As the Chicago Bears fell to the Detroit Lions, 21-19, their chances to win the NFC North have almost completely evaporated as they now trail Detroit by one game in the standings and another due to the tiebreaker.
It felt like the Bears were the better team, but they simply didn't make big plays when they needed to.
The big storyline from this one will be head coach Marc Trestman's decision-making. He chose to keep playing a clearly injured Jay Cutler. Then—with the game on the line—he elected to run for the two-point conversion despite the fact that running back Matt Forte averaged under two yards per carry.
The good news for the Bears was their defense. They gave up a few big plays but did more than enough to win.
In the end, the Bears simply weren't good enough from the head coach on down. They didn't make the plays they needed to make, and because of that, they don't deserve to be in first place in the NFC North.
This might be the most obvious part of the game. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was quite clearly not healthy, yet head coach Marc Trestman waited until it was too late to take him out.
Cutler is tough. I don't think there's anyone who still questions that fact. He won't take himself out of any game at any time. It's the head coach's call, and the head coach failed the Bears in this one.
The Bears quarterback looked good early in the game, but it was fairly obvious something happened in the first half and he simply wasn't the same player.
Yet, Cutler stayed in the game.
After the game, Trestman said Cutler injured his ankle in the second quarter in his postgame press conference, but it was taped up so he chose to keep him in the game. Trestman also acknowledged Cutler's limited mobility, but pointed to a few throws he did make.
What he failed to acknowledge, however, was how slow Cutler was going back from the center and the throws he wasn't able to make, likely because of the injury—whether it was due to the ankle or the groin. The former is what the Bears officially announced was the injury, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
Cutler acknowledged that the ankle injury limited his mobility and prevented him from making some of the throws he wanted to make. He also said he asked Trestman if he was hurting the team more than he was helping them.
Yet, Trestman kept him in the game.
When Trestman finally did decide to put in backup Josh McCown, it was because the Bears needed mobility in the two-minute drill. That extra mobility—which almost certainly would've been valuable earlier in the game—paid off as the Bears drove down the field for a touchdown.
They still had a chance to tie the game, but their questionable two-point conversion call was no good.
Hopefully for the Bears' sake, it was just a bad day in the office for Trestman.
The decision to give the ball to a running back who had very little daylight all day with the game on the line was simply foolish.
The Bears had two chances to tie the game. Their first two-point conversion attempt was no good, but the Lions were called for roughing the passer.
On the second attempt, the Bears gave the ball to Matt Forte who was stopped behind the line of scrimmage.
Why give it to a running back who had no running room all day with the game on the line? Why do so when you have three targets who are at least 6'3" in receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett?
The Bears had a clear mismatch in the secondary with the Lions defensive backs, yet—with the game on the line—they chose not to take advantage of it.
Add to it that McCown's mobility is another threat that close to the end zone. Yet, the Bears didn't use that at all.
It doesn't make any sense.
In Trestman's defense, he said he gave then-quarterback Josh McCown a run-pass option. Since the Lions defense gave the Bears a "run" look, McCown made the right call in calling a run.
Why did McCown have that option? Their running game hadn't worked all game. Why even think about using it there?
Trestman's play call there simply doesn't add up, and it might have cost the Bears the NFC North title.
Even with Trestman's questionable decision-making, the Bears had plenty of chances to take control of this game.
They just didn't capitalize.
The first big play came when the Bears failed to convert a 4th-and-1 at the Detroit 27. The call itself wasn't bad, but the man the Bears pay quite well to convert in those situations—Michael Bush—came up short.
Later in the game, the Bears had a 2nd-and-goal from the Lions 4-yard line when Cutler's pass was tipped and intercepted in the end zone. It's hard to find blame on that play. Cutler had a quick read and the throw was open, but Detroit's Ndamukong Suh made a good play to tip it.
The Bears had another touchdown called back due to a holding penalty. Forte scored easily from nine yards out, seemingly putting the Bears ahead 17-14, but Matt Slauson was called for holding.
Two more times Alshon Jeffery had chances to make big plays, but he wasn't able to finish them.
The first came on a throw over the middle that Jeffery simply didn't catch. It wouldn't have been an easy catch, but it's a catch the Bears expect him to make. It was a play Trestman mentioned as a key play.
The other would've been a very difficult play and a great catch. Jeffery appeared to have secured the ball as it was initially ruled a touchdown, but the play was reversed and the Bears had to settle for a field goal.
With nine catches and 114 yards, Jeffery made his fair share of big plays, but the two he left on the field may have cost the Bears the game.
He's a young receiver who is still battling consistency issues. There will be a time when he makes all of those plays; it's a time the rest of the league may be fearing.
On this day, however, Jeffery and the rest of the Bears just weren't good enough.
The Lions offensive line is solid, although they were without their starting right tackle. More importantly, they get rid of the ball quickly. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) only Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball quicker than Stafford.
The Lions had more than six yards to go on half of their 12 third-down attempts, but the Bears couldn't get any pressure. Overall, the Bears defense did a solid job as Detroit only converted one time—the fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson—but pressure on the quarterback can create big plays.
Chicago's run defense continued to be a big issue as Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined for 146 rushing yards on just 24 carries. For the second time this season, Bush averaged over seven yards per carry on the Bears. Even if you took away the 39-yard run he had in the third quarter, Bush would've averaged over five yards per carry.
On the other side, the Bears offensive line made it very difficult for them to succeed.
The Bears ran for just 38 yards on 20 carries as Forte didn't have a single run longer than seven yards.
Chicago had to go more than six yards on 13 of its 17 third downs. Hard to expect an offense to have any kind of success being backed up that much, much less with a quarterback who was hobbled by an ankle injury.
Being backed up that far also gave the Lions pass-rushers a head start. While they only had two sacks, they were credited with hitting the Bears quarterbacks 11 times.
The Bears easily won the matchups at the skill positions, but they were destroyed at the line of scrimmage. Something that simply can't happen if the Bears want to get to the playoffs and make noise when they're there.
It's hard to think positively after a loss, but the Bears did give fans a reason for optimism.
Their offense wasn't nearly what it has been in almost every game this season, but there's a reason for that. Before Cutler was injured, he easily led the Bears to a touchdown drive. When he was replaced by McCown, McCown did the same.
There's certainly reason to believe that had the Bears had a quarterback who was physically able for most of this game, they wouldn't have had much trouble scoring and winning.
The biggest reason to be optimistic is the play of the Bears defense, which had arguably its best performance of the season.
While they gave up far too much in the running game, the Bears did a good job of not breaking. The Bears came into the game giving up over 28 points per game and the Lions had averaged 27.4 points per game, yet they scored just 21.
The Bears defense held strong despite getting next to nothing from the offense. In many ways, it was a throwback game. The difference between this game and past seasons is that we know what the Bears offense is capable of.
More good news is that Jeremiah Ratliff (formerly known as Jay Ratliff) should be ready to play soon. If he's capable of being anywhere near the dominant force he once was, the Bears defensive line could be good. They're also getting Lance Briggs back at some point.
While teams may be running all over them now, it doesn't appear likely that that is going to continue when they get back to full strength.
While their safety play has been nothing short of awful, the Bears did get a big play from Chris Conte. His interception would've been a game-changing play if the offense had been able to punch the ball into the end zone.
While nothing will be easy, only two opponents left on the Bears schedule have winning records. There's plenty of reason to think the Bears can finish with a winning record and still contend for the playoffs.
This was a bad game; they lost to a team it seemed they were better than. If the Bears can get healthy and execute better in the future, good things should happen for them.