LAKE FOREST, Ill.: The camera does not lie. So Bears coach Lovie Smith had to admit a mistake today at his weekly mop-up press conference at Halas Hall.
Yes, to those who thought they would never hear it, Lovie erred. He made a mistake by not challenging officials’ rule of no touchdown on Jay Cutler’s lost third-quarter fumble at the 1-yard line.
“You guys want to know about whether I should have thrown the red flag on the 1-yard fumble down by the end zone,” he told reporters. “Yes, I should have, looking at it of course in hindsight.
“Normally, if there's a critical situation, I throw it whether I have a good look or not on it. I didn't have a great look on it. I understand the reasons why but that was a critical play in the game. I need to be able to make that call.”
And since he was good enough to admit it, here’s the obligatory, then why didn’t you?
The Bears have coaches in the box above looking at replays. Fox TV had both a side angle and reverse angle that conclusively showed Cutler extend the ball out across the front edge of the goal line, firmly in possession of the ball before being pushed back by Albert Haynesworth and having the ball jarred loose by linebacker London Fletcher.
“We have people that are talking, but let's keep in mind, there's a reason why the officials didn't call it: because it's a close play,” Smith said.
Because it was close, it really was going to come down to the camera angle and view. Smith thought he had a good challenge one play prior to the fumble when wide receiver Earl Bennett was down at the 1-yard line, but replay upheld no TD on the play.
What it sounds like is Smith got a little squeamish. He failed on the first replay challenge and lost a timeout and didn’t want to risk it again.
“Well, I had just used one up before that and at the time I thought we were in control of the game,” he said. “And we've given the opponent the ball at the 1-yard line before and forced them to punt it and I felt like we would get the ball back right away, which we did, and we failed to get it back down. So those were the reasons why.”
In control of the game? You’re never in control of a game until the scoreboard says you are. The season-opener with Detroit should have told the Bears this much.
They dominated that game like few other contests they’ve played the last few years, holding Detroit to 110 yards until its final possession and outscoring the Lions til then 4 ½ yards to every yard.
Yet Detroit had the chance to win it in the end because they didn’t score. So to hear an NFL coach say they felt they were in control of the game when the scoreboard showed 14-10 is inexcusable.
Then Smith fell back on the replay technology excuse again. “There wasn’t a good enough reason to do it at the time,” he said about the quality of the replay.
The replays Fox had, though, clearly showed Cutler with the all over the goal line. A football scout I know said Smith probably heard them calling for a replay on the headset, without being specific, and suggested Smith misinterpreted what they had wanted the replay for, thinking it was to challenge if it really was a fumble.
With his own eyes, it was easy to see the fumble. However, there is no evidence this scenario is true, even though it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine it happening this way.
What also isn’t clear is why the Bears would even run the play. Fans and media alike had been calling for it in goal line situations because the Bears came into the game 0-for-9 on plays from the 1-yard line with two turnovers and only two field goals to show for those efforts from 36 inches away.
After all, Cutler has been asked about it two or three times this season. Last week, longtime Chicago sportscaster Les Grobstein asked him during the Wednesday press conference about using QB sneaks and Cutler said they don’t work near the goal line.
“That’s because they put guys right there in both gaps, so it makes it a little difficult,” he said. Apparently they weren’t that difficult. Except the place where the Bears ran the sneak wasn’t exactly where they wanted it to go. Haynesworth was too close and had been caving in the line all day.
“We didn't execute the way we needed to on that play, just say that,” Smith admitted. And Smith didn’t execute the way he needed to after Cutler fumbled and the replay showed it should have been a touchdown (their first points of a third quarter this season) and a 21-10 Bears lead.