A play in which Justin Fields missed a tackle while passing Sunday in the Bears’ 20-12 loss to the Giants proved disastrous.
The Bears once lost a division title and a playoff berth to a very similar one, just to show how big of a disaster they can be.
So it was no surprise when Bears coach Matt Eberflus decided to give players who looked at the loose ball on the ground but did nothing about it the ultimate penalty in the basic HITS scoring system.
“All these guys got ‘loaves’ in this game, just so we know that,” Eberflus said.
The Bears had just converted a third-and-20 into a first down at the New York 27 on Justin Herbert’s 24-yard screen. The Bears had momentum and trailed 7-6 in the second quarter
Fields then tried to throw, was hit by Azeez Ojulari and had not yet started to fly forward. However, the ball bounced out of his hand to the forward, where Kayvon Thibodeaux fell alertly for New York at the 25. The Giants took the momentum created by the turnover to a touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
The Bears never got within 14 points.
It all brought back bad memories of Julius Peppers hitting Aaron Rodgers as he threw in 2013, causing a ball to bounce forward on the ground where Bears linebacker James Anderson ran right past it.
Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin picked it up seconds later and raced into the end zone for a touchdown. It was ruled a fumble return, not an incompletion, and the TD made a huge difference in a season-ending 33-28 victory at Green Bay for the NFC North title. The Bears finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs as a result.
This didn’t have those ramifications.
Eberflus admitted that those around the ball were mostly offensive.
“The linemen that were there, and then the receiver that was right there,” Eberflus said, calling most of them “loafers” without actually naming names. “Well, I think that, you know, that’s a little bit harder because it’s coming from behind.”
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Eberfluss understood why his players didn’t jump on the ball, even when he thought they should.
“Usually when you take a hit, and I’m a quarterback, you know we’re hitting the ball, we’re all chasing the ball, we can see that ball,” Eberfluss said. “It’s like when (Josh) Blackwell fumbled (the Giants), then Jaylon (Jones) was right there, then with the breakaway and then he got it. “Well, everybody can see it.
“That’s a little bit harder. It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m in pass pro (blocking) and all of a sudden this thing falls out of the sky, you know, over my head, and then there it is.'”
One of those close was Cody Whitehair, who later suffered a knee injury later in the game.
“So I think Cody was caught off guard, as were all the linemen,” Eberfluss said. “I’ve got to be ready for it, jump it and get some reaction there.”
The Bears all say they understand, but they probably all would have said the same thing before the play happened. It’s one of those amazing bang-bang games that goes against the normal flow of action.
“Any time, for example, you could see the ball on the ground, you have to get on it,” said Darnell Mooney, the broadcaster. “We kind of preach it in practice.
“Defensive guys are always running to the ball no matter what, whether it’s 7-on-7 or not. Anytime you see a ball just randomly out there, you’ve got to go to the ball no matter what. They (coaches) definitely talk about it, sure.”
There were three other fumbles the Bears did not recover, including one by Giants QB Tyrod Taylor near the sideline that Nicholas Morrow committed while he was on the ground. But it was off limits. Then there was the last fatal fumble by Velous Jones Jr., and no one after the muff really had a chance to recover it in the open field other than the Giants or Jones.
They also got it on the last play of the game, a wild sideline play with plenty of fumbles and backward passes.
It wouldn’t seem so hard to accept the game situations, except that Eberflus last week talked about their failures to rebound two games against Houston. He then pointed out how they have “country” fumbles and “city” based on how many players are around the ball. They have strategies for restoring both types.
The punt and sideline were country balls, the other two city balls, and the Bears certainly had players around them who could have picked up either of those two in traffic, but they didn’t.
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