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Never mind that Rex Grossman had been knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a serious injury to his left leg. The Bears needed all of 1 yard to alter the outcome of Thursday night's 24-16 loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field.
Instead, they took a few step backs — a microcosm of the entire 2007 season.
Facing first-and-goal from the Redskins 1-yard line with 7 minutes 4 seconds left in the game, Adrian Peterson was stuffed for a 3-yard loss before Brian Griese fired two first-read passes incomplete to tight end Greg Olsen, and the Bears settled for Robbie Gould's 22-yard field goal.
Thus the Bears failed to tie the game 17-17 and never caught up to the Redskins.
Olsen, the rookie tight end, refused to make excuses for why the offense couldn't score right then.
"We didn't connect," he said. "That's pretty much it."
Now the Bears find themselves disconnected from the playoff picture. At 5-8 and with just three games remaining, the postseason has become a figment of their imagination, even if a mathematical chance still exists.
"Even with the expectations that we had, we believed that we could do it," defensive end Alex Brown said. "People say this couldn't happen in a million years. I guess a million years came this year."
Thursday night's TKO left the Bears with little choice but to start planning for next season, particularly at quarterback. Grossman hobbled off with just less than 11 minutes left in the first quarter after 311-pound defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin rolled over his left knee. It was just the beginning of an injury-filled night in which both starting quarterbacks were knocked out with knee injuries before halftime.
The Redskins' Jason Campbell was carted off with a dislocated kneecap after Bears defensive end Mark Anderson sacked him. Bears defensive tackle Antonio Garay also was carted off the field with a serious leg injury.
If Grossman is done for the year, it will end what was turning into a triumphant comeback from an early-season benching. He might be in the Bears' future plans, but if not, third-stringer Kyle Orton could get a serious look over the next few weeks.
"We don't know about it yet, but it did not look good," coach Lovie Smith said of Grossman. "Since he could not finish the game, that's not good either."
Griese, who took over after Grossman went down, threw two interceptions to Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs within 18 seconds of each other late in the second quarter. Springs returned the first one 53 yards to the Bears' 21 before Devin Hester forced him out of bounds. The original pass play was intended for Hester.
"It was an all-out blitz, and Shawn Springs, I think, didn't move an inch," Griese said. "When you have a guy like Devin Hester out there, you think that they'll give a little bit of ground expecting us to throw the ball down the field. But [Springs] just sat there and obviously made an easy play."
It took the Redskins one play to capitalize on the turnover, with backup quarterback Todd Collins finding backup tight end Todd Yoder on a play-action pass for a 21-yard score. It was the only scoring of the first half, as Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham missed field goals of 47 and 37 yards, while Kedric Golston blocked Gould's 48-yard attempt.
The Bears defense, needing a solid game after last week's disappointing effort against the Giants, again failed to get the job done. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the defense allowed the Redskins to drive without issue for the game-clinching score—a 16-yard Collins touchdown pass to running back Ladell Betts over the middle, made possible because the Bears allowed Chicago-area product Antwaan Randle El to corral a 16-yard reception on a third-and-4 from the Bears 35.
Not making stops was a recurring theme for the Bears. The Redskins marched 63 yards on five plays to start the second half thanks to some defensive hiccups. None was bigger than the gaffe that allowed Clinton Portis to go 54 yards on a screen pass. Recently benched strong safety Adam Archuleta, on the field because the Bears went with three safeties at the time, missed a tackle, as did Hunter Hillenmeyer and Danieal Manning. Portis took the ball down to the Bears'1, and fullback Mike Sellers plunged in for the score.
The best defensive play made was Brown's strip of Collins that Adewale Ogunleye recovered. The turnover meant little because Griese threw his first interception a few plays later.
Griese did manage to put together two solid drives in the third quarter with the Bears down 14-0. The second drive ended with Bernard Berrian making another spectacular end zone catch in front of Springs while falling out of bounds. The 17-yard touchdown was ruled incomplete, but the Bears won the challenge as it was ruled Berrian got an elbow and knee down.
On their possession before Berrian's touchdown, the Bears went 75 yards in 10 plays and ended up with a 30-yard Gould field goal. Back-to-back spectacular catches from Berrian and Olsen, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Redskins rookie safety LaRon Landry for a late hit, gave the Bears a first-and-10 from the Redskins 13. But the Bears took themselves out of a chance for a touchdown after a false start on Fred Miller and delay-of-game penalty on Griese.
The no-huddle offense was effective for the Bears in spurts. Adrian Peterson had a few nice runs though he gained only 35 yards on 17 carries. And Hester, mostly silent in the return game, showed some signs as a receiver with five catches for 67 yards.
But the Bears appeared to lose some of the rhythm they had built the past few weeks when Grossman went out.
Late in the game, after the Redskins' final touchdown, the Bears drove 56 yards in 14 plays but could manage only a 21-yard Gould field goal. Gould's subsequent onside kick went out of bounds with 30 seconds left, ending the game—and essentially the Bears' season.