The Bears' offensive woes Sunday against Minnesota began on the very first drive of the game. After a Deonte Thompson kickoff return gave Jay Cutler and company the ball at midfield, Chicago proceeded to go backwards. First there was a holding call and a loss of 10 yards. A short run was followed by a sack, which took the offense another eight yards back. Kyle Long got some of it back with a big gain on third down, but after starting at the 50, the Bears ended up punting from their own 48-yard line.
Chicago opened the second half in similar fashion. Another good special-teams play - this time a Robbie Gould onside kick recovered by Sherrick McManis - meant the Bears began the third quarter at the Chicago 47. The team was able to run two plays before Cutler was sacked and stripped by Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison, giving the Vikings possession.
The Vikings sacked Cutler five times - the most sacks allowed by the Bears in a game this season.
The two drives that started off each half epitomized the all-around sluggish performance for the Bears offense in the 38-17 loss to Minnesota in Week 15. A combination of turnovers, penalties and poor execution doomed the Chicago attack. Though Cutler was efficient and the running game was solid, there were too many mistakes by the unit in Sunday's game.
"Same stuff as most of the year, big call with a big run. Interception with a big sack; our protection was a little shaky today, some more penalties," said Cutler, who finished 26-of-37 for 231 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. "It doesn't matter who we played today, we weren't going to win with our offensive football."
Cutler threw the ball well when he had time to do so, but often times good coverage downfield by the Vikings and a ferocious pass rush up front led to problems for the Bears. In the first half, Chicago had only 78 passing yards, as Cutler was forced to find his check-down option on several occasions because nothing downfield was open. While the deep balls eventually did become available, it was hard for the Bears quarterback to even wait for receivers to get open because of the Minnesota pressure. The Vikings sacked Cutler five times - the most sacks allowed by the Bears in a game this season.
When the protection was there, Chicago's offense did move the ball well. The Bears had a six-play drive in the second quarter that was capped off by a 10-yard touchdown from Cutler to Alshon Jeffery. In the third quarter, the Bears had a 15-play drive that resulted in a Robbie Gould field goal. And in the fourth, Cutler hit four different receivers on a drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown by Matt Forte.
But those high moments were few and far between. Much of the game was filled with the Bears being unable to get out of their own way. When the offense wasn't moving backwards because of sacks, penalties were getting in the way. The Bears were twice called for holding that waived off gains of 20 yards or more, hurting an attack that desperately needed the boost of a big play. Forte said the penalty on the team's first offensive play from scrimmage - which negated a 35-yard run by the back after the long kickoff return - was a "momentum killer."
Right tackle Kyle Long said that it wasn't a lack of effort that did the Bears in on Sunday, but more so the mistakes the offense made that were costly.
"I thought we played hard," Long said. "We were flying around, I was flying around. We were all playing our butts off, but it's the little things cost us in the end."
With two games left, the Bears offense doesn't need to look for positive signs: those are clearly there. When the team is avoiding mistakes, they are able to move the ball down the field and score points. The key is correcting the errors that have doomed the unit time and time again in 2016, which showed up again in the worst way in Sunday's defeat.