Despite what was predicted, and despite the Packers’ recent imitation of their Gory Days, Wisconsin football fans had quite a weekend.
The Badgers, dissed despite their 9–0 record, may have earned some respect with their 38–14 win over Iowa(y), which previous demolished Ohio State. The Badger defense was so stout that the Hawkeyes’ only scores came from UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s two pick-sixes.
The Des Moines Register’s Chad Leistikow:
Iowa players and their head coach chalked up Saturday’s 38-14 debacle at Wisconsin to the usual culprits you hear in postgame interviews after Hawkeye losses.
“It’s the same stuff that won the game last week,” offensive lineman Sean Welsh said, noting the stark seven-day contrast in outcomes between drubbing top-five Ohio State and getting embarrassed by top-five Wisconsin. “It’s details and execution. I’m sure you’ve heard that enough.”
Historic euphoria one week.
Historic futility the next.
Iowa’s offense gained 66 yards Saturday. That’s the worst output of the 19-year Kirk Ferentz era, “eclipsing” (if you want to call it that) the 100 yards in the disastrous desert performance in a 44-7 loss to Arizona State in 2004.
The 66 yards is the fewest Wisconsin has ever allowed to a Big Ten Conference opponent and the second-fewest ever.
That’s the third-fewest by any FBS team ranked in the top 25 over the past 20 seasons.
If you’re upset Iowa didn’t throw the ball more, consider this stat: Quarterback Nate Stanley dropped back to pass 28 times Saturday; the Hawkeyes netted four yards on those plays.
He threw for 41, was sacked for 37 and committed three turnovers.
It’s as bad as you can get, a week after rolling up 487 yards and 55 points against the Buckeyes. Two Josh Jackson touchdowns on interception returns saved Iowa from further scoreboard shame.
“You can’t explain it,” Ferentz said, “other than just we played clean football last week.”
That may be the truth. But it’s not the real story of Saturday’s game.
That would be the bronze bull that Wisconsin players happily carried off the field. Not the Heartland Trophy itself, of course, but what it symbolizes.
The Badgers are the bullies of the Big Ten West. They were crowned division champions Saturday after improving to 10-0. They’re heading to Indianapolis for the league title game for the fifth time in seven years since the Big Ten went to divisional play.
They’re what Iowa aspires to be.
“Those guys taking it right in front of us,” linebacker Ben Niemann said, “that’s tough.”
Saturday was a reminder that Wisconsin is the bell-cow program that those inside the Iowa Football Performance Center must figure out how to take down.
The Badgers do everything well that Iowa wants to consistently do well.
They run the football with power. They play great defense. They beat you up.
The Badgers racked up 247 yards on the ground Saturday; Iowa had 25, with its longest carry a 9-yard run on a third-and-long.
They may not look like Alabama or Ohio State or USC. But Wisconsin surgically and schematically attacks you, and exposes your weaknesses.
“They have a big O-line and big running backs,” senior safety Miles Taylor said after his fourth go-round against Wisconsin. “They power, power, power, run the play-action (and) get somebody to the flat. Run, run, run, play-action. That’s their DNA. They try to get you to come up for the run and slip somebody out and, boom, it’s a big play.”
Wisconsin has been hammered by injuries all season, at almost every position. It lost its best linebacker before the season even started. Its best safety didn’t play Saturday; neither did its top two receivers. Its injury report barely fits on a piece of paper.
But it didn’t matter Saturday. It hasn’t mattered all season.
The Badgers kept shuttling in fresh bodies and did whatever they wanted, on both sides of the ball, and Iowa was helpless in stopping it.
“These guys were playing at a real high level,” Ferentz said, “and we weren’t able to match that.
“Usually, good teams in the Big Ten play good defense. That’s what these guys have done.”
Yeah, Iowa got the best of the Badgers here in 2015. It took four turnovers, including a fourth-quarter goal-line fumble when the quarterback tripped, but the Hawkeyes got them — by a 10-6 score.
Iowa won the West that year, and deserved it.
But the Badgers own this rivalry right now — the fake punt and 31-30 win in 2010; 28-9 at Kinnick Stadium in 2013 after a two-year series hiatus; 26-24 in 2014; 17-9 last year. Now this.
I do think the Hawkeyes are positioning themselves for a good run the next two seasons. This will probably be Stanley’s worst day as Iowa’s quarterback — 8-for-24 for 41 yards. The sophomore is going to be a good one. This will motivate him.
The Hawkeyes have young players at a lot of key positions, tackle and tight end among them.
Iowa’s 2018 schedule looks pretty friendly, too.
But the mountain it has to climb, Wisconsin, isn’t going anywhere.
As if they needed a reminder, take a look at the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten opener in 2018.
Wisconsin, on Sept. 22, at Kinnick Stadium.
Then came Sunday’s 23–16 Packers win over Da Bears, which proves that Da Bears can’t even beat the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.
About that, the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs writes:
So much for the idea that the Bears would have the upper hand on the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.
We can dismiss that thought immediately, and this is probably a good point to push back any imaginary timeline for the Bears pulling even with their archrival.
Coach John Fox talked about being close after the Packers finished off the Bears 23-16 at wet and cold Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. It was a one-score game, but these franchises remain far apart even after so many factors pointed the Bears’ way.
The Bears were coming off an open date and had an extra week to prepare. The Packers had a short week after being throttled at home by the Lions on Monday night when right tackle Bryan Bulaga and safety Morgan Burnett were lost to injuries. Then there was the midweek fallout from the Packers’ sudden release of tight end Martellus Bennett for a reeling club that had lost three straight. And let’s reiterate Rodgers was out with a broken right collarbone, replaced by former fifth-round pick Brett Hundley, who was making his third NFL start, two fewer than Bears first-round pick Mitch Trubisky.
Las Vegas oddsmakers made the Bears favorites for the first time all season, and they were favored over the Packers for the first time since 2008. That’s because there was a belief the Bears were strong on defense, strong enough to carry a fledgling offense lacking wide receivers, strong enough to bottle up Hundley, who looked dreadful in two previous starts.
This is a devastating loss for Fox, who is 1-5 against the Packers since his hiring in 2015. A victory would have put the Bears within a game of .500 and added to a feel-good vibe that has been at Halas Hall with people talking about improved culture and a deeper roster. Now they’re 3-6 and potentially headed for a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC North. Consider that since the NFL/AFL merger, the Bears are the only NFC Central/North team to finish last in the division four straight years, something they did previously from 1997 to 2000. Not even the Buccaneers, who were a train wreck upon their inception, managed four straight seasons in the cellar. These Bears are two games behind the Packers and Lions, who are tied for second place, with seven remaining.
The Packers converted 7 of 16 third downs and also a fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter. A Bears defense that looked good against Drew Brees and great against Cam Newton failed to come up with a big play. The Bears knocked out the Packers’ top two running backs as Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) didn’t make it to the third quarter. Third-string back Jamaal Williams filled in and rushed for 67 yards rushing as Green Bay piled up 160 on the ground, the most the Bears have surrendered all season. Yes, they were missing linebacker Danny Trevathan, sidelined with a calf injury, but don’t confuse him for a vintage model of Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara filled the wrong lane on Montgomery’s 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but it was Hundley who did the Bears in late. He tucked it and ran for 17 yards on third-and-2 from the Bears’ 37-yard line midway through the fourth quarter with the Packers clinging to a 16-13 lead. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee crashed hard inside and Hundley, who was oblivious to pressure at times earlier in the game, deftly escaped around the edge to gain 17.
There wasn’t a more frustrating play for McPhee, who was trying to make something happen for a defense that saw its streak of getting at least two takeaways in three consecutive games end. McPhee didn’t communicate his plan to defensive end Mitch Unrein in time, so there was no stunt, and the result was an escape hatch for Hundley, who finished 18 of 25 for 212 yards. …
Two plays later, Hundley scrambled out of the pocket to his right and zipped a back-shoulder pass right by cornerback Kyle Fuller’s helmet for a 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 5:29 to play, the decisive score in the game. It’s the kind of play you’re accustomed to seeing Rodgers make.
The Bears were battling to get the ball back before the two-minute warning. They had one timeout remaining and the Packers faced third-and-10 when Hundley dropped a dime over Fuller, who was holding Adams, for a 42-yard gain. Good defenses don’t let Brett Hundley do that to them with the game on the line.
Culture and depth are difficult things to sell when wins don’t come along with them. This was supposed to be the start of an easier second half of the season for the Bears, but when they get beaten at home by Hundley, that should be reassessed.
The win included this bizarre moment chronicled by the Tribune’s Rich Campbell (not the former Packers quarterback):
As coaching decisions go, John Fox’s replay challenge Sunday against the Packers will be talked about long after his tenure is finished, whenever that might be.
Bears fans will never forget that 23-16 defeat on a rainy Sunday at Soldier Field when Fox won a challenge that lost the ball for his team. The details of the backfire are vexing on multiple levels and, ultimately, helped victory escape the Bears on a day they had to have it to sustain meaning in their season.
“Obviously, that’s a play you’d like to have back,” Fox said. “But that’s not how this game works.”
Watch the replay of Benny Cunningham’s 23-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, and two things become clear.
One, the Bears running back did not score a touchdown.
Two, he screwed up trying to do so.
Let’s review: As Cunningham juked his way to the front right corner of the end zone, he dove and extended the ball while Packers safety Marwin Evans shoved him out of bounds. Cunningham crashed into the pylon as the ball slipped free. Officials ruled Cunningham out at the 2-yard line.
“We’re taught not to do it; unless it’s fourth down, you don’t reach the ball out,” Cunningham said. “But, honestly, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was trying to score a touchdown for the team.”
Fox, under advice from his assistants who help with video reviews, challenged the ruling that Cunningham stepped out of bounds.
“Every indication we had was he scored,” Fox said. “And, if anything, he would be at the 1 or inside in the 1.”
So rather than have his offense line up with three tries from the 2-yard line, Fox threw the challenge flag with hopes of being awarded a touchdown or, at worst, having the ball advanced a few feet.
But replays showed Cunningham lost possession before he hit the pylon, which, in the context of the video review, had unintended consequences.
And that’s where it got murky.
Replay officials in New York decided Cunningham lost possession before he was out of bounds and before he hit the pylon.
Overturned call. Touchback. Packers ball.
“When I watched the review, I felt like they made the right call,” Cunningham said. “Just a bad play on my part, but the refs got it right.”
To Fox, the fumble wasn’t as obvious.
“I think maybe on 50 times, like some people get to look at it, I think maybe you could see that,” he said. “But on our look during the game, that wasn’t really even discussed.”
Here’s the thing, though: Cunningham’s left foot dragged onto the sideline as he dove for the pylon.
Slow down the replay frame-by-frame and it’s still nearly impossible to determine if Cunningham lost possession before his foot touched the sideline. What’s more, as Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former head of officiating, explained on Fox Sports, the determining factor should have been whether Cunningham was in contact with the ball while he was out of bounds and before he hit the pylon.
“Even if he doesn’t have control, and he’s just touching that loose ball with a foot out of bonds, that would make the play dead prior to it hitting the pylon, and it would not be a touchback.”
In that case, the Bears should have retained possession where Cunningham fumbled, the 2.
Referee Tony Corrente explained the ruling to a pool reporter who did not get clarification about Cunningham making contact with the ball after he was out of bounds.
Said Corrente: “Looking at the review, he did not step out of bounds and started lunging toward the goal line (with both hands on the ball). As he was lunging toward the goal line, he lost the ball in his right hand first, probably, I’m going to guess, two feet maybe short of the pylon.
“As he got even closer, the left hand came off. We had to put together two different angles in order to see both hands losing the football. After he lost it the second time, it went right into the pylon. Which creates a touchback.”
In Blandino’s view, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field. And that’s what makes the decision so difficult for the Bears to swallow.
For the second time in as many games they were hurt by the result of a call that was overturned by video review.
Fox didn’t openly feel snakebit by the league’s video review process, saying the Bears create their own luck.
The head coach at least tempted fate by asking for the review. And, because officials ruled Cunningham fumbled in bounds, Fox technically won the challenge.
The Bears were not charged a time out.
Time may well be up for Bears coach John Fox, at least according to the Tribune’s David Waugh:
“In nine games, two of them we didn’t give ourselves a chance, but in seven games we’ve had the opportunity to win every single one of them,” Fox said. “The reality is, we are 3-6.”
The reality is, coaching makes the difference in close games, and the Bears’ sixth loss threatens to become the one history remembers as the point of no return for faith in Fox. In four futile, frustrating quarters against a beatable opponent at home, the Bears undid eight games’ worth of progress.
It was premature to speculate about Fox’s future around their open date because a respectable start put the Bears in position to realistically approach a .500 season. But those of us who considered the possibility of Fox saving his job with a strong second half now can concede the Bears looking so sloppy and unprepared after a weekend off make that unlikely. Dropping to 1-5 against the Packers will get the McCaskeys’ attention quicker than any other of Fox’s shortcomings. In other words, feel free to start jonesing for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or Googling Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Dave Toub anyone?
Save any cockeyed optimism about the Bears coming close or rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky making progress for another day, one perhaps when they weren’t outcoached and outplayed by a Packers team playing on short rest with backups at quarterback, running back, tight end and offensive tackle. This is what happens when a 3-5 team gets full of itself, fattened by what-ifs and maybes in a football city starved for success.
Opportunity knocked to see if the Bears wanted to save their season, and Fox left it standing on the front porch of possibility, ignored. So say hello again to Bears hostility, everybody. Any feel-good vibes that surrounded Halas Hall for the last month or so vanished, sometime between Fox’s ill-advised challenge and his defense’s poorly timed surrender. We could build a case for the bright side by examining the relative ease of the rest of the Bears schedule, but that would create the false impression that it matters. It doesn’t, not for a Bears team that committed 11 penalties in the first half (four were declined) and gained zero yards in the third quarter.
Sunday’s most memorable mistake came courtesy of Fox, who challenged a ruling that running back Benny Cunningham was out of bounds at the 2 as he dived for the pylon on a second-quarter run. Had Fox accepted the ruling without challenging, the Bears would have faced first-and-goal at the 2 and, in all likelihood, tied the game at 10. Instead, Fox threw the red flag. Replay officials in New York determined that Cunningham fumbled the ball into the end zone — resulting in a touchback that gave possession to the Packers. Officials should have placed the ball at the 20 wrapped in a bow.
In technically winning the challenge, Fox lost the benefit of the doubt in Chicago, probably for good. Fox took responsibility for the faux pas, the most egregious part being that nobody with the Bears had the presence of mind to consider a potential touchback.
“That wasn’t part of what we thought we would be the result,” Fox said. “Maybe you can see it after looking at it 50 times like some people are able to do.”
The Bears will be replaying this loss in their heads for a long time, especially defensive players who failed to back up so much big talk.
The Brett taking snaps for the Packers was Hundley, not Favre. Yet the quarterback making his third NFL start executed and improvised like a seasoned pro, completing 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 110.8. But the play that affected the outcome most — the one that may have signaled the beginning of the end for Fox — came on a 17-yard scramble on third-and-2 with 7:12 left and the Packers protecting a 16-13 lead. Rather than punt the ball back to the Bears, the Packers scored two plays later.
Hundley outplayed Trubisky, who showed improvement again by completing 21 of 35 for 297 yards but contributed to five sacks by holding the ball too long. A pretty 46-yard touchdown pass to Josh Bellamy showed nice touch, but other plays revealed a rookie uncomfortable in the pocket. Fox called it Trubisky’s best of his five starts, but it sounded like faint praise given how little confidence the coaching staff showed in the quarterback at two critical moments.
The first came on Cunningham’s fumble: Fox challenged instead of accepting first-and-goal from the 2, indicative of a coach fearing something bad could happen. The second example happened when the Bears called a quick screen for Kendall Wright for 4 yards on third-and-10 at the Packers’ 35 with 4:06 left, setting up Connor Barth‘s 49-yard field goal. Why not trust Trubisky to make a play downfield that might lead to a touchdown?
Will Fox regret this game most if the Bears change head coaches at the end of this season, an inevitability that apparently won’t affect him?
“I’ve been doing this too long,” Fox said. “I’ve never worried about my job security and I won’t start moving forward.”
After a disappointing Sunday, most fans would agree with Fox: He definitely has been doing this too long.
The Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom agrees:
If the Bears really wanted to do this right, they’d send out “Save the Date’’ date cards.
The Bears should’ve fired Fox before he left the field after Sunday’s awful 23-16 loss to the evil, dreaded Packers, but they won’t fire their coach before the end of the season because they don’t do that. Eventually, however, they always fire their failed coach because that’s the best thing the Bears do. When the Bears whack Fox, we’ll point to this loss to the Packers the way we pointed to a Packers loss that forced the ultimate firing of Marc Trestman, addled in both NFL coaching chops and sound, same as Fox.
Fox’s Bears were favored over the Packers for the first time since 2008. They were supposed to have the best quarterback on the field in this rivalry for the first time in more than a generation. In the first two games with Brett Hundley replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers, the Packers never scored more than 17 points in losses to the Lions and Saintswhile allowing 56 points total. Fox’s Bears, nonetheless, allowed more points and failed to beat up the Packers’ weak defense the way actual teams did.
The Packers were coming off a short week following a division loss. It was all set up for the Bears, who had two weeks off in which to show they were smarter and healthier.
And splat. Face-plant. Piddled down their pant legs.
When Fox’s defense needed a stop, it failed to prevent a fourth-quarter, 75-yard drive, failed to stop obvious runs and then failed to stop Hundley from throwing a soul-killing TD pass, the Packers’ first passing TD since Rodgers went down almost a month ago.
Defense is what Fox’s Bears are supposed to do. Offense is the issue, and it still is. A week off didn’t make Fox’s offense much better. It gained zero — count ’em, zero — yards in the third quarter.
Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky lofted a beautiful rainbow that produced a 46-yard TD, but he continued to show an inability to recognize a blitz and the subsequent open area. He also failed to realize when he had to throw away a ball to avoid a sack because the offensive line continue to show an inability to read a blitz. And he failed to recognize an open receiver on play-action.
But this was to be expected with a young quarterback. That’s why the decision to start Mike Glennon in September continues to make the Bears coaching look worse. Trubisky’s learning curve should’ve been further along.
Fox, though, can’t use the excuse of a young quarterback without pocket presence because the Packers had the same issue. The Packers found a way to win. Fox found a way to screw up. I mean, he screwed up so badly that he made Trestman look like Bill Belichick.
Benny Cunningham had just taken a screen pass 24 yards to the Packers 2. He was ruled out of bounds as he reached to hit the pylon with the ball. Fox challenged, and was embarrassed even for a guy known for bad game-day decisions in his 12-29 Bears career.
Replay officials ruled Cunningham in-bounds as he reached for the pylon and said he subsequently fumbled the ball out of bounds before he hit the pylon. Touchback, not a touchdown.
If the Bears don’t challenge, they have the ball at the Packers 2 with four chances to tie the score. But Fox apparently didn’t think his offense could get in, and so he pushed it. Oops. Suddenly, the Packers were starting at their own 20 with a seven-point lead in a game that the Bears would lose by seven.
The Bears offense false-started several times and had the center forget the snap count. They looked lost in the last two minutes of the first half. The Bears defense gave up 121 yards to the Packers’ second- and third-string running backs. They allowed Hundley to average a solid 8.48 yards per attempt and failed to intercept him. All of this came after the Bears had time off to practice things. Like football.
Or, worse, if they did practice and this was the result, then Fox shouldn’t be allowed to come back next week.
But he will. Because that’s what the Bears do.
And then he won’t come back in January. Because that’s also what the Bears do. The only thing the Bears do.