Column:

A day of regression for Bears starts with John Fox decision to punt on fourth-and-1

Nobody should be surprised when an NFL head coach so obviously out of ideas runs out of intelligible explanations too.

But it still boggled the mind Saturday when John Fox failed to shed any light at all on what happened in the Bears’ demoralizing 20-10 loss to the Lions.

“Overall, I think it was just a football game against a division team that was in playoff contention,’’ Fox said, opening his postgame news conference. “We just didn’t start fast.’’

Meanwhile, Fox’s tenure can’t end quickly enough for those who long for Chicago to become a football city again.

Downtown in the Motor City, in front of a crowd of 65,872 and a national television audience, the Bears showed up at Ford Field in a beater car with bad steering, no brakes and a weak engine.

At least the 2017 Bears always will have Cincinnati. They followed that 26-point victory over the Bengals with a defeat to the Lions that felt like rock bottom — which might be optimistic with the winless Browns coming to town Christmas Eve.

This was a day of regression.

If Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky took one step forward against the Bengals, the Lions harassed him into taking two steps back. Such is the uneven rhythm of a rookie, the context that frames Trubisky’s bad starts as much as the good ones. Gaudy numbers — 31 of 46 for 314 yards and one touchdown — were offset by three interceptions that resulted in a paltry passer rating of 66.8.

“Sometimes quarterbacks have those days,’’ Fox said. “He’ll have better days. It’s not all on him.’’

No, but Trubisky displayed his worst judgment of the season — or at least since his first start Oct. 9 — when he forced the ball into double coverage trying to hit Dontrelle Inman that resulted in a Cutleresque interception in the end zone. He never saw safety Quandre Diggs step in front of Inman for a gift. ’Tis the season, apparently.

“I just lost him in my vision,’’ Trubisky said. “I’ve got to throw the ball away so we can get a field goal.’’

Trubisky’s first pick came when he sailed a pass over Kendall Wright’s head that cornerback Darius Slay caught before going out of bounds, one of two interceptions by “Big Play” Slay. Interestingly, the errant throw occurred on a slow-developing play-action pass out of the shotgun with Trubisky rolling left, when his accuracy tends to become more iffy. Slay also identified Trubisky as a young quarterback who locked in on his receivers, which Trubisky disputed.

“I don’t think so,’’ said Trubisky, whose education continues.

No single play determines the outcome of a 10-point loss, but the closest thing to a pivotal moment came in the second quarter with the Bears facing fourth-and-1 from their own 45 and trailing 6-0. When Fox decided to punt, the Bears chose to play not to lose, again. If Fox were part of a wardrobe, he would be a dark gray suit.

A coach of 4-9 team trailing only 6-0 with the ball at midfield and employing the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher feared the Lions would stop the Bears from gaining 3 feet. Come on, Foxy. Why not just go for it and either call a quarterback sneak or ask Jordan Howard to gain 36 inches? With the game still close, Fox showed his offense how little he believed in its ability to come through on the road, in the clutch. Then the offense spent the rest of game meeting his low expectations.

Asked about the sequence, Fox instinctively evaded.

“I don’t think that was a huge factor,’’ he said.

I followed by asking Fox what he had to lose.

“You do have something to lose — it’s called field position,’’ Fox said. “Sure, you could go for that, but it could bite you too.’’

On the ensuing series, the Lions provided a stark contrast in styles that reminded everyone of the value of taking calculated risks in football: Sometimes they pay off.

On third-and-18 from his own 30, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford escaped the rush and unleashed a prayer 58 yards downfield. Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. answered it by leaping high into the air to catch the ball he wanted more than safety Eddie Jackson, who will regret that play as much as any his rookie season.

“I can’t let that happen,’’ said Jackson, who was right.

Three plays later, the Lions scored to make it 13-0, mostly because Fox refused to gamble that his offense could get a yard and continue a drive to make it 7-6. Coaching matters in the NFL, and the Bears remain as limited by Fox’s imagination as by Ryan Pace’s roster.

Why not throw into the end zone after recovering a fumble at the Lions’ 23 with 12 seconds left in the first half? Why call 48 passes compared with 13 runs? Why not try the conventional onside kick down 10 with 2:32 left instead of pooching it?

“There was enough time,’’ Fox said. “I don’t regret doing that.’’

Goodness, the Bears’ list of regrets is longer than your kid’s Christmas list.

They committed 13 penalties, including an unacceptably dumb illegal hands-to-the-face call after the first play by Eddie Goldman. The most costly flag came when DeAndre Houston-Carson’s holding call negated Tarik Cohen’s 90-yard kickoff return. That has happened often enough to Cohen to create a new statistic: Yards After Flag (YAF). Cohen would lead the league.

Words you never hear uttered about these Bears: What a smart team.

For Bears fans, the only good thing about Saturday was that, this weekend, your beloved team’s performance won’t ruin your Sunday.

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Twitter @DavidHaugh

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John Fox stayed conservative on fourth-and-1 in Bears' loss »

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