Was Dave Toub right?
”We are very lucky — the Chicago Bears are very lucky — to have Lovie Smith, and we better realize that,” Toub said as the Sword of Damacles hung over Smith at the end of the 2012 season. ”Everybody better realize that.”
Toub’s words or warning were brushed off by a Bears fandom ready for change. While national NFL observers wondered how the Bears could fire a coach after a 10-6 season, the locals who were suffering from a bad case of Lovie-fatigue knew better — it was Smith’s fifth non-playoff season in six years since playing for the Super Bowl. And even that 10-6 season was a downer — the Bears started 7-1, then lost five of six to all but end their playoff hopes.
But yet another post-Lovie low-point — a 17-16 loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Soldier Field — continues to put the firing of Smith in a new perspective. The Bears are 20-34 since Lovie was fired. In the 54 games that preceded his firing, they were 32-22.
There’s little doubt Lovie would have struggled as the Urlacher-Briggs-Tillman era faded. But even considering the drop in talent, the Bears have lost some of the bite they had in the Lovie era — as a defense and as a team.
That was never more clear than in the 2013 regular-season finale against the Packers, when the Bears’ defense ignored a loose ball after a Julius Peppers sack of Aaron Rodgers, allowing the Packers’ Jarrett Boykin to retrieve it and score a touchdown that proved to be the difference in a 33-28 loss that kept the Bears out of the playoffs. That never would have happened with Lovie Smith on the sideline.
And though many of Lovie’s post-Super Bowl teams underachieved, they usually beat the teams they should beat — like the 1-3 Jaguars. Lovie’s teams were 61-23 (.726) against losing teams. Even his non-playoff teams were 32-18 (.640).
Lovie’s last Bears team, in fact, was 8-0 against losing teams, but 2-6 against winning teams. That was among the charges against Lovie that year — he could only beat bad teams. Today, that looks like a badge of honor. At least he could do that.
2. Fox stayed positive after the discouraging loss to the Jaguars. “I think our guys can see how close we are,” he said.
But we’re still waiting to see where Fox’s leadership has made a difference. Since beating the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night last year — a victory that could have been a springboard at that point of the season — the Bears are 2-9.
3. How much times have changed: The Bears had 19 return touchdowns in Lovie Smith’s final two seasons and seven in 2013 under Marc Trestman — clearly a residual effect of the Lovie era. But they’ve had just three return touchdowns in the last three seasons — two of them inconsequential kick returns by Chris Williams in 2014 (when the Bears trailed 55-7 against the Packers) and Eddie Royal in Week 2 (when the Bears trailed 24-7 in the fourth quarter against the Eagles).
The Bears have not scored a defensive touchdown since Ryan Mundy’s pick-6 against the Jets in Week 3 of the 2014 season.
4. Brian Hoyer or Jay Cutler? The offense’s performance against the Jaguars was the height of inefficiency: Against a team that doesn’t allow a lot of yards (304.5, ninth in the NFL), but does allow a lot of points (27.8, 30th), the Bears offense under Hoyer gained a lot of yards (389), but didn’t score many points (16).
The Jaguars were allowing three touchdowns a game coming in — the only team that didn’t get that many against them was the Ravens (one), who were struggling so badly on offense they fired their offensive coordinator last week.
4a. Hoyer’s 78.8 passer rating against the Jaguars is the lowest for a quarterback with 300-plus yards, 60 percent or higher completions and no interceptions since the merger (1970), according to research done via pro-football-reference.com.
4b. Forgotten Man Dept.: It’s too bad quarterback Connor Shaw suffered a broken leg in the preseason. He was impressive in brief appearances and would be the people’s choice right now. Of the Bears quarterbacks on the current roster, Shaw might have the best shot at being a factor in 2017.
Shaw, who was acquired off waivers from the Browns in July, played against back-ups in three preseason games, but showed a lot of moxie against pressure. He was 11-of-16 for 127 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and sacks for a 132.0 passer rating. But he suffered a broken leg when he Chiefs defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches landed on his plant foot. Shaw completed an 18-yard pass to Josh Bellamy on fourth-and-seven when was injured.
Shaw is on injured reserve and out for the season. Nunez-Roches made the Chiefs 53-man roster to start the season but currently is on the Chiefs’ practice squad.
5. By the numbers: The Bears had several winning elements on Sunday.
Teams with no giveaways are 34-16 (.680) this season.
Teams with a quarterback who throws for 300-plus yards without an interception are 12-8 (.600).
Teams that convert 40 percent or more of their third-downs are 56-38 (.596).
Teams that hold their opponent to 20 percent or less on third-down conversions are 12-5 (.706).
Teams that have 35:00 or more of possession are 19-7 (.731).
Teams that complete 60 percent of their passes are 75-57 (.568).
The Bears were the first team since the merger to have all those in their favor, and lose — no giveaways; Hoyer threw for 302 yards with no interceptions and a 61.2 percent completion rate (30-of-49); converted 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) of their third-down plays; held the Jaguars to 2-of-10 (20 percent) third-down conversions; and had 35:47 time of possession.
6. Another sign of regression for the 2016 Bears: with 10 penalties for the second consecutive week (and 28 in the past three games), they have the ninth most penalties in the NFL this season (54, including nine that were declined). Last year they had the fourth fewest penalties (116, including 17 that were declined).
6a. That said, the most critical penalty was a bad break — outside linebacker Willie Young was called for “roughing the passer” for an incidental slap of Blake Bortles helmet on a third-and-seven pass rush while engaged with a blocker. While technically a foul, the infraction certainly was not in the spirit of the rules designed to protect quarterbacks.
And it proved costly to the Bears. Instead of having to punt, the Jaguars had a first down at the Bears 32 and scored three plays later to cut the Bears lead to 13-7 with 14:50 left in regulation.
Fox said the Bears reported that call to the league office. But he said Monday afternoon he had not received a response.
7. Are we witnessing the fall of Aaron Rodgers? After six games last season, the Packers’ quarterback had a 115.9 passer rating — 15 touchdowns, two interceptions, 68.1-percent completions — without Jordy Nelson.
After six games this season, Rodgers has an 88.4 passer rating — 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and 60.2-percent completions — with Jordy Nelson.
Rodgers has had his difficult moments, but never like this. In his last 15 games he has an 84.0 passer rating (26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 58.1-percent completions — and just one game with a 100-plus rating. Prior to that he had ratings of 99.0 or better in 18 of 21 games.
8. Fun Facts: Sunday’s game was the Bears first one-point loss since 1999, when they lost 14-13 to the Seahawks at Soldier Field, when Brian Gowins missed a 48-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.
It also marked the first time the Cubs and Bears lost by one on the same day since Sept. 6, 1998 — when the Bears lost 24-23 to the Jaguars at Soldier Field on Mark Brunell’s touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith with 29 seconds left and the Cubs lost 4-3 in 10 innings to the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium on Jason Kendall’s home run off Dave Stevens.
The Cubs were 4-0 when the Bears played this season until Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Dodgers.
8a. Since coming to the Cubs, reliever Aroldis Chapman has allowed 8-of-13 inherited runners to score — an unusually high percentage, especially for a pitcher with his stuff.
Chapman seems to prefer pitching the ninth inning and entering a game to start an inning. The numbers, for what it’s worth bear that out:
When Chapman enters a game with no one on and no outs, he has a .118 batting average against (11-for-93) and a .180 on-base percentage (18-for-100), with a 47-7 strikeouts-to-walk ratio (6.7-1).
When Chapman enters with runners on base, he has a .333 batting average against (5-for-15) and .450 on-base percentage (9-for-20), with three wild pitches and an 8-4 strikeouts-to-walk ratio (2-1).
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: At 31, in his 10th NFL season, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen keeps getting better. Olsen caught six passes for 94 yards in a loss to the Saints on Sunday — after catching nine passes for 181 yards in a loss to the Buccaneers on Monday night.
Olsen, the Bears’ first-round draft pick in 2007 who was traded to the Panthers during training camp in 2011, has 39 receptions for 610 yards and two touchdowns this season — a pace for 104 receptions for 1,627 yards and five touchdowns.
10. Bear-ometer: 3-13 — at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (L); at Buccaneers (L); at Giants (L); vs. Titans; vs. 49ers; at Lions (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Redskins (L); at Vikings (L).