Bears strayed from winning formula

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
3:48
PM ET


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Under Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears pride themselves on winning the turnover battle. They lost that statistical fight in Oakland on Sunday, and as expected, lost the game.

Making his first regular season start since playing at Colorado State in 2007, Caleb Hanie threw three first-half interceptions in the Bears’ 25-20 loss to the Raiders.

[+] EnlargeCorey Graham
AP Photo/Ben MargotCorey Graham's third interception in as many games was the only turnover the Bears forced on Sunday.
Chicago only caused one turnover -- a Corey Graham interception in the second quarter -- and it resulted in a touchdown. They flubbed several chances to pick off Carson Palmer and nearly snagged an onside kick near the end of the game.

“The way we’ve won games this year is taking care of the football, winning the turnover ratio and that really hurt us [Sunday],” Smith said. “It’s kind of simple as that.”

“Any time you lose the turnover ratio, chances are you’re going to lose,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “It’s a proven stat. If you’re plus-3, you have a 100 percent chance of winning. If you’re plus-2, it’s like 85. Plus-1, it’s like 75. If you break even, it’s a flip of the coin.”

This was only the second game all season the Bears have finished with a negative turnover differential. And in the other game, they actually won. Jay Cutler fumbled once and the Bears didn’t need a turnover in their 39-10 win over Minnesota on Oct. 16.

In four of the Bears’ seven wins, the turnover margins were noticeable -- Chicago had an aggregate advantage of 16-5. The Bears are 2-2 when they finish even on turnovers and lost once, at Detroit, when they held a 1-0 advantage. Cutler has 10 turnovers and Forte two. Of the Bears' 15 turnovers this season, opponents have scored on nine ensuing drives, resulting in 49 points.

Thanks to the defense, Hanie’s three interceptions only turned into two field goals for Oakland, but with limited experience, he remains a question mark for the Bears as he tries to fill in for an injured Cutler.

“That’s normally how you’d expect a guy to start off when he hasn’t had a lot of time,” Smith said. “But once he got going, especially in the second half, he made a lot of plays. You could see him more and more comfortable in the pocket leading our offense.”

While the first two interceptions were on Hanie, the third looked to be a questionable Mike Martz play call: an across-the-body screen pass on second and 1 at the Oakland 7-yard line. Kamerion Wimbley picked off the tipped pass and returned it to the Bears’ 6-yard line.

If it looked like the Raiders knew it was coming, they did. Raiders linebacker Aaron Curry tipped the ball to Wimbley and said he recognized the play immediately.

"I'll never forget seeing it on film and saying, 'That's their go-to play. If they need these points, that's their play,'” Curry told reporters Sunday, according to a story on the San Francisco Chronicle website. “Then I saw the formation on the field and I was like, 'This is easy, I'm just going to wait for them to throw it to me.' "

Smith, however, wouldn’t second-guess the play call. He said it was just a great play by Curry to tip it.

“Of course you’re going to get criticized when something didn’t work,” Smith said. “Next time it will.”

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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