CHICAGO - The philosophical way to look at what happened at Soldier Field yesterday is that the Eagles were playing the third installment of four games in 18 days, they were riding a three-game winning streak, all big, emotional clashes, and they were due for a stumble.
Philosophers were in short supply in the visitors' locker room, though. The Eagles were an angry team, a tone set by their coach. A red-faced Andy Reid met reporters after his team's 31-26 loss to the Chicago Bears, and he wasn't ruddy just from the breeze wafting through the windy city. Players said Reid was unusually terse in his postgame remarks to them.
"He's mad, we're all mad. That was a game we didn't play well at all," said tight end Brent Celek, whose 30-yard touchdown catch in traffic set the final score, with a minute and 48 seconds left. "We feel like we really killed ourselves in this game."
In Reid's news conference, somebody asked him about momentum and responding to big plays from the other team.
"Listen, there's a point where you have to put your foot down and stop it, as coaches and players, it has to be stopped," Reid said. At another point he said, forcefully, "When you're down, you've got to bounce back."
There's a chance Reid's tone was calculated, at least in part - he has to get a bunch of bruised bodies and spirits ready to host the Houston Texans on Thursday. But his players were too fresh from sliding around to no avail on the painted sand that passed for an NFL field to be speaking for effect - they were genuinely aggravated over a loss that turned on a few big plays, made by the Bears and not by the Eagles. (Maybe they were even ticked at each other, judging from what witnesses said was an apparent reproach of quarterback Michael Vick by wideout DeSean Jackson, following Vick's news conference. Might be good not to go nuts on that until we have a better idea of what happened, though.)
Left tackle Jason Peters declared the 7-4 Eagles still a better team than the 8-3 Bears, which, frankly, was a hard view to get behind, on a day when the visitors trailed by 31-13 going into the fourth quarter.
"As bad as we played, we lost by five," Peters said. "They know we're the better team and they got the victory. We let the game get away. Hopefully, we'll see them again and battle from there."
Reid, an offensive coach by nature, seemed most perturbed at the 1-for-5 red-zone performance, for the second week in a row, something he obviously felt helped put his defense in a tough spot. But to a lot of people, this Eagles loss will be about the defense. Missing Pro Bowl corner Asante Samuel, back home with an MCL strain, the Eagles' "D" gave back all the progress it claimed last week against the Giants.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler threw underneath all afternoon and fashioned his best day as a Bear, completing 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a career-best 146.2 passer rating. Cutler only had to complete 14 passes because Matt Forte became the first 100-yard rusher against the Eagles this season (117 yards on just 14 carries, 8.4 yards per carry, including an early 61-yarder that helped set the tone for the day).
As middle linebacker Stewart Bradley noted, it was an odd way for a defense to fail. More than a few times, the Eagles, who outgained the Bears, 398-349, had the exact right defense in place for what the Bears were doing, and they stopped it. But every now and then, as on the 61-yard run, on which Bradley missed Forte in the backfield, they didn't. Really, really, really didn't.
"You've got to stop the run, and you've got to get off the field on critical downs," cornerback Dimitri Patterson said. "When we needed to get off the field, we didn't get off the field, and when we needed to stop the run, we didn't stop the run.
"These road games are tough. A series or two you let get away, it comes back to haunt you."
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott seemed to be playing good cop to Reid's bad cop. McDermott said during the week that his unit's personality shouldn't change without Samuel, who led the league in picks with seven, for the team that led the NFL with 19. The Eagles failed to intercept a pass yesterday, for the first time all season.
But afterward, McDermott stressed the "learning experience" angle for a young defense that was maybe a little too green this time; rookie corner Trevard Lindley got, by far, his most snaps of the season, and struggled.
McDermott called the game "one bump in the road," and strongly defended his group's effort.
"I don't question the effort, but fundamentally, we can be better," McDermott said. "They made some big plays. We were just a step away from making some plays. Like I said, we can learn from this. We've got some players out there who can learn from it, I can learn from it, we can all learn from it, in terms of being a better defense [against Houston]."
The pivotal sequence came right before the half, though you could tell from the get-go that the Eagles just weren't sharp, and that the Bears, tired of hearing how they hadn't really beaten anybody and weren't really a top contender, were rested and ready to make a statement. They hadn't played since beating the Dolphins Nov. 18, the kind of minibye week the Birds might be able to take advantage of when they go to Dallas in 2 weeks. But first, the Eagles must play the Texans - who blew up the Titans yesterday, 20-0 - on Thursday, which is going to be really, really hard.
"The good thing is, we've got the 4-day turnaround," Celek said. "We can get that bad taste out of our mouth quick."
"It's not going to be hard at all," defensive end Trent Cole said. "We've got a game, and it ain't no time to be thinking about hurtin' or cryin' or anything. We've got to go out here and win, and that's what we're going to do."
Despite an awful start and a 14-3 early deficit, the Eagles were down just 14-13 at the first-half 2-minute warning, and had second-and-goal at the Bears' 4. But Vick's pass to Jeremy Maclin was tipped by Tommie Harris and intercepted by Chris Harris in the end zone. Chris Harris ran the pick out to the 37. Six plays later, it was 21-13 - a 14-point swing, more or less, and not the kind of thing a road team survives very often.
"We can't have stuff like that happen; we've got to stop that stuff immediately," said Cole, whose two sacks of Cutler left him in third place on the team's all-time list, behind Reggie White and Clyde Simmons. "You can't let that happen as a defense. We know what kind of defense we've got. We didn't get it done . . . We should have made tackles, should have got off blocks."
It was Vick's first interception as an Eagle, after 240 throws, 211 this season, and his first since 2006, before he went to prison for running a dogfighting ring. He seemed to be trying to hit Maclin, but Todd Herremans didn't get much of a block on Tommie Harris, and the ball couldn't get to its target - a frequent problem against the sharpest secondary the Eagles have faced. The Bears were determined not to get burned deep, their safeties practically lining up in the shipping lanes out on Lake Michigan.
"We make that play, and I think it's a different ballgame," Vick said after completing 29 of 44 passes for 333 yards, two TDs, the one pick and a 94.2 passer rating. "I had a lot of options on that play. I could have [gone] strong side to Brent Celek - I went back side. I could have pulled it in and run it - so many things other than the turnover. I solely take responsibility for that. I have to be better in the red zone."
The second half started off badly with a 46-yard Devin Hester return of David Akers' kickoff. Then Hester went 34 yards down the sideline with a short pass, augmented by a horse-collar tackle penalty on Nate Allen. Next play, Cutler threw to tight end Greg Olsen, who reached over well-positioned Dimitri Patterson, and it was 28-13.
The Eagles mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter but settled for field goals on their first two drives. The first time, they needed to somehow get from a three-score game to a two-score game. The second time really didn't help them at all, but Reid said he felt it was better to score points than not, facing fourth-and-goal from the 18.
"It's difficult to move on, but you have to do it," Vick said. "You can't go back and play the game again. It's hindsight now."
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