Skip to content
Flags a factor as Bears flogged
Anger oozed out of Jerry Azumah as he sat mute and motionless in front of his locker Sunday after the Bears' 22-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at Alltel Stadium. For 10 minutes, Azumah stared straight ahead without moving as his teammates dressed around him.
His brows furrowed and chin locked, the look on Azumah's face said everything he did not.
"We all feel terrible," defensive end Alex Brown said quietly a few feet away.
Losing a game they had to win to keep their slim NFC playoff chances alive made the Bears mad enough.
Losing a game marred by 13 penalties, including several the Bears questioned, left many players downright furiousand not necessarily at an offense that failed to produce a touchdown for the fourth time this season.
"All the bad calls get frustrating because there's nothing you can do about it," defensive end Michael Haynes said. "You think hopefully the next call will go our way, but when they keep flagging you ... people say the refs should never take control of the game. Yeah, that's what you want to say, but there's nothing you can do about it when they do."
Two penalties in particular on third-down stopsa pass-interference call on safety Mike Green in the first quarter and a roughing-the-passer penalty on Charles Tillman in the third quarterkept alive eventual Jacksonville scoring drives that resulted in 10 points.
The dagger came with 9 minutes 32 seconds left on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich to Jimmy Smith when Tillman was called for pass interference on a play he claimed Smith pushed off. That score made it 22-3 and turned the Bears' frustration into fury.
Tillman, who a few plays earlier had argued a call with an official so demonstratively that his hands nearly hit the ref's face, pleaded his case hysterically after Smith's catch, to no avail.
"What do you think I was trying to say? I was trying to say it was a bad call," said Tillman, still miffed by the roughing call on Leftwich. On that play, he nominated Leftwich for an NFL Emmy for best performance by a hurried quarterback.
"I felt like I hit him in the shoulder pad area and it wasn't [a penalty]," Tillman said. "I don't know if there was some acting or what. He is a big guy. If I hit someone like that, there should be people in comas or concussions."
After all the yellow flags fell, the white flag all but waved for the 5-8 Bears.
Reluctant but realistic, coach Lovie Smith and his team seemed to surrender hopes of reaching the playoffs in a mediocre NFC.
"We had to win this game," said Smith, who steered clear of criticizing the officials. "We put a lot on this game, [and] we didn't get that done. I'd say probably we're mathematically still in it [for a playoff spot] and we'll go from there. At this point, that doesn't really matter. We need to play better, and then we'll think about things like that."
Breakdowns in pass protection by an injury-riddled offensive line once again doomed the Bears, especially on the key play of the game.
It came after a Chris Hanson punt had pinned the Bears on their own 4 with 13:52 left in the fourth quarter. Down 13-3 and hoping to spark a dormant offense with a big play, offensive coordinator Terry Shea called a play-action pass out of his end zone intended to allow one of the wide receivers to beat man-to-man coverage.
The Jaguars blitzed, and linebacker Daryl Smith plowed over fullback Jason McKie's block on the Bears' right side to sack Chad Hutchinson for a safety.
"They slanted, and I think the O-line was covered, but they brought another guy," right tackle Aaron Gibson said.
Like Tennessee Titans quarterback Billy Volek had a month ago to give the Bears an overtime victory, Hutchinson went down in the end zone.
Live by the swarm, die by the swarm.
"We felt like they were going to be in man coverage, and maybe we would have a chance to get a big one," Smith said.
The big momentum shift sparked a Jacksonville offense that had stalled. On the ensuing possession after the free kick, Leftwich directed the seven-play drive that ended with the TD pass to Smith. The quarterback on whom the Bears passed in the 2003 draft cut up the secondary by going 25 of 45 for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
"A lot of times when you're building, when you're young, things like this happen," Smith said. "You want to remember this feeling. You don't want to feel this way very often."
The Bears' offense left players and coaches with a familiar, empty feeling. The 31 rushing yards on just 14 attempts represented a season low, and the Bears converted only 2 of 12 third downs. The five sacks of Hutchinson gave the Bears 53 for the season, an NFL high and within two of the team record set 35 years ago.
"We were our own worst enemies," Hutchinson said.
His mood afterward was far from the happy-go-lucky guy who had basked in the success of his first start against the Vikings seven days earlier. Hutchinson shot a look at a TV reporter when asked if he could move closer to the lectern and clearly was not pleased after completing 17 of 33 passes for 212 yards, with an interception and a fumble.
But he did not want to blame receivers for at least four drops that affected the offense.
"After those, I was like, 'Hey, let's move on to the next play,"' Hutchinson said.
Similarly, the Bears will move on to their next game against the Houston Texans after investing as much emotion into an afternoon as they have all season.
"It's a disappointing loss," Smith said. "We're all going to look in the mirror and say that it was our fault."
It might take a while for some of Smith's players to look back at this game and not see some men in striped shirts whom they also hold partly responsible.
"Something was wrong today," Brown said. "We don't commit that many penalties, but for some reason they got called. Anytime something went right for us, the play came right back. It was crazy out there."