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Bears fall to undefeated Titans
As much as Brad Maynard wanted to block it out of his mind, the reality of punting deep in his own territory all day eventually took a toll.
"Yeah, I think I was kicking from down there every single time," Maynard said. "And I felt like there wasn't much I could do about it. I did the best I could. Mentally, it drains you."
As a whole, the Bears felt the same way.
Had the field-position battle not been so lopsided in favor of Tennessee, the Bears might have had a better chance to knock off the league's only undefeated team Sunday. Instead the Bears' 21-14 loss at Soldier Field kept the 9-0 Titans streaking and left the 5-4 Bears tied with Minnesota for the NFC North lead.
"Field position was huge," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "We started off inside the 10 all game long. In a game like this, when you have two defenses playing well, field position is going to come into play."
And it did.
On average, the Titans started their possessions at their 43-yard line, and four started inside Bears territory. The Bears' average starting position was their own 21, and eight possessions began at their 17 or deeper. Three of those eight were inside the 10, thanks in large part to Titans punter Craig Hentrich, who had five kicks downed inside the Bears' 20.
Being backed up was the last scenario the Bears wanted for Rex Grossman, who started at quarterback in place of the injured Kyle Orton. Grossman completed 20 of 37 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, but he was 6-for-16 for 20 yards on those eight drives on which the Bears were pinned deep.
"First of all, you need to try and at least flip the field for the defense and give the punter some room to get out," Grossman said. "Then you've got to be even more cautious with the ball because a turnover so deep is going to be a touchdown."
Grossman got off to a good start, engineering a 14-play, 75-yard drive in the first quarter that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to rookie Matt Forte.
The 7-0 lead held through the quarter despite a turnover off a tipped pass. Titans safety Chris Hope returned the interception 13 yards to the Bears' 25, but the defense held as Corey Graham recovered fullback Ahmard Hall's fumble on fourth-and-goal from the 1 — the first time the Titans had failed to score in the red zone this season.
Field position helped the Titans tie the score. They started a second-quarter drive at the Bears' 22 after Maynard punted from his own 9. Chris Carr returned the punt 29 yards, and four plays later, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins found tight end Bo Scaife for a 10-yard touchdown.
Collins hadn't passed for 200 yards in a game all season, but he found holes in a Bears defense geared to stop the run. He completed 30 of 41 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns, the kind of performance the Titans needed with their potent running game held to a season-low 20 yards on 29 carries.
The Titans came in averaging 149.1 rushing yards per game, third best in the league.
"I give the Bears a lot of credit," Collins said. "They put a lot of people in the box and stopped our run, and they did a great job of it."
Collins' 12-yard touchdown pass to ex-Bear Justin Gage in the third quarter put the Titans ahead 14-7. The veteran quarterback engineered an 11-play, 52-yard drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters and ended with LenDale White's 2-yard touchdown plunge.
Field position aside, the Bears still had a chance to mount a comeback despite trailing by 14. Utilizing a no-huddle attack, Grossman drove the offense 68 yards in seven plays, capping the drive with a 1-yard plunge for a touchdown.
But further heroics were not forthcoming. Grossman and the Bears stalled on their final drive, which started from the Titans' 41 with 3 minutes 12 seconds remaining. Grossman completed a first-down pass to Greg Olsen for 9 yards, but Forte got stuffed for a 3-yard loss on second-and-1, and Grossman failed to complete third- and fourth-down passes.
Grossman reflected on some missed opportunities, including an overthrow on a deep ball to Hester that might have been a touchdown. But he was equally frustrated with the offense's inability to overcome the poor field position. The Bears had six three-and-outs, along with a blocked field goal.
Grossman recalled a second-quarter pass to Rashied Davis on third-and-3 from the Bears' 9, a pass that sailed incomplete.
"Offensively, we needed to get the ball out of there and flip the field for the defense, which we didn't do," Grossman said.