The Chicago Bears dropped to 6-5 after their 42-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams Sunday afternoon.
The Bears defense again struggled to slow down its opponent's running game, and costly turnovers and penalties cost Chicago the game.
With the Detroit Lions losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers finishing with a tie against the Minnesota Vikings, the NFC North standings remain as they were with the Lions owning the tiebreaker over the Bears.
Here are my five takeaways from the Bears' 42-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Tavon Austin started it off with a 65-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, while Zac Stacy rushed for 87 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries before he was sidelined with a concussion. Stacy's backup, Benny Cunningham, wound up with 109 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown.
The Rams finished the game averaging nearly nine yards per rush, and the Bears simply had no answer for them all afternoon.
Shea McClellin struggled to set the edge in the running game, while Landon Cohen and Christian Tupou were virtually nonexistent in the middle of the defensive line. With the Minnesota Vikings and Adrian Peterson coming up next Sunday, the Bears need to find answers in their run defense—and quick.
Devin Hester looked like his old self as he rumbled his way into the end zone on a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown, but it was nullified by a holding penalty by Craig Steltz in the fourth quarter.
The return would have breathed life into a team that was desperate for something good to happen. The team finished with 10 penalties for a total of 84 yards.
At times, the Bears lost their cool, most notably when rookie guard Kyle Long was flagged for a personal foul with eight minutes, 45 seconds left until halftime. Long appeared to have kicked Rams defensive end William Hayes, but he was quickly moved away from the fracas by his older brother, Rams defensive end Chris Long.
Coming into Sunday's game, the Bears were 10th-best in the league in terms of penalties, only getting called for 63 through the team's first 10 games.
Penalties can kill a drive and put teams in a position that will not allow them to succeed. In order for the Bears to be a viable playoff contender, they cannot be marred with penalties like they were on Sunday.
A fumble by Matt Forte on the opening drive was a microcosm of how the day went for the Chicago Bears.
Head coach Marc Trestman told the Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell after the game:
We've had slow starts offensively the last three weeks and then we had the turnover early today. After the slow start last week we certainly picked up momentum and we felt very comfortable in our ability to run it and throw it and I think we did a little bit of both but we just couldn't keep up with them today.
While it is hard to argue that the Bears lost this game due to the offense, it proved once again that this team has had problems getting into a rhythm on offense to start games. The defense hardly did the team any favors, but turning the ball over that early into a game makes it hard for either side of the ball to keep up.
The team was lucky that the Lions lost and the Packers finished tied Sunday, but in order to keep themselves in this playoff hunt, the Bears will need to eliminate the early mistakes and work on getting into a better rhythm early in games.
The Bears have struggled in the past in goal-line situations, and Sunday they were 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line on their opening drive of the second half trailing 24-14 and failed to convert with Michael Bush when he was driven back for a four-yard loss.
Fast-forward to the fourth quarter, and the Bears ran seven plays with goal-to-go before they were able to punch it into the end zone.
A touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett was first nullified following a holding call on Jermon Bushrod, and the next play, after being called a touchdown, Matt Forte's 13-yard run was reversed to being down short of the goal line. Following a questionable roughing penalty on Michael Brockers, it took Bush two tries on the 1-yard line before he was able to cross the goal line.
The offense did show some positives, as both of Josh McCown's touchdowns came in the red zone, but the offense appeared out of whack late in the game with the ball in goal-to-go situations. The offense may benefit in the red zone with the return of Jay Cutler, but it is still unknown when he will be back.
All of the pieces fell into place for the Bears to take a lead in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions losing and the Packers finishing in a tie Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Rams made life difficult.
While it is certainly frustrating the way the Bears played against the Rams, the team has been decimated with injuries and could be getting some help in the way of Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs and Jeremiah Ratliff in the near future.
This coming Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings offer a winnable game, albeit in a tough atmosphere in Minnesota, and in two weeks, the Bears' showdown on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys will likely have playoff implications.
Despite how well Josh McCown has played, the return of Cutler will be a welcome sight for the Bears offense. Briggs' and Ratliff's return dates are still unknown, but Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago said that Ratliff could be available in Week 13 against the Vikings.
As long as the Lions and Packers continue to scuffle, the Bears still have a chance at winning the division.