The Bears reached the playoffs last season by winning games that they appeared to have lost, by making that one play or two at precisely the critical moment of those games. This season they are on course to miss the playoffs because they suddenly cannot make those plays and are losing very winnable games.
They fell to 2-2 with Sunday's 33-27 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills (2-2). And for the second time in as many weeks, they gave up points in the final minutes and failed to score when they had opportunities.
Before a crowd of 72,780, the offense couldn't stay on the field and keep the Buffalo offense and quarterback Drew Bledsoe off of it. Facing the NFL's No. 28-ranked rushing defense, the Bears couldn't run. Anthony Thomas carried 23 times for only 48 yards.
The defense, which yielded 410 yards, most since Cleveland's 413 last November, couldn't make the offense's points stand up.
"We put the onus on ourselves," said quarterback Jim Miller, who saw the Bears lose a second straight game for the first time with him as their starter. "We aren't going to point the finger at anybody. It's just pointing the thumb back at ourselves."
The loss follows the defeat by the New Orleans Saints last week and marked the first time since 2000 that the Bears did not follow a loss with a victory.
They had a chance to win. After James Williams deflected an attempted field goal with 32 seconds remaining to set up the overtime, the Bears won the coin flip and got the ball to start the overtime.
They managed only three plays before Brad Maynard's 31-yard punt gave the ball to the Bills at the Buffalo 44. From there Bledsoe, who completed 28-of-36 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, went to Pro Bowl wide receiver Eric Moulds, who took the ball over the hands of cornerback Todd McMillon for a 30-yard gain.
Then Bledsoe rolled to his right away from pressure, escaped being sacked by defensive end Alex Brown and flipped a pass to running back Travis Henry, who evaded tackle attempts by Reggie Austin and Jerry Azumah and scored standing up. It was the fourth overtime TD pass of Bledsoe's career, breaking an NFL record he previously shared with Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw.
Last year the Bears were winning overtime games with little details that turned into big plays. This year
"We have to make sure we take care of the details," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who had two sacks to run his team-leading total to six. "If the offense puts up 10 points, we should hold [opponents] to nine. That's the difference between us this year and us last year. We are not taking care of the details. We aren't winning those close ballgames by two, three or four points."
The Bears missed their shot at a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter when Jim Miller, who completed 19-of-31 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, threw to David Terrell along the left edge of the end zone. But Terrell managed to get only one foot down inbounds. Officials initially signaled touchdown, then reversed the call after an instant-replay review. Paul Edinger then kicked the Bears into a tie at 20-20 with a 24-yard field goal.
Terrell thought he had been pushed out of bounds. If the officials had agreed, it would have been a touchdown.
"I don't say anything about the officials," center Olin Kreutz said. "We all made mistakes. If we don't make mistakes, we win."
The Bears were trampled early as the Bills gained 126 yards on the game's first 15 plays and went on drives of 75, 51, 41 and 76 yards the first four times they had the ball.
Each of the possessions ended in points.
The Bills scored a touchdown on the opening drive. Then the Bears scored a tying TD when Henry fumbled, Colvin picked up the loose ball and lateraled to Mike Brown after running 8 yards, and Brown covered the next 62 to even the score.
For Brown it was the third return for a touchdown in the last 15 games, beginning with his two overtime scores with tipped passes last season. And it was Henry's fourth fumble in four games this season, the last two returned for touchdowns.
The Bills then drove 10 plays to set up a Mike Hollis field goal from 48 yards. Bledsoe finished the fourth Buffalo possession with a 4-yard scoring pass to Moulds that put the Bills up 17-7.
But Miller completed 5-of-6 passes in a four-minute drive that ended with a 5-yard scoring pass to Terrell, who caught his third TD of the season under tight coverage at the goal line to bring the Bears back to 17-14 in a first half in which the Bears were outgained 222-87.
Buffalo scored on a 49-yard Hollis field goal on their first drive of the second half. Edinger converted from 46 yards in the third quarter and 24 yards in the fourth to tie the score. Buffalo answered with a 1-yard TD pass from Bledsoe to tight end Dave Moore before Miller directed the Bears' longest drive of the game (74 yards) that tied the score at 27-27 with a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Davis, his first as a Bear, with less than three minutes left in regulation.
"It's disappointing," coach Dick Jauron said. "We end the first quarter of the season at 2-2 and start getting ready for Monday night (Oct. 7 vs. Green Bay). That's all we can do."