It is hard to pin-point the exact play or game which kept the Chicago Bears out of the playoffs last year. Whether it was the Carolina Panthers game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, the Atlanta Falcons game, or all those games wrapped up in one irritating package is debatable
One play, however, stays with Bears fans and it wasn't even a game-winner.
A 26-yard pass from rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to wide receiver Michael Jenkins with Mike Brown giving the Falcons not only a giant chunk of yardage, but in fact another timeout by shoving Jenkins out of bounds with one second left. Time enough for Jason Elam to hit a 48-yard field goal to win it with 16 seconds to go after the Bears had taken the lead.
The Falcons had two timeouts, but who knows whether they would have been able to call it in time had Brown tackled Jenkins in bounds or better yet, if the Bears not have played prevent defense. Or, not have squib kicked the ball or, not handed the ball off to their fullback to get stuffed on the goal line.
Clearly, many things went wrong in that game and it is not logical to blame it all on one play, when in reality the Bears just weren't that good last year.
Bears fans consistently said their team "blew it" last year, which is true, but that is what mediocre teams do. Mediocre teams let games slip away instead of shutting the door. That is what the Bears were...last year.
I might as well get this off my chest right now; I hate the squib kick. That, Mike Brown's coverage and the Falcons' goal-line stand is what annoyed me the most about that 22-20 loss.
Is it really worth putting a team at their 40 instead of their 20 for a couple extra seconds? That is close enough for a hail mary touchdown and is 30 yards away from decent field goal range.
Not to mention, you never know where a squib is going to bounce. The only thing you are positive about is the opposing team is going to get the ball at the 35 or better and yes, you wasted a couple extra seconds. I'll take the 15-20 yards deeper over the three seconds taken off the clock.
Would you rather have Matt Ryan at the 40 with eight seconds left or Matt Ryan at the 20 with 12 seconds left?
It is all about stopping the pass if the Bears want a different outcome than last year.
The Bears have a better team than the one put on the field against the Falcons last year. The Falcons offense whom already had 301 passing yards on the Bears last year, added Tony Gonzalez at tight end.
The Bears lost Charles Tillman and Danieal Manning in last year's game and because of that, no one could touch Roddy White or even Harry Douglas. The Bears have upgraded with Tillman being healthy and Nick Bowman, although being up and down this season, over Nathan Vasher.
The pass rush for the Bears has been incredible and far better than last year, ranking fifth in the NFL in sack percentage through the first four weeks, led by Adewale Ogunleye. However, three of their first four opponents have completed more than 60 percent of their passes. The Bears have just one interception coming from a defensive back.
The Bears stopped Michael Turner last year, so you would think he will not be a problem with the improved performance of the defensive line, although losing Brian Urlacher could hurt. Hunter Hillenmeyer losing his starting job for what looks like the season helps. Nick Roach is an upgrade from Hillenmeyer, but a downgrade from Urlacher, so not sure what to get out of that.
Oh yeah, the Bears also have Jay Cutler this year. He is a pretty good upgrade along with Earl Bennett and Devin Hester at wide reciever. The offensive line is currently not as as good as it was last year and neither is Matt Forte, but both are coming off their best performance of the season against the Detroit Lions.
The Bears and Falcons should have a good battle Sunday night.
Prediction: Bears 27, Falcons 21.
News and Notes
As I stated above, it looks like Hunter Hillenmeyer is out for Sunday with a rib injury and has a good chance of losing his starting job. Nick Roach will be starting.
Adrian Peterson is most likely out for Sunday's game with a sprained knee, so Garrett Wolf will back up Matt Forte.
Israel Idonije, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Oct. 5, is not expected to play Sunday night.