LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The excuses differed, yet the message resonated like the ripples of doubt now cascading through the locker room from the Bears' embarrassing plunge off the deep end in Sunday's loss to the Giants.
Regardless of the personnel deployed on the offensive line moving forward, 10 sacks can’t happen again.
“We’re all just kind of looking at ourselves in the mirror a little bit,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
Surely the Bears don’t like what they see as they prepare to hit the road for Sunday’s game at winless Carolina (0-4). Offensive coordinator Mike Martz blamed himself for the Bears allowing an NFL-record nine sacks in one half, which eventually forced quarterback Jay Cutler out of action due to a concussion, while casting doubt on his status for this week’s game.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice, meanwhile, gave an unfiltered assessment.
“The thing is: we took turns getting our [expletive] beat. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “It wasn’t just those five guys [on the offensive line]. It was other positions [too]. You add all that together and it adds up to 10 [sacks]. That’s not a very good night. In fact, that’s an all-time ugly night. So we’ve just got to continue to work to get better, and try to get five guys out there who can work with continuity, and put together a succession of plays where we can score.”
Obviously, that’s much easier to discuss in interviews than duplicate on the football field.
However, Martz claims that, in a sense, he overcoached the team in the short week of preparation leading into the Sunday’s debacle. The end result became information overload for a Bears squad playing on the road after an emotional victory over a divisional foe just six days earlier.
“Let me tell you this: I just feel terrible,” Martz said. “I tried to do waaaay too much in a short week with these guys. They’re not ready for that. We’ve got a bunch of young guys trying to learn how to play, and we lost our poise, and got on our heels. We couldn’t do much of anything right. That’s just an old coach’s fault right there. The calls, whatever, whatever went wrong, that game is my responsibility. The preparation for that game, we felt good about it. But it was way too much stuff for those guys to deal with. Just leave it at that, if you would. These guys are going to be fine. I promise they will be just fine. We’ll make sure of that.”
The team’s injury situation up front doesn’t evoke optimism about those remarks. Starting left tackle Chris Williams (hamstring) worked on a side field Wednesday with a member of the club’s medical staff, while right guard Lance Louis (knee) and Roberto Garza (knee) practiced, despite missing snaps last Sunday against the Giants. The likelihood for reinjuring themselves remains high for Louis and Garza. Unable to finish Sunday's contest, Louis practiced Wednesday in a limited capacity. Garza, meanwhile, had been "limping around" just last week, according to Tice.
Smith hasn’t given a definitive timetable for Williams’ return.
“Chris Williams continues to get better,” Smith said. “[He’s] not ready to practice yet.”
The club has utilized that starting five up front for four quarters and a series so far this year.
Even if the Bears had competed with that starting five from Game 1 to now, Tice figured coming into the season it would take six games for the unit to find its groove.
“I had hoped that six games into it, with the same five guys in there, we’d start to show improvement to the point where we wouldn’t be the trash talk of the neighborhood,” Tice said. “We haven’t had the five guys in there except for one game and one series. So it’s been a little tougher. It’s a challenge, and we’ve got to rise to the challenge. Whoever we put out there in that Bears uniform has got to play winning football for us. If they don’t play winning football, we’ve got to put somebody out there that will play winning football for us. That’s kind of how it is, you know.”
It’s unclear whether the Bears’ hobbled offensive line can rise above its injury situation. The tight ends and running backs can help by holding their own against pass-rushers. Cutler and the quarterbacks can alleviate some of the pressure by getting rid of the ball quicker.
“We know our quarterbacks have been hit a few times,” Smith said. “But a lot of quarterbacks have been hit in the league.”
Martz said the team made adjustments to neutralize the Giants’ pressure, “quite a bit, actually. It didn’t work.” But the offensive coordinator says he knows the answers to the club’s problems, and isn’t worried about it falling into a rut as it works to get back into the win column.
“That would be true if I wasn’t so sure I knew and understood why it happened. Clearly, clearly, we’re doing too much. Not the wrong things, just too many things," Martz said. "Our guys are trying to think under pressure in a short week. Things start going bad, you can’t regroup, and things snowball. I’ve gone through this before. I did admit this to you. I’m not trying to be John Wayne. John Wayne died a long time ago, [so] I’m not trying to be John. I’m just being very blunt and very honest with you. It’s painful to tell you that, to stand here and tell you that. But that’s just where it is."