INDIANAPOLIS – The play started in the shade and finished in the light yet somehow everyone was left in the dark.
Especially Alshon Jeffery who had a fire lit under himself as he jogged back to the sidelines with under two minutes to go Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Visibly frustrated and eventually slamming down his helmet on the bench, the receiver just couldn’t figure out how he remained invisible to Brian Hoyer on the play before.
With 1:02 left in the game and the Bears down six, the Bears faced a 4th-and-8 at the Colts 28-yard line. As he had 11 times before in the game Hoyer went to the air for Cameron Meredith, the primarily fill in for the injured Kevin White.
Unlike nine times before, this pass sailed on Hoyer and fell incomplete. Essentially it ended the Bears’ chances for a second victory on what seemed like a well defended play. But the bigger picture – more specifically a replay – showed that was not the case.
Matched up with Colts’ top cornerback Vontae Davis, Jeffery raced past him on the left side and had him beat by two steps. The receiver put his hand up for Hoyer to see but his signals for the ball were never answered.
Jeffery didn’t put the blame on the quarterback when speaking to the media after the game, despite the fact he was targeted half as many times as the rookie Meredith. But Hoyer was quick to point the finger at the man in the mirror.
“When you see the picture they disguised the coverage and really you’re just trying to go through the progression and it’s obviously a play that you’d like to have back,” said Hoyer, taking blame for missing the open receiver. “I’m sure I’ll watch it tomorrow and really look that one over and hopefully learn from it.”
It’s easy to pinpoint to the loss on the quarterback leaving his best receiver in the dark on the biggest play of the game. Sixty minutes in Indianapolis proved that is not the case – whether it’s the ten penalties for 80 yards or another missed field goal by Connor Barth or a costly fumble by Meredith in the fourth.
There is also the fact that the secondary could never find a way to cut off the Andrew Luck-T.Y. Hilton connection that yielded ten receptions, 170 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But that is still not the bigger picture for this Bears team and the organization as a whole. The point of this game doesn’t come to light unless you look outside the 60 minutes on the field on Sunday.
This decade the Colts and the Bears have been in the same situation at one point – rebuilding. The Colts happened five years ago when Peyton Manning’s season-ending neck injury led to a 2-14 season. With a chance to reshape the franchise, the likely Hall of Fame quarterback was released in March of 2012.
As fate would have it, Luck was literally on their side. That’s quarterback Andrew Luck – a generational talent at the position who spent one extra year at Stanford and landed in the Colts’ lap. His first season was a breakthrough 11-5 campaign in which the Colts were like the teams of old yet sported a new look.
From that 2012 season through 2014 the team moved one step farther in the playoffs and reached the AFC Championship in January of 2015. What that success did mask a few years of sub-par drafts and holes in the lines that had the Colts competitive in their own division but struggling against teams like the Patriots.
Bad acquisitions and drafting along with questionable coaching decisions caught up with the Colts the last year-and-a-half as they’ve compiled a 10-11 record since that AFC Title Game loss to the Patriots. It nearly led to the firing of head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson after a playoff-less season but owner Jim Irsay has a last-minute change of heart.
The pair each got a four-year extension but a poor start to this season has both back on the hot seat.
So what is the big picture the Bears coaching staff and front office see?
Building an organization goes beyond just a guy behind center or a tackler. In order to maximize the potential on a team you must have a scouting staff that makes sound decisions and drafts intelligently right from the start.
Free agent misses can leave gaping holes that lead to a weakness on the team or in the case of the offensive line and injury to a quarterback. Ryan Pace is charged with making this happen for a Bears rebuild that is still in its infancy and didn’t have the advantage the Colts had of a No. 1 draft pick. John Fox’s ability to get the right guys on the field once the players are in place is just as essential.
If neither guy is able to do it, then both have to go sooner than later. The struggles of free agents Barth and Robert Massie are things that raise red flags.
Think this sound obvious? We’ll sometimes it is not. That’s the bigger picture of this game that goes beyond Hoyer not getting his eye on Jeffery in time. Last year I wrote that the Colts could be an example for the Bears to take during their rebuild.
Fourteen months later they are a cautionary tale. They’ve got their elite quarterback but issues are all around him that took an AFC favorite in 2015 and put them in the middle of the pack in 2016. They’ve tried to make it work with the same thinking but it has only caused the team to stagnate.
Mr. Pace, I hope you took notes on Sunday. Mr. McCaskey, you should have too. Lessons were sitting there Sunday afternoon in the sun and the shade.