NEW ORLEANS — Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky thought he had floated a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller and taken a sizeable chunk out of a New Orleans’ 14-3 lead.
Instead, the Bears were hit with a double-whammy they could not overcome — a serious knee injury to a team leader and a replay reversal with which they disagreed.
Miller dislocated his knee when he landed in the end zone . The gruesome injury, which was replayed several times on the scoreboard, forced the 33-year-old tight end to be carted off and taken to a local hospital.
After a replay review, officials ruled the ball hit the ground when Miller bobbled it on his way down.
“He made a heck of a catch. It was a great effort on his part,” said Trubisky, whose team then settled for a field goal. “The call was what it was, but it was an awesome play on his part.”
The kick made the score 14-6 with 5:42 left in the third quarter. The Bears spent the final 20 minutes trying to get past the disturbing injury and catch up to the Saints, losing 20-12 on Sunday.
Their first thoughts went to Miller, who suffered the latest in a long line of tough injuries. After making a career-high 47 catches in 2016, he missed the final six games with a fractured foot. He did not play in any game from 2012 through 2014, primarily due to foot and shoulder issues.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “He always gets us fired up and knows exactly what to say. We have to find ways to keep moving forward.”
They certainly didn’t quit in New Orleans. After Trubisky scrambled for 46 yards, Cohen scored the Bears’ lone touchdown with 3:58 left, cutting the deficit to 17-12.
Trubisky threw incomplete on fourth-and-1 after Chicago got the ball back on a fumble — the second of two turnovers the defense forced in the fourth quarter — and he tossed an interception from the New Orleans 48 after the Saints kicked a field goal.
“Our whole team competed very hard,” Bears coach John Fox said. “I told them in the locker room to hold their heads high.”
They lamented some wasted opportunities, including Connor Barth’s missed 48-yard field goal in the first half. The Bears defense also was offside on a short field goal, allowing New Orleans’ offense to return to the field and convert on Alvin Kamara’s 8-yard touchdown run.
The replay reversal was the toughest blow, considering the circumstances.
Referee Carl Cheffers said after the game that Miller lost control of the ball and it “hit the ground out of his control.”
The Bears begged to differ.
“I definitely was very surprised,” running back Jordan Howard said. “I thought he had control the whole time.”
Despite losing for the first time in three games, the Bears entering their bye week bullish on the second half of their season.
Not only did Chicago’s turnover forcing defense prevent Drew Brees and Co. from pulling away, but Trubisky also showed increasing comfort in his fourth start.
In addition to his long, drive-extending scramble in the fourth quarter, he completed a 45-yard pass to Tre McBride to set up a field goal in the first half.
“We’re getting closer as an offense,” Trubisky said. “I’m really excited for where this team is headed.”