Bears

Given golden opportunity, Bears defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers' substitute in gut-wrenching loss to Packers

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AP

Given golden opportunity, Bears defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers' substitute in gut-wrenching loss to Packers

Aaron Rodgers was standing on the sideline in a big winter coat, his hands buried in his pockets rather than unleashing a discount double check.

Brett Favre? He was probably wearing a good pair of Wranglers and throwing passes to his dog somewhere in Mississippi.

This was the Bears’ best opportunity to beat the Green Bay Packers in years. And they couldn’t do it.

There was much made of the fact that the Bears were favored against their longtime rivals for the first time in nearly a decade. The chatter all week was that the Bears finally had a quarterback edge, with Mitch Trubisky figuring to be better than Rodgers’ fill-in, Brett Hundley, who led a dismal offensive output during a three-game losing streak that mustered only 44 points.

But the oddsmakers out in the desert didn’t factor in the Bears playing like this.

Sunday’s 23-16 loss was a story told by one self-inflected wound after another, the Bears repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with penalties or defensive breakdowns or challenged touchdowns that resulted in turnovers (don’t ask about that last one, we’ll be here all day).

But the Bears have a struggling offense themselves. Fluky football stuff happens all the time — especially to a team that’s failed to win as often as John Fox’s has. What couldn’t be explained was the performance of this defense, one going up against not Rodgers, not Favre, but Hundley. This should’ve been the Bears defense — which has played at times this season like one of the league’s best — dominating an overwhelmed opponent.

Suffice it to say, things didn’t play out that way.

“This is a game we for sure thought we had,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said, “and we came up short.”

That’s one way of putting it, the Bears’ allowance of 23 points to a team that averaged 14.7 a game in the three contests prior with Hundley at the helm. A defense that took the ball away from offenses led by Cam Newton and Drew Brees couldn’t wrest it from one led by Hundley.

It was a defensive breakdown that allowed the Packers’ first touchdown of the game, a 37-yard scoring dash by Ty Montgomery. But the Packers’ fourth-quarter score stung worse.

Trubisky had just launched a deep-ball touchdown pass to get the Bears within three points. A menacing defense that’s stood tall so many times this season could’ve done it again and given the ball back to the offense with a chance to take the lead — the defense did sack Hundley five times Sunday.

Instead, Hundley did what Rodgers and Favre did to the Bears so many times before.

Hundley immediately responded with a five-minute, 75-yard scoring drive. After marching down inside the Bears’ 40, Hundley faced a key third down and scampered away from the Bears’ defense, toward a wide-open area of the field that picked up 17 yards and the first down and got his team in the red zone. Two plays later, he had his team in the end zone with a 19-yard touchdown toss to Devante Adams.

It was something Bears fans have seen an awful lot of before. They just didn’t expect to see it from Hundley. And maybe the Bears defense didn’t either. But they let it happen, and with it, the game was all but finished.

And so it was another loss to the Packers — the Bears falling to 3-16 against their rivals dating back to the start of the 2009 season, including that 2011 playoff game — this one a little more gut-wrenching than many of the ones that came before it.

“We’re definitely disappointed as a team, but we’re not discouraged by any means,” Amukamara said. “Not taking away from Green Bay did. Brett played a great game, and he’s been getting better ever since he started. But a lot of the stuff was self-inflicted on ourselves, and that’s just been the theme this year. And when we’ve had enough, it’ll stop, but we’ve got to make a decision.”

“We kept giving up too many yards on the run, we gave up some big passes, some big plays. We always want to limit the other team, the amount of big plays and rush yards,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “It’s on us, it’s a team thing. And especially on the defensive side of the ball, everyone will tell you the same thing. We didn’t play our best game.”

In the end, it was one gigantic missed opportunity. Maybe the Bears were asleep at the switch. Maybe they were just outplayed by an upstart group of Packers reserves — in addition to Hundley subbing in for Rodgers, the Packers lost two running backs to injuries in this game and had a less-than-healthy offensive line. Didn’t seem to matter.

But with their team favored, with their longtime tormenter relegated to street clothes, the legions of fans streaming out of rain-soaked Soldier Field probably will all go home with the same memory: “Remember when Aaron Rodgers was hurt and the Bears still couldn’t beat the Packers?”

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Feeling the good vibes at Halas Hall

Matt Nagy has roundly impressed his players during minicamp this week, and has done so in a way that carries some importance.

John "Moon" Mullin and JJ Stankevitz dive into how quickly Mitch Trubisky is picking up Nagy’s offense, why Jordan Howard may be feeling refreshed and if the Bears can expect anything out of Kevin White.

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here:

Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Tarik Cohen is so excited to be a part of Matt Nagy's offense

We’re a little under five months away from the first meaningful snap of the Matt Nagy era, but since it’s April, it’s a good time to daydream about what the Bears’ offense could look like in 2018. 

So let’s add to that what Tarik Cohen had to say on Wednesday about his early impressions of Nagy’s offense.

“It can be dominant,” Cohen said. “… We have a whole lot of pieces on offense. It could get real crazy this year.”

At this time of the year, just about every player and coach is naturally “excited” by the prospect of a fresh start on a new season, especially with a new regime taking over. But these aren’t empty platitudes put forth by the players who’ve been available to the media this week.

Cohen said one of the first things he saw after the Bears hired Nagy was that the Kansas City Chiefs, while running his new coach’s offense, had two 1,000-yard pass-catchers (Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce) and a 1,000-yard running back (Kareem Hunt). 

“I was like, ‘I don’t know how that ball’s getting around like that,’” Cohen said. “But I know it’s going to be a good thing because we have as many weapons as we do, to know that everybody’s still going to be able to get the ball and get the yards, it’s a wonderful thing.”
 
Cohen said he’s worked this year on his route-running and receiving skills, which could make him an interesting candidate to back up the similarly-diminutive Taylor Gabriel at the “Zebra” receiver spot in Nagy’s offense. And while Cohen can be used there, that may sell short his skills as a running back, which will remain his primary role. 

“He just needs to understand he’s not a receiver, so there’s a lot of details that the receivers themselves are putting into it,” Nagy said. “He’s a running back. So whatever we can do in the specific routes he’s going to (run) — his route tree is not going to be quite as big. So that ones that he does have, he can hone in on those and understand the specifics of that. Coach (Charles) London will do a great job of teaching him that. But then also remember, too, we need you to run the ball, too. If you become one dimensional a certain way, now it’s advantage defense.”

Cohen, for what it’s worth, said he’s gained about 10 pounds and now weighs 190 pounds (“all muscle, solid,” he quipped), which should help him stay on the field as his role grows as a second-year pro. 
 
Cohen’s versatility, though, fits with the bigger-picture offensive scheme that Nagy and his coaching staff are in the nascent stages of installing this week. The inside zone and run-pass options concepts that are a big part of Nagy’s offense are familiar to Cohen, too — “that’s really how I got all my yards in college,” he said. 

But even while the Bears operate a basic version of the offense they’ll eventually use, there’s a certain excitement level around Halas Hall about how things could look come September. And how those things look should help Cohen get closer to — or reach — his goals after a strong rookie debut. 

“I just have this attitude like I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Cohen said. “I wasn’t in the Pro Bowl, really not like a definite household name yet, so I feel like I have a lot more to prove. Didn’t have any 1,000-yard season in any phase of the game, so I feel like I have a lot more to do.”