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Emma's Notebook: Bears Sputter When It Mattered Most

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It seemed so methodical, like the Bears could do no wrong.

Four plays, 61 yards, less than two minutes, seven points. Jay Cutler hit passes to his big-target receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, then finished with a touchdown strike to the tight end, Martellus Bennett. The tone seemed to be set. But then the success stopped.

The Bears couldn't finish drives consistently, with three turnovers and too many mistakes proving to be the difference in a 23-20 season-opening loss to Buffalo in overtime at Soldier Field on Sunday.

"We just kept stubbing our toe on certain things throughout the game," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "(Those are) things we have to clean up."


When the game was on the line, the Bears couldn't come through. They had two opportunities -- one at the end of regulation, the other in overtime -- to win the game, but faltered both times.

Driving with four minutes left in the game, the Bears were forced to settle for a field goal. They faced a second-and-1 from the 19-yard line with 45 seconds on the clock but couldn't move the chains.

"We were moving the football," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We had long fields today, for the entire day."

Robbie Gould's game-tying field goal sent the game to overtime, where the Bears had the first shot at winning the game. Had their drive resembled that of their first possession, the result would have been different.

Instead, the Bears couldn't move the chains after a first down. They were forced to punt and would never get the offense back on the field. Buffalo would win the game on a Dan Carpenter chip shot field goal.

In the loss, the Bears accumulated 427 yards but only found the end zone twice.

They blew their chances to win the game.

"Overall, we just didn't get the job done offensively," Cutler said.

Added Jeffery: "It's just one of those games. We have to bounce back from it."

It seemed hard to fathom this possibility as the Bears cruised down the field on their first drive. As it turned out, that wasn't a sign of things to come.

Conte's up-and-down day

Before kickoff on Sunday, the last memory of Chris Conte at Soldier Field was hard to forget. The Bears' safety was chasing down Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb, running to the end zone with Chicago's playoff hopes.

After an offseason of uncertainty and a recovery from shoulder surgery and a concussion, Conte returned to the Bears' home for the first time. It was a day of highs and lows.

Conte intercepted an EJ Manuel pass in the second quarter, then offered a raucous celebration. But there wasn't much good to follow. He had missed tackles, will face a possible fine for leading with the head and was stiff-armed twice by Fred Jackson on the 38-yard run that set up the Bills for the game-winning field goal in overtime.

"It's a play where it's the end of the game, and I've got to get the ball out or something," Conte said of Jackson's last run. "So, if I hit him, it's a field goal no matter what. So I've got to try and get the ball out."

Conditioning wasn't a problem for Conte, even after limited reps in the preseason, but positioning often was. He played deep in coverage and was sometimes late in defending the pass.

Conte's play opened up criticism, especially after he was left on an island with Jackson for the game-sealing play. Teammate Charles Tillman jumped to his defense, blaming the media.

"That's you guys," Tillman told reporters. "That's your fault. You all do all that. You all do a terrible job of trying to play that like that. He's a great player. I think you guys pick on him."

After another eventful game, Conte will continue to be looked at under the microscope.

The injury bug bites

It seemed like the Bears' worst nightmare was becoming a reality Sunday. For a series in the third quarter, Cutler lined up without his dynamic duo at receiver, Marshall and Jeffery, and two starting linemen, Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson.

Marshall would return, playing through pain in his right ankle that was rolled up. But Jeffery (hamstring), Garza (ankle) and Slauson (ankle) never returned to action.

Without Jeffery on the field, the Bills were able to key in on Marshall, and Cutler was forced to utilize Santonio Holmes -- not even on the roster three weeks ago -- in an important role. Jeffery spent much of the second half riding the stationary bike.

"We're just being cautious," Jeffery said. "It's the first game of the season."

Injuries to Garza and Slauson, both in the first half, made the Bears bring in Brian de la Puente at center and the untested Michael Ola at left guard. Each proved to be serviceable backups.

"We're a unit," said Ola. "If it's one of us, it's all of us."

Both Garza and Slauson will have an MRI on Monday to reveal the extent of their ankle injuries, though neither seemed too concerned. It appears these could be short-term recoveries, but the Bears now know they can count on their reserves.

"Our backups came in and did a tremendous job," Slauson said.

Trestman didn't let the injuries change his play-calling, keeping to the same decisions but using different verbiage at times.

"I really tried not to let that affect us," Trestman said of the injuries. "It's very, very difficult to do that."

Perhaps the outcome would have been different if Jeffery was on the field for the Bears' final drives, or maybe the loss of the linemen impacted negatively at times. But Chicago showed it has a lot more to clean up than just that.

It's just another aspect from Sunday's surprising loss that needs to be evaluated.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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