CHAMPAIGN—On the second-to-last play of the Bears' sixth straight loss Sunday, a third-and-10 from the Eagles' 24-yard line with 25 seconds remaining in regulationa fairly important moment, as these things goJim Miller hurried to the line of scrimmage, rushed the snap and absorbed all 280 pounds of Hugh Douglas for a sack, a 9-yard loss and, for all intents and purposes, the game.
Was it because Douglas beat his man? Maybe, but that wasn't the biggest reason the play didn't work. Nor was it the fault of the play called, for a change, though that might have been the case if there was an actual play called.
"I heard the personnel grouping and then it cut out, so I couldn't hear [the play call]," said Miller. "So I'm looking at John [Shoop] and he tried to scream it to me, give me the code words and I just had to line up there and call something."
This is not the first time that has happened this season. Heck, maybe it's a common occurrence around the league, for all we know. Maybe offensive coordinators are screaming code words at their quarterbacks with time ticking away and games on the line every week.
But why does it seem that this can happen only to the Bears, to this offense and this team in this season, a season we can pretty much officially call an unqualified train wreck at this point?
How does a team that came into the game ranked 26th in the league in total defense and 26th against the rush, all but stop the No. 1 rushing team's No. 1 running back and keep one of the best quarterbacks under control, and still lose by six points?
How does a team coming off five straight losses with a lineup constructed largely with scotch tape and paper clips, lead perhaps the hottest team in the league at halftime, reduce them to one of their sloppiest outings of the season and not somehow pull it out?
How does a team, playing at "home," with little to lose and the added bonus of seeking revenge against the same guys that humiliated said team in the playoffs last season, let this one slip away?
"It's the usual stuff," said coach Dick Jauron. "Guys don't make plays or we don't get the block or don't execute it."
He's being generous. In this case, it was all the stuff he said plus 12 penalties for 121 yardsthey couldn't all be bad callsand an offense that simply does not seem qualified to win a game.
After one half in which it made serious strides, particularly in a moribund running game, no one seemed to be able to explain what happened in a second half in which they managed just 53 yards of total offense, including 5yes, 5yards on the ground.
"Unfortunately," said Marty Booker, "halftime came."
It was as logical an explanation as any, though it did not help a group of players who may need a good sports psychologist as much as a good game plan right now.
"The way the defense played, it's hard to even look them in the face," said center Olin Kreutz. "We're being out-everythinged right now."
Was it the failures on first down, another bleary-eyed offensive lineman was asked? "I don't know," said James Williams. "They all run together as far as I'm concerned, first, second, third down."
You can forgive them their confusion, considering that one of their apparent strategies coming into the game, according to their offensive coordinator when asked why he used the no-huddle, was to remind the guys they were on offense. Also to give them confidence. Seriously.
If they are shakyand an offense not wanting to look at their defense pretty much fits that descriptionthey are, at least, shaky together.
Told about Kreutz's comments, cornerback R.W. McQuarters was sympathetic, touched even.
"To me, that says a lot about Olin because he's speaking the truth," said McQuarters. "There have been times where the defense played bad and the offense had to carry us. We know that, we joke about it and it's vocal. We know when we play bad.
"When it happens to them, some guys know and they admit it and some guys won't. But when they admit it, it just lets you know for one, they're paying attention and for two, they understand the game and they understand the situation."
Yes, that's one message coming in loud and clear.