Returning to action after their bye week, the Bears were confident they had discovered solutions to some problems that had been plaguing them this season.
Unfortunately, virtually all of their most pressing questions remained unanswered Sunday after a disappointing 36-25 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field.
The game wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The Bears scored two touchdowns in the final 2:31 after the Saints had tallied 27 unanswered points to take a 36-10 lead.
The Bears offense struggled mightily through the first three quarters, failing to score a touchdown while being limited to 85 yards and four first downs.
After Eddy Piñeiro's 46-yard field goal gave the Bears their only lead of the game at 10-9 early in the second period, the offense failed to pick up a first down on its next six possessions. That stretch included five three-and-outs and one lost fumble.
"Right now we have no identity," said quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who returned to action after missing one start with a left-shoulder injury. "We're just searching. We don't have any rhythm. We're not the offense we were last year, and every year is different, every game is different. We've just got to find ways, look within ourselves, and we've got to have guys step up."
The offense's inability to sustain drives forced the Bears defense back on the field time and again, and the results were predictable. The Saints increased a 12-10 halftime lead to 26-10 with third-quarter touchdown drives of 75 and 76 yards.
"When you have one side that's playing really well and another side that's trying to get things figured out, for us as a team, the frustrations, the emotions right now after the game when you have that kind of stuff go on, it can challenge you," said coach Matt Nagy. "It really can. It can challenge you individually, and that's something that's completely normal. But that's why we build this team the way we build it is for when situations like this come up. We've got to figure out how we turn this thing around."
Without quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook, the Saints amassed 424 yards, converted 7-of-15 third downs and possessed the ball for 37:26.
A Bears running game that entered Week 7 ranked 26th in the NFL continued to sputter, producing just 17 yards on seven carries and losing two fumbles (by Anthony Miller in the first quarter and David Montgomery in the third period). The seven rushing attempts were the fewest by the Bears in a game in franchise history.
"I really thought our run game would be better," Nagy said. "The run game early on, just not a lot there, so then you go to throwing the ball a little bit.
"The run game has to get going. It's as simple as that. You can't run for 17 yards in the NFL and think you're going to win a game. You should get 17 yards on one run play."
The passing attack wasn't much better. Playing a full game for the first time in four weeks, Trubisky was unable to get into a rhythm. He completed 14 of 27 passes for 84 yards through the first three quarters before throwing for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth period against a prevent defense.
Trubisky told reporters that he was unaffected by the left-shoulder injury he sustained Sept. 29 against the Vikings that forced him to miss the Oct. 6 game versus the Raiders. Nagy conceded, however, that Trubisky may have been a little rusty early when he missed an open Taylor Gabriel with a third-down pass on the Bears' second possession.
"Probably a little bit, but he wasn't the only one," Nagy said. "I mean, it's all of us."
After another disappointing performance by the offense, Trubisky had trouble identifying what went wrong in Sunday's loss to the Saints.
"It's hard to pinpoint," he said. "Just frustrating, ugly, couldn't swing momentum in our way, couldn't really get going. Just sputtered out. We've just got to find ways to stay on the field, especially after third down and move the chains and get going.
"That's not the way we know we can play, which makes it really frustrating. You've just got to believe that we're close. I still think we're close, and I feel like [if] a couple of those third downs and different plays early on go our way, then hopefully the game goes a different way."