A team objective can be to take the crowd out of the game, and the Bears did exactly that Sunday. Unfortunately, the crowd they silenced was their own.
Six turnovers, via three Rex Grossman interceptions and three fumbles, rendered Soldier Field nearly mute except for scattered boos and inexplicably vitriolic comments from behind the 7-1 Bears' bench in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The giveaways shut down talk of an undefeated season, just as the 1985 Dolphins ended the undefeated season of that year's Bears.
What the dismal day also can be expected to do is spawn doubt. The Bears, who were handed six first downs via Miami penalties, have played poorly in two of their last three games, winning in Arizona when they were outgained but losing Sunday when they were outgained, outscored and outplayed.
"We can only be mad at ourselves," said running back Cedric Benson, who picked up 34 yards on eight carries. "We can only fault ourselves."
Before this season, the Bears had been 0-15 in games under coach Lovie Smith when trailing at halftime. Sunday's loss left them 2-1 in those situations this season after a game in which they let halftime momentum slip away while passing for only 91 yards in the second half.
"In this league, everyone is good," Grossman said. "So if you make mistakes like that, bad things are going to happen."
The day began badly when wide receiver Bernard Berrian left the field with injured ribs after the Bears' first play. He was gone for the game, taking with him a key element of the Bears' deep-strike capability.
Still, the offense managed a 14-play drive on the second possession, covering 68 yards and consuming 6 minutes 41 seconds to pick up the only points of the quarter. The Bears totaled seven first downs for the quarter but needed Robbie Gould's field goal with four seconds left to get out of a lackluster first 15 minutes with a 3-0 lead.
What went right: Rashied Davis ably stepped up his game with Berrian out. He caught passes of 18 and 11 yards, both on third down and both for first downs.
What went wrong: Besides losing Berrian, the edginess in facing Bears killer Joey Harrington (4-3 in his first seven games against the Bears) undoubtedly contributed to three defensive penalties on Miami's opening possession.
Quote: "Bernard is our deep threat. When you go to Plan B, Plan B of course normally isn't as good as your first plan. So we missed Bernard." Smith.
Prevailing thought was that the only way the Dolphins could stand in against the Bears was if the hosts turned the ball over. The Bears put that theory to a dangerous test, turning the ball loose on three consecutive possessions and virtually handing the Dolphins 14 points and the lead.
First came a fumbled punt by Devin Hester on an attempted catch that was ill-advised and executed even worse, as Hester lost the ball on the Bears' 6. Three plays later, Harrington shot a pass between two defenders to former Bear Marty Booker, and the Dolphins were up 7-3.
On the Bears' first play, Grossman threw toward a wide-open Desmond Clark. But the ball wound up in the arms of defensive end Jason Taylor at the Bears' 20. Taylor brushed Grossman aside on his way to a touchdown and a 14-3 Miami lead.
Adrian Peterson fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but the Bears recovered and started driving behind the running of Benson, who carried four times for 23 yards. But Grossman, hit by Taylor, fumbled the ball away.
Alex Brown saved the scoring threat when he stayed clear of a cut block by tackle Damion McIntosh designed to get Brown's hands down. The defensive end intercepted Harrington's quick throw at the Bears' 10 and returned it to the 14.
It was not the kind of gift a team can hand the Bears. Three minutes and a pair of 30-yard completions later, the Bears were in the end zone instead of down by three scores. A Grossman throw to Justin Gage picked up 34 yards to the Miami 33, and two plays later Muhsin Muhammad outfought cornerback Will Allen, caught the ball at the 2 and dove into the end zone to bring the Bears within 14-10.
The Dolphins moved from their 31 to the Bears' 19 behind Ronnie Brown's runs of 16 and 21 yards plus his 9-yard reception. But Charles Tillman blocked Olindo Mare's field-goal attempt from 37 yards, and the Bears went in at halftime with the momentum if not the lead.
What went right: The Bears weren't blown out in a quarter when they could barely hold on to the ball.
What went wrong: Turnovers on three straight touches led to 14 Miami points off a total of 6 net offensive yards.
Quote: "They played well, but we killed ourselves with turnovers." Running back Thomas Jones.
The turnover count reached six in another dismal quarter. Whatever momentum with which the Bears came out of intermission, they promptly gave back to the Dolphins, along with the ball.
Gage caught a Grossman pass for 33 yards but was stripped by safety Yeremiah Bell. The ball was recovered by cornerback Andre Goodman, who returned it 33 yards to the Bears' 12. Three plays later, Harrington found wideout Wes Welker all alone for a 6-yard TD and a 21-10 lead less than two minutes into the second half.
Matters worsened as the Dolphins got to Grossman for a third-down sack by David Bowens to end one possession, then were handed the ball on Grossman's badly overthrown pass that was intercepted by Jason Allen at the Miami 28, wasting a nine-play drive and a scoring chance.
The Bears desperately needed a wake-up jolt, and Nathan Vasher, who struggled badly in run support to that point, cut in front of running back Sammy Morris for a diving interception to give the offense the ball at the Miami 23.
But a dropped pass by Gage cost the Bears, who were forced to settle for another Gould field goal, this time from 38 yards.
What went right: Virtually nothing. The Bears had five possessions. Two ended in turnovers, two in punts and one starting at the Miami 23 netted 3 yards in three plays before Gould's field goal.
What went wrong: The Bears' fifth-ranked rushing defense allowed 46 yards in the quarter to Miami's 27th-ranked run offense.
Quote: "They were moving around and showing us some different looks. Every defense will have kind of a flavor of the day in what they're going to do, so you never know exactly what's going to happen until you play the game." Tackle John Tait, after the Miami defense allowed the Bears three first downs and 62 total yards in the quarter.
Even when the Dolphins tried to help, the Bears couldn't do anything. A Miami punt put the Bears at their own 1-yard line, and they were facing a punt from the 9 after an apparent three-and-out. But after a neutral-zone infraction gave the Bears a first down, Grossman sailed a pass over Gage and into the hands of safety Tavares Hill, who returned it to the Bears' 24. Chris Chambers then beat Tillman for a touchdown on the first play and followed it with a mocking imitation of Muhammad's patented TD walk, passing the ball through his legs.
The 28-13 margin with 10 minutes to play was more than the Bears could scale, even with more Miami largesse. The Dolphins gave the Bears a fourth-down conversion with an encroachment penalty. But a third-down sack, one of three against Grossman, created a fourth-and-long that the Bears could not convert. The Dolphins took over and called nine straight running plays before Mare converted a 20-yard field goal with just over a minute to play.
What went right: The Bears won seven before this one.
What went wrong: Linebacker Brian Urlacher hobbled off the field and into the tunnel flanked by two team medical staffers, limping from an undetermined injury to his left foot.
Quote: "We usually complement each other, but nobody was doing that. We didn't do enough, and we lost. But we're not losers. The war's still going on." Defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
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