Bears right guard Kyle Long bowed his head and rested it in one hand as he sat at his locker still wearing his jersey and pads. A few feet away, left guard Matt Slauson sat at his stall with a pinch of tobacco in his lower lip.
In hushed tones, he described why the Bears lost 21-19 to the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field and how they missed their chance to take sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
Discussions in other corners of the Bears' locker room centered on quarterback Jay Cutler's left ankle injury and coach Marc Trestman's decision to leave his hobbled starter in the game until the Bears' final drive. But long faces among the offensive linemen exposed the heart of this defeat.
"Disappointed," Slauson said. "Our defense gave us tremendous opportunities. We got the quarterbacks hit too much. We didn't execute fully in the running game."
The Lions' fierce defensive line wreaked havoc and controlled the line of scrimmage. They derailed the Bears' season six days after a promising road win over the Packers. The Lions (6-3) swept the season series and now own a head-to-head tiebreaker that effectively drops the Bears (5-4) two games back in the standings with seven to play.
They consistently harassed Cutler — they were credited with 11 quarterback hits — and, as a result, opened Trestman to an avalanche of second-guessing.
Cutler's second-quarter ankle injury limited his athleticism, and he completed only 9 of 22 passes for 122 yards after halftime. However, Trestman deferred to team trainers and Cutler's evaluations of his health in leaving him in until backup Josh McCown's fresh legs were required in a hurry-up situation down 21-13 with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining.
"I may come back (Monday) and say, 'I made a mistake, and I should have taken him out earlier,' " Trestman said. "But, at the time … the decision was made to keep him in there and let him fight with his football team, to play. And here we are."
The left groin injury Cutler suffered on Oct. 20 was unrelated to Sunday's ankle injury, he insisted. Doctors initially said the groin injury would sideline Cutler at least four weeks, but he returned in three.
Cutler said he was hurt late in the first half Sunday, but he bristled at a request to describe the exact play.
"I just didn't feel like I could make some of the throws I wanted to make," he said. "Couldn't move around. Couldn't be as mobile. As the game went on, on one of those last drives, I just had to step up. Normally I'd want to run out of there; couldn't do it. I missed a throw to Alshon (Jeffery). It just kind of limited us."
Cutler limped and moved slowly as the second half progressed, but Trestman saw indications Cutler still was helping the team.
One was the throw Cutler zipped down the middle for Jeffery on first down from the Lions' 14-yard line with 8:19 left in the third quarter. Jeffery, though, dropped the sure touchdown when safety Glover Quin hit him.
Cutler's ability diminished after that. With 5:41 remaining in the game, he passed up an opportunity to scramble on a third-and-10 with the Bears trailing 14-13. Instead, he bounced a throw.
"That's the cost-benefit analysis reasoning you make when you have your quarterback in there who's limited with his mobility," Trestman said. "We elected to keep him in the game, and that's the price we paid."
McCown rallied the offense on a 10-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. He stepped up in the pocket and slung an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall with 40 seconds remaining.
But the ensuing two-point conversion failed because the offensive line lost another block.
The play call gave McCown a read-pass option based on a count of defenders. McCown correctly checked to a run, but defensive tackle Nick Fairley exploded past center Roberto Garza and made the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
"I've just got to make that block," Garza said. "That's all it comes down to."
And with that, the Bears face another round of adversity. Cutler's status for Sunday's game against the Ravens is uncertain, and their playoff odds are longer as they stare up at the Lions.
"It's tough," Cutler said. "We have to get some help, obviously. A lot of football left to play, though. We've been in situations before, so we just have to take care of ourselves and see how it plays out."
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