Bears unable to get offense unleashed against Saints
“There were too many mistakes all the way around. The first carry, I took the pitch and dropped it. (Then there were) sacks and missed protections.” MATT FORTE, Bears running back
CHICAGO — It was by no means a fatal fumble, but Matt Forte’s dropped pitch to open Sunday’s game set the wrong tone for a Bears team accustomed to successful starts.
Early errors seemed to multiply as the Saints jumped to an early lead on the way to a 26-18 victory over Chicago at Soldier Field.
“There were too many mistakes all the way around,” said Forte, an ex-Tulane star and sixth-year Bears running back. “The first carry, I took the pitch and dropped it (then there were) sacks and missed protections.”
Chicago also struggled to figure out the Saints’ defensive schemes and early blitzes.
“(They) do a bunch of different looks, and we didn’t pick them up at first,” said Forte, who had 95 yards total offense. “(And) we had some protection issues early, I missed a couple, and as a running back, you can’t do that.”
The Bears kept possession after Forte’s first-play fumble but later punted. The Saints turned that into an early 3-0 lead on Garrett Hartley’s 47-yard field goal with 7:42 left in the opening quarter.
Nearly two minutes later, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler fumbled after a Malcolm Jenkins sack at the Chicago 17. This time, the Saints recovered. And four plays later, Hartley connected on a 19-yard try for a 6-0 lead.
“Sometimes stuff like that happens in football, no one is perfect,” Forte said. “The thing is you’ve got to respond.”
But it didn’t get better for quite a while. Chicago managed just one first down in its first four drives and never advanced past its own 35.
“(I’m) certainly disappointed in the way we started this game offensively,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “The first three series really hurt our tempo and our rhythm.”
By halftime, the Saints were up 20-7 and had maintained possession for more than 17 of the first half’s 30 minutes. By game’s end, the Saints a full 12-minute possession edge.
“The key to winning that game was to not let them be on the field that much,” Forte said. “When you’ve got (Saints quarterback) Drew Brees on that side of the ball with their offense, they control the clock a lot.”
Chicago (3-2) eyed a rebound from last week’s 40-32 loss at Detroit. The Bears came in averaging 31.8 points per game, but early struggles made matching that production problematic.
“We didn’t make enough plays early on in the game,” said tight end Martellus Bennett, who had five catches for 56 yards. “We put the defense in a bad situation, and we left them on the field far too long by going three-and-out.”
Chicago finally ignited on its sixth possession. Cutler hit five of six passes in an 80-yard, second-quarter drive, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to an open Alshon Jeffery in the end zone with 3:16 remaining before halftime.
A promising third-quarter drive saw the Bears get inside the Saints 4, but a penalty pushed the line of scrimmage back to the 9. Cutler failed to connect on three straight passes, and Chicago settled for a 27-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
Trailing by 13 points with 8:45 left in regulation, the Bears gambled on a fourth-and-2 at the Saints 25 and came up empty when Cutler’s pass to Earl Bennett was dropped.
Chicago cut the Saints lead to eight with 2:11 to play when Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall on a 2-yard touchdown and Forte added a two-point conversion run. But the Saints recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Bears now face a quick turnaround for a Thursday home against the Giants.
“It’s tough when everybody’s beating up on you,” Forte said. “Sometimes you don’t even feel like getting back on the field until Thursday.”