As Chicago Bears players attempted to thaw out inside the home locker room after Saturday afternoon’s 35-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills, they tried to describe the extreme conditions they had endured for the previous three-plus hours.
The kickoff temperature at Soldier Field: 9 degrees. With a windchill of minus-12.
“Freezing,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “That was the coldest game I’ve ever played in.”
The 26-mph winds with gusts up to 35 mph made everything a little more difficult too.
“It was crazy,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “It really impacted the whole game. From snaps to even tosses. … (Those) were flying everywhere. The snaps were going everywhere. It definitely impacts the passing game and figuring out which way you want to throw the ball.”
Added receiver Dante Pettis: “Man, it was cold. And extremely windy. Even on the short routes, that ball would be moving and become a little difficult to track at times because of some of the bigger gusts. It was moving like a knuckleball at times.”
Frozen fingers. Fluttering footballs. And, for the Bears, more frustrating failures.
It was a new experience and a difficult test of concentration for a young, injured and struggling team. But perhaps guard Michael Schofield offered proper perspective after the Bears’ eighth consecutive loss.
“It’s football,” Schofield said. “It was definitely cold. But you can’t blame that for impacting the game. The Bills were playing in the same (expletive).”
After all, the visiting Bills, a legitimate Super Bowl contender, handled the extreme weather in a winning way. Despite turning the ball over three times, they outgained the Bears 426-209, averaged 8.2 yards per rush and turned a Christmas Eve get-together into a laugher, punctuated with Josh Allen’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox on fourth-and-3 with 1 minute, 2 seconds remaining.
That sent the Bears to their most lopsided loss all season with a need to better understand the reasons their offense short-circuited so badly beyond just their glaring talent and depth deficiencies.
Fields, for example, only ran for 11 yards on seven rushing attempts, his worst single-game output in an otherwise dazzling season.
“The had their D-end play me more,” Fields said. “When he does play outside and play out wide like that, I just carry out my fake, get him involved with me and hand the ball off to the running back.”
That didn’t work that well either. As a team, the Bears managed just 80 rushing yards — their second-lowest total all season — on 29 attempts.
Said Kmet: “They did a great job bringing pressure off the back side and kind of forcing us to go where they wanted us to. That’s a credit to them and the (defensive) front they have.”
After an opening-drive touchdown pass from Fields to Pettis provided a 7-0 lead barely 5 minutes into the game, the Bears didn’t visit the end zone again and managed only seven first downs on their final 12 possessions, including two on meaningless completions from backup quarterback Nathan Peterman in the final minute.
Fields also injured his right foot on his final pass attempt when he was stepped on by linebacker Matt Milano late in the game.
Perhaps most aggravating, though, was the offense’s inability to capitalize on all the gifts provided by the defense. The Bears converted three takeaways into only three points. And those came after a Nick Morrow interception provided possession inside the red zone.
The ensuing series: a four-play, 1-yard field-goal drive that ended with Cairo Santos’ 35-yard kick.
“That’s always frustrating,” Schofield said. “When the defense gives you the ball that many times, we’ve got to get more points out of that, man. We have to find a way to finish better. And that’s been the story of our season, right?”
Added Kmet: “We have to hold up our end and be able to capitalize and get touchdowns in those scenarios.”
Furthermore, the Bears began another first-half possession at the Bills 38 but squeezed only one first down and 19 yards out of it before settling for a 37-yard Santos field goal.
The full context of Saturday’s game is, of course, notable given the attrition of the Bears roster.
Starting offensive linemen Cody Whitehair (knee) and Teven Jenkins (neck) were inactive, leaving the Bears to use their eighth starting combination up front this season. Larry Borom started at left guard with Schofield on the right side.
Receivers Chase Claypool (knee) and Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) were also inactive Saturday, further depleting an already limited receiving corps.
The Bears the week also put defensive starters Jaylon Johnson (hand) and Jack Sanborn (ankle) on injured reserve, ending their seasons 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 to explain some of the tackling deficiencies the Bears showed, particularly on a 33-yard Devin Singletary touchdown run in the third quarter and a 27-yard TD dash by James Cook on the next series.
But offensively, the Bears never had a counterpunch either.
Fields’ 44-yard completion to Velus Jones Jr. in the third quarter was the afternoon’s most explosive play, part of a 119-yard passing performance that pushed the Bears quarterback past 4,000 passing yards for his career. But after the opening drive, the Bears ran 51 more plays. And only two went for more than 10 yards while 35 were stopped for 3 yards or fewer.
Frigid conditions? For sure.
“But you have to block it out at a certain point,” Kmet said. “For me, after the first quarter, you just become numb to it. Literally. It is what it is.”
What it was Saturday was another path to another defeat, dropping the last-place Bears to 3-12. And the end result might have been just as sobering and jarring as the cold.