What it means: The drama of the NFC North race continues another week. With the perfect opportunity to clinch the division because of losses earlier in the day by the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, the Bears ran into a Philadelphia buzz saw and were shredded to pieces.
Because all three teams lost, Sunday’s matchup between the Bears and Packers at Soldier Field will decide the NFC North winner.
Given the chance to win the division, Chicago should’ve been plenty motivated to play against the Eagles. But this loss didn’t appear to be a result of a lack of effort by the Bears as much as a sign of how inadequately they appeared to be prepared on both sides of the ball to face the Eagles. On offense, Chicago’s offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Jay Cutler consistently, and the Eagles dropped him three times for sacks in the first half alone. Defensively, the Bears allowed LeSean McCoy to run roughshod. By the start of the fourth quarter, the running back had already torched Chicago’s defense for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
Rarity for Hester: Already down 7-0 after Nick Foles' 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper, the Bears suffered another crippling setback on the ensuing kickoff return. Devin Hester returned the kickoff 36 yards, but Bradley Fletcher stripped him at the end of the run with Cary Williams recovering. The recovery gave Philadelphia possession at the 39 with 9:45 left in the first quarter.
Prior to Sunday, the last time Hester suffered a lost fumble on a kickoff return was Oct. 25, 2009, in a 45-10 loss at Cincinnati, according to STATS Inc.
Offensive line horrid: Chicago’s revamped offensive line received plenty of publicity throughout the season for its dramatic improvement from last season, but the argument could be made that the unit caused most of the team’s struggles moving the ball against the Eagles.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Cutler had already taken five sacks, two from Mychal Kendricks and three from Trent Cole. Throughout the game, the quarterback rarely threw a pass without a defender in his face. Cutler also took several shots after throwing the ball.
The offensive line struggled to open holes for the rushing attack, too. Running back Matt Forte entered Sunday’s game coming off three consecutive 100-yard outings, only to finish with 29 on nine attempts. A third-quarter Forte attempt stuffed by Cedric Thornton for a 2-yard loss and a safety that made the score 26-3 pretty much summed up the offensive line’s performance against the Eagles: offensive.
Starters pulled: With eight minutes remaining and the Bears behind 47-11, coach Marc Trestman pulled several starters including Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Forte. Given the importance of Sunday’s season finale against the Packers, apparently Trestman didn’t want to risk injuring any of the key players in a game Chicago wasn’t going to come back and win.
What’s next: The Bears will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to Halas Hall on Wednesday to begin preparations for the regular-season finale against the Packers. The winner of the matchup takes the NFC North crown.