Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

David Haugh: Travesty in Tampa confirms Bears one of NFL's worst; nobody should feel safe

Paid well to prevent losses as embarrassing as Sunday's, which painted the Bears as unprepared for the Buccaneers as they were overwhelmed, coach John Fox offered honesty that indicts everybody.

"I didn't see it coming," Fox said after a 36-10 defeat at Raymond James Stadium that was as incomprehensible as any he has endured with the Bears.

The eyes can be the first thing to go for a football coach. But worse than Fox not seeing the Bears' abysmal effort coming, nothing that happened in the three-hour snoozefest suggested he knew how to stop it.

Chicago constantly wants to debate quarterback Jay Cutler's future — at this point, it only will be surprising if he remains a Bear in 2017 — but things have deteriorated enough to start discussing Fox's, too. And general manager Ryan Pace's. And team president Ted Phillips', given that Phillips sits in a chair best occupied by a football executive.

A team so maddeningly inconsistent 22 months into a regime requires a thorough evaluation, from the person who signs the checks to the guy who carries Fox's sideline cord. The Bears responded to their vacation week by taking another Sunday off, showing no evidence of coaching. Whether getting flagged for false starts or catching punts at the 5, the Bears too often lacked intelligence and intensity. That's on the 53 professionals on the roster but, in the NFL, getting them ready falls on the head coach and his staff.

It matters not one iota how average the rest of the NFC North has become; the Bears remain one of the NFL's worst teams. Sunday's travesty in Tampa confirmed it. No longer do the Bears have the Cubs as cover to distract our city's sports attention. In their first game since baseball season ended, the Bears only inspired apathy that often precedes irrelevance. The easier the Bears become to ignore, the harder it will be for the McCaskeys to justify doing nothing.

The Bears entered the game as healthy as they have been yet made their fans feel sick after an outbreak of ineptness. All over the Buccaneers home stadium, seats were filled with loud and loyal people in orange-and-blue T-shirts and jerseys who wasted their money to see the Bears lose a winnable game.

In retrospect, maybe rewarding a two-win team with an entire week off won't go down as one of Fox's brightest ideas. And while we're second-guessing, once Brian Hoyer broke his arm against the Packers on Oct. 20, were there no available veteran alternatives better than Matt Barkley? Cutler deserved to be pulled after his third turnover Sunday, but no legitimate option existed.

"Our whole team was off today," Fox said. "I don't think you can put it on one guy."

If this Buccaneers defense included Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, Cutler looking so lousy would have been understandable. But for an 11-year veteran facing a bottom-five defense, the mistakes were unacceptable. Five Bucs opponents have scored 27 or more points, but the Bears' lone touchdown came on a fluke of a 50-yard Hail Mary pass.

"I didn't play well," Cutler acknowledged.

Truth is, seldom has Cutler suffered through a worse stretch. Days after making national headlines by declaring himself a Donald Trump supporter, Cutler's play was deplorable. You might say Cutler made Bears opponents feel great again with familiar poor judgment. Only Hillary Clinton suffered a more disappointing performance in Florida this month.

The same experienced quarterback who displayed such urgency against the Vikings showed a rookie's awareness. On Cutler's first interception, he stared down Alshon Jeffery and threw the slant pass even after cornerback Brent Grimes assumed inside position. On the second one, he floated a play-action, throwback pass that former Bears safety Chris Conte returned 20 yards for a touchdown before giving Chicago the proverbial middle finger.

Cutler's two strip-sack fumbles — one in the red zone and the other in the end zone — reminded everybody how confounding Cutler remains. How many times has he fumbled on similar plays? To underscore the agony for everyone cursing the Cutler Era, the Bucs pass rusher who forced the safety — end Robert Ayers — was the player the Broncos drafted at No. 18 overall in 2009 with one of the picks the Bears traded them.

On a day of extremes, one play summed up the Bears' frustration. The ball was snapped at the Bears' 23, but, by the time Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston escaped pass rusher Leonard Floyd, he was running out of his own end zone. Winston spotted Mike Evans clearing deep and heaved a pass officially called a 39-yard completion that traveled closer to 50. One play later, Winston hit Freddie Martino for a 43-yard touchdown pass that completed a quick odyssey from one goal line to the other — and sent the Bears reeling.

Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long left the game on a cart with an ankle injury. Running back Jordan Howard, the team's MVP the past month, suffered what Fox called a possible Achilles injury. Everybody boarded the team plane with a bruised ego.

A grimace covered linebacker Jerrell Freeman's face after the game when a TV reporter asked about his mood.

"Am I supposed to be happy?" Freeman snapped.

Understandably, Freeman appeared quite angry. And the situation at Halas Hall looks as sad as ever.

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