CHICAGO -- Playing without three of his top offensive weapons, Jay Cutler lacked the necessary firepower to topple the NFL's top-rated defense.
The Bears quarterback hung tough against Denver's explosive defense, but Chicago's failure to finish off the majority of their drives allowed the Broncos to escape Soldier Field with a 17-15 victory.
Without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (groin/shoulder), running back Matt Forte (knee) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (knee), the Bears squandered five prime scoring chances, settling instead for three Robbie Gould field goals.
The offense did find the end zone with less than a minute left on the clock when running back Jeremy Langford capped off a gritty drive with a short touchdown run. But the Broncos' defense stuffed Langford on the two-point conversion attempt, snapping the Bears' modest two-game winning streak.
Chicago's sense of desperation contributed to Cutler committing a pair of turnovers, including one giveaway in the fourth quarter -- Cutler's 11th turnover in the fourth quarter in the past two seasons, tied for second-most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Bears coach John Fox missed out on his chance to beat his old team, but Chicago keeps building credibility around the league. The Bears are a difficult team to knock out. But the absence of legitimate playmakers on offense proved too much for even the hard-working Bears to overcome.
What it means: There's no shame in losing to Denver -- the Broncos appear on their way to a fifth consecutive AFC West title. What's disappointing is the Bears had a legitimate chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but they failed to capitalize on offense. Cutler and company must bounce back if Chicago hopes to knock off Green Bay on Thanksgiving. At 4-6, the Bears still have a slight chance at an NFC wild card. If they fall to 4-7, forget about it.
What were they thinking? Last I checked, Demaryius Thomas is just the third receiver in NFL history with three consecutive seasons of 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. It might be prudent to cover him. The Bears unfortunately took a different approach. They left Thomas wide open on his first-quarter, 48-yard touchdown. Chicago pulled the same stunt in St. Louis when they failed to account for Todd Gurley out of the backfield. To add insult to injury, safety Chris Prosinski – pressed into duty because of Antrel Rolle’s knee injury – whiffed badly trying to tackle Thomas in the open field. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is experienced and talented enough to adjust on the fly, but the opening drives lately have been disastrous.
One reason to get excited: Fangio dialed up the pressure on Sunday. Chicago harassed Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler much of the afternoon, sacking the 6-foot-8 quarterback five times. And the pass rush came from a variety of angles. Defensive end Bruce Gaston, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and free safety Adrian Amos were among the defenders credited with sacks. Osweiler rarely had time in the pocket. He hurried many of his throws. The defense did enough for the Bears to win the game.
One reason to panic: Score a touchdown, please. The outcome is probably different if the Bears find a way to score six points instead of three. The worst moment on offense occurred in the fourth quarter, when the Bears failed to score on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line. That pretty much summed up the day. Earlier in the game, the Bears began a drive at Denver’s 49-yard line and promptly went three-and-out. The Broncos are too good to beat with only field goals. The Bears paid the price for their inefficiency on Denver’s side of the field.
Fantasy watch: The Broncos limited Langford to 25 rushing yards and one touchdown, but wideout Marquess Wilson stepped up with four catches for 102 yards. Cutler went 18-for-32 for 265 yards and two turnovers against his former team.
Ouch: Nickelback Bryce Callahan left the game in the first half, which forced Chicago to slide veteran Tracy Porter inside to cover the slot, while reserve Alan Ball played cornerback in the sub package. Running back Ka’Deem Carey suffered a concussion after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by TJ Ward. Even before those injuries, the Bears took the field shorthanded. Among Sunday’s inactives were wide receivers Jeffery (groin/shoulder) and Royal (knee), running back Forte (knee) and safety Antrel Rolle (ankle/knee). Forte, however, ran close to full speed in pregame warmups and should be available for Thursday’s quick turnaround at Green Bay. Rolle injured his knee at practice on Saturday – the third Bears’ starter to suffer a serious injury on the practice field.
Return shuffle: Unhappy with veteran Marc Mariani’s decision making, the Bears had wide receiver Deonte Thompson returning kickoffs against Denver. Thompson is a fairly new addition. He appeared in 14 games for the Baltimore Ravens (2012-13) and Buffalo Bills (2014) before joining Chicago’s practice squad on Sept. 22. The Bears recently elevated him to the active roster. The Bears stayed with Mariani on punt returns.