the ball, there's everything to be excited about."
Making his third consecutive start, Hoyer is not only getting more comfortable running the offense, but also improving his chemistry with his wide receivers. Much of that has to do with the faith he's shown in the pass-catchers, especially the younger ones. Meredith, who is in just his second pro season, had a career day, gaining 130 yards on nine catches, including a 14-yard touchdown. However he also had a crucial fourth-quarter fumble. After the turnover, Hoyer went right up to the young receiver and told him to keep his head in the game, because he would be needed later on. Sure enough, on Chicago's very first offensive play following the fumble, Hoyer hit Meredith for a 13-yard gain.
Hoyer put up some terrific stats on Sunday, but the Bears ultimately fell short on the scoreboard. The quarterback and everyone in the Chicago locker room know that the development of the young players like Howard and Meredith are positives, as is the fact the offensive line is improving every week. But the main key moving forward will be the team's ability to come through at the end of games.
"Like I said, close doesn't count so we have to find a way to finish it," Hoyer told reporters following the loss. "We just have to take that next step and win these games."