Frozen fingers. Fluttering footballs. Frustrating failures. The Chicago Bears’ 8th consecutive loss was their worst yet.
As the Chicago Bears players tried to warm up in their home locker room after Saturday afternoon’s 35-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills, they attempted to describe the extreme conditions they had endured over the past three hours or more.
Kick-off temperature at Soldier Field: 9 degrees. With a wind chill of minus 12.
“Freezing,” said tight end Cole Kmet. “That was the coldest game I’ve ever played.”
The 26mph winds gusting up to 35mph also made things a bit more difficult.
“It was crazy,” said quarterback Justin Fields. “It really affected the whole game. From snapshots to steady throws. … (They) flew everywhere. The snaps went everywhere. It definitely affects passing and figuring out which way you want to throw the ball.”
Receiver Dante Pettis added: “Man, it was cold. And extremely windy. Even on the short stretches this ball moved and got a bit difficult to track at times due to some of the bigger gusts. It sometimes moved like an ankle ball.
Frozen fingers. Fluttering footballs. And for the bears, even more frustrating failures.
It was a new experience and a tough test of concentration for a young, injured and struggling team. But perhaps guard Michael Schofield offered the right perspective after the Bears’ eighth straight loss.
“It’s football,” Schofield said. “It was definitely cold. But you can’t blame that for affecting the game. The Bills played in the same (expletive).”
After all, guest Bills, a legitimate Super Bowl contender, has successfully weathered the extreme weather. Despite turning the ball three times, they passed the Bears 426-209, averaging 8.2 yards per rush and turning a Christmas Eve meetup into laughter, interrupted by Josh Allen’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox on the fourth and last place. 3 with 1 minute, 2 seconds remaining.
That sent the Bears to their most one-sided loss of the season as they needed to better understand the reasons their offense was so short-circuited than just their blatant talent and lack of depth.
Fields, for example, rushed for just 11 yards on seven quick tries, his worst single-game performance in an otherwise scintillating season.
“They had their D-end to play with me more,” Fields said. “If he plays outside and plays that far, I just run my fake, tangle him with me and pass the ball to the running back.”
That didn’t work too well either. As a team, the Bears managed just 80 rushing yards on 29 attempts — their second-lowest total all season.
Kmet said: “They did a great job taking pressure off the back and kind of forcing us to go where they wanted. That is a credit to them and the (defense) front they have.”
After a touchdown pass on the opening drive from Fields to Pettis gave Pettis a 7-0 lead just under 5 minutes into the game, the Bears couldn’t get into the end zone and only managed seven first downs on their last 12 possessions, including two on meaningless Last-minute shots from backup quarterback Nathan Peterman.
Fields also injured his right foot on his final pass attempt when he was kicked by linebacker Matt Milano late in the game.
Perhaps most galling, however, was the offensive’s inability to capitalize on all the bounty of defense. The Bears converted three takeaways into just three points. And these came after a Nick Morrow interception ensured possession in the red zone.
The following streak: a four-play, 1-yard field goal drive that ended with a 35-yard kick from Cairo Santos.
“It’s always frustrating,” Schofield said. “When the defense gives you the ball so many times, we need to get more points from it, man. We need to find a way to finish better. And that was the story of our season, wasn’t it?”
Kmet added: “We need to hold our end and be able to capitalize and get touchdowns in those scenarios.”
Additionally, the Bears started the first half with another possession at the Bills 38, but pressed just a first down and 19 yards wide before settling for a 37-yard field goal from Santos.
Of course, given the wear and tear on the Bears’ roster, the full context of Saturday’s game is remarkable.
Starting offensive linemen Cody Whitehair (knee) and Teven Jenkins (neck) were idle, leaving the Bears with their eighth starting combination up front this season. Larry Borom started on the left with Schofield on the right.
Receivers Chase Claypool (knee) and Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) were also inactive Saturday, further exhausting an already limited receiving corps.
The Bears of the week also put defensive starters Jaylon Johnson (hand) and Jack Sanborn (ankle) on injured reserve, ending their season and forcing the defense to regroup. Of the 22 starters the Bears used on offense and defense Sunday, only half were also Week 1 starters.
That helps explain some of the tackling deficiencies the Bears showed, particularly on a 33-yard touchdown run by Devin Singletary in the third quarter and a 27-yard TD dash by James Cook in the next series.
But the bears never had an offensive counterattack either.
Fields’ 44-yard completion against Velus Jones Jr. in the third quarter was the afternoon’s most explosive play, part of a 119-yard passing performance that propelled the Bears quarterback to over 4,000 career passing yards. But after the opening drive, the Bears ran 51 more games. And only two went for more than 10 yards while 35 were stopped for 3 yards or less.
Cold conditions? Certainly.
“But you have to block it at a certain point,” Kmet said. “For me, after the first quarter, you just go numb. Literally. It is what it is.”
What it was on Saturday was another road to another loss as the Bears fell to 3-12 in last place. And the end result might have been just as sobering and chilling as the cold.