Bears

Jordan Howard puts the team on his back, wills Bears to ugly OT victory over Ravens

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Jordan Howard puts the team on his back, wills Bears to ugly OT victory over Ravens

BALTIMORE — Jordan Howard willed the Bears to an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in September, and he did the same thing on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. 

In a sloppy game that saw the Bears blow second half leads of 14 and 11 points to send things careening into overtime, Howard’s 53-yard run with just over five minutes left in overtime helped set up Connor Barth’s game-winning 40-yard field goal. The Bears were backed up deep in their own territory without much semblance of offensive success going their way, but Howard’s outstanding second-effort run was the spark this offense needed.

Mitchell Trubisky avoided pressure and found Kendall Wright for an excellent 18-yard catch, moving the Bears into field goal range. After a few ineffective plays, Barth connected ….

It was a game the Bears looked like they should’ve won comfortably, but a pair of return touchdowns — one by Bobby Rainey on a kickoff, one by Michael Campanaro on a punt — got Baltimore back in the game. Rainey’s return came with the Bears up 17-3, and while replays showed Josh Bellamy might’ve tackled him, it wasn’t called that way. 

That cut the Bears’ lead to 17-10. The Bears then fumbled on their next three possessions, losing two (charged to Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky) with the other being a high snap from Cody Whitehair that sailed over Trubisky’s head. Baltimore managed a field goal off Cohen’s fumble to cut the score to 17-13. 

After Trubisky’s fumble, Kyle Fuller — who was outstanding on Sunday, it should be noted — broke up a pass intended for Chris Moore, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Adrian Amos, who returned it for a touchdown (it was Amos’ first career interception). 

It looked like the Bears were going to find a way to lose, though, after Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return and the Ravens’ successful two-point conversion. But thanks to that one big effort from Howard — the Bears’ best offensive player — the game wound up in the win column. 

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.