GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Roughly three hours before they were officially eliminated from the playoffs Sunday, the Bears’ version of the “Stanford Band Play” brought them within seven yards of a potential touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion on the final snap at frozen Lambeau Field.
And who knows, perhaps if Jesper Horsted somehow sees a streaking Allen Robinson to his right and can make one more lateral, things are different. Maybe the Bears wouldn’t have lost the 200th all-time battle with their oldest rivals, 21-13. It’s possible they wouldn’t have been forced during the journey home to depend on both the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams suffering road defeats — rather than the resounding victories they needed — to extend Chicago’s playoff livelihood one more week.
It’s also possible Sunday goes differently if Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t robbed of another stellar play on punt coverage, with the officials misruling a forced fumble and recovery by the Bears catch interference early on at midfield of a scoreless game. Or if Mitch Trubisky hits Anthony Miller on a would-be long touchdown, and if Aaron Rodgers’ elbow isn’t down a fraction of a second before losing the ball deep in his own territory in the final minutes.
It would still be a mistake to lump this loss with their other six this season and lament how close the Bears are to being the bona fide Super Bowl contenders that they and so many of us believed they were three and a half months ago.
After throwing for a season-high 348 yards but much of it in garbage time, Trubisky’s unwillingness to do so afterward was perhaps his most accurate delivery all season.
“No. I would say that’s a little bit of a reach,” Trubisky said when asked whether this loss epitomized a close-but-no-cigar season. “You can flip it around and say we’re giving great effort, we’re just coming up short. It is what it is. It just didn’t go our way. But you can’t ever let one play dictate how the game goes. There are a bunch of plays throughout that game where if we would’ve made them, maybe it could have been different.
“You can say maybe, if and or but — there’s a lot of hypotheticals that we just can’t get into. … Overall, if you make more plays, you won’t be in that spot.”
If the Bears managed more than 16 points in two meetings with the soon-to-be division champion Packers in the 2019 series, they might not be in this spot. If Trubisky completed better than a combined 56.1 percent of his attempts in the two games, and tossed fewer than three picks along with more than the lone touchdown Sunday after more than 110 combined minutes of battle, perhaps it’s different.
But in the biggest game of the season, the slow-starting Bears offense stayed true to its form, while real contenders such as the Baltimore Ravens and Vikings stayed true to theirs.
“We felt like that in each of our games. On offense we just have taken too long to get things rolling,” said Tarik Cohen, who finished Sunday with 85 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches. “… We took too long to get things going with our season.”
Even the Bears’ consistent if not game-changing defense failed to force a takeaway in two Packers games As great as it played in the opener, it didn’t have nearly as many answers Sunday, when Akiem Hicks returned but the pass rush and playmaking on ‘D’ remained M.I.A.
Heck, with Green Bay’s two best players, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, combining for 154 yards and three touchdowns, and the Packers committing a number of drops — including a long would-be touchdown on their first third down of the game — one might argue they stopped themselves Sunday as much as Chicago did.
Make no mistake, the Bears continue to show admirable resolve.
Trubisky again was able to lean on the ascending WR tandem of Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller — both eclipsing 100 yards receiving for the first time in the same game — and the defense forced punts on its final five series. It was the continued illustration of the pride of a that stacked three straight victories and won four of the past five entering Sunday.
“We didn’t help ourselves earlier in the season. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Robinson said. “But through the ups and downs, I think we saw the kind of team that we have and the players that we have. We’ve continued to fight.”
But all the little miscues, the compounding of near-touchdowns and near-sacks and near-completions, added up to equal a team that’s as far or farther away from the ultimate goal as it was when the season started.
I know that our guys, our players, our coaches, our organization, we’re disappointed. And hopefully all of us learn from a lot of different experiences. … This year has had its challenges. I said last week that it made us mentally calloused. The results — we want to be better — but none of it is for lack of effort, and that’s the part that I appreciate. We just got to get back to the grind and do everything we can to change that so we can get more wins.”