Bears

Why the Bears enter their bye week feeling like they’re ‘close’ to playing winning football

Why the Bears enter their bye week feeling like they’re ‘close’ to playing winning football

NEW ORLEANS — If ever there were a crushing game, this could’ve been it. Not only did the Bears fail to engineer a game-winning drive in the dying embers of their 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints, but they were given a lifeline to tie the game and couldn’t do that, either.

And on top of it, Zach Miller suffered a brutal injury — the initial diagnosis is a dislocated knee — on a play that was initially ruled a touchdown but was confusingly overturned to an incomplete pass. But while the mood in the Bears’ locker room was dour about Miller, it was also optimistic about where this team is going as they enter their bye week at 3-5. At the least, this team still has plenty of self-belief.

“In this locker room, we know who we are, so when it comes to effort, we’re not surprised about anything that we do,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “We know what we’re capable of and we know, mainly, it’s ourselves that are in our way and when we cut down on our mistakes it’s going to be a lot different.”

There were a few glaring mistakes, like Kyle Fuller being caught offside on a field goal attempt and Connor Barth missing his fourth field goal in 11 tries (both being on special teams continues a trend of errors from that unit). Mitchell Trubisky made some plays — like his 46-yard run that sparked the ultimately-futile comeback — but missed a few throws, like his incompletion on fourth-and-one late in the fourth quarter that sailed high toward Kendall Wright.

“We had what we wanted, it was a good call, I missed a little bit,” Trubisky said. “I’ve made that throw hundreds of times.”

The Bears expect Trubisky to grow and be better than his line in his first game where he was forced to air it out: 14/32, 164 yards, no touchdowns (though he could’ve had one had Miller’s catch not been overturned) and one interception. He’s still very much a work in progress with a group of pass-catchers that was already struggling to find consistency before losing, perhaps, its most consistent player in Miller.

Dontrelle Inman shouldn’t be counted on to be the fix the Bears’ receiving corps needs; more likely, if that fix exists, it’ll be a collective effort between him, Tre McBride (three catches, 92 yards), Wright (two catches, 23 yards) and Markus Wheaton (when he’s able to return from a groin injury). But as long as the Bears’ defense continues playing at a high level, these offensive fixes can be sought out in close games.

Sunday was another stout defensive showing considering the following: New Orleans got its first touchdown because of Fuller’s penalty; without it, the Saints would’ve been held to three field goals and 16 points. Vic Fangio made some adjustments at halftime that kept a lid on Drew Brees and that explosive offense, which only managed six points in the final 30 minutes — three of which came on a field goal after Trubisky turned the ball over on downs late in the fourth quarter. Jonathan Bullard and Adrian Amos came up with critical strips of Mark Ingram, which afforded more opportunities back to the offense.

“Play dominant, be us,” linebacker Pernell McPhee said of the defensive effort in the third and fourth quarters. “Be the Chicago Bears defense and I think we did a great job of doing that in the second half.”

What’s clear is that as long as the Bears’ defense continues playing like it did in October, Trubisky and the offense will have opportunities to win as they grow. And that’s buoying the feeling that this team isn’t all that far off from rattling off some more wins in the second half of the season.

The Bears have 14 days until they play again; that’s a lot of time to figure out some solutions and prove this positivity right in the second half of the season.

“The defense continues to play tremendously and keep us in these games,” Trubisky said. “We’re getting closer as an offense. We just need to become more consistent. I thought we communicated great in a hostile environment. We are getting close.

“Nobody has their head down, nobody is pouting. We just continue to lean on each other and know we have each other’s back. We’re going got keep working, keep getting better and get back to winning football.”

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

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USA TODAY

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

About this time a year ago the Bears were setting up for the annual NFL beauty pageant in Indianapolis, sitting with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and with myriad roster decisions to address with both that draft and free agency. Because of the Bears’ lofty draft position, even more scrutiny and attention swirled around the college prospects (Deshaun Watson, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, not enough on Mitch Trubisky as it turned out, a testimonial to GM Ryan Pace’s ability to keep a secret).

But what was developing in free agency was arguably of even greater significance in what was then the short term, at least for John Fox, as it turned out. And the changed landscape this year bodes considerably better for Pace and the Bears. At least in one important respect.

First, a perspective from last year’s pre-Combine period...

Because of the unsettled quarterback situation – the Bears were working toward Mike Glennon and cutting Jay Cutler two weeks later – and concerns about a possible lame-duck situation for Fox, free agents and their agents were willing to look at the Bears but only if the Bears would pony up excessive guaranteed dollars. The worry any time a coach is heading into a tipping-point year is that if things go badly, the coach and staff are gone, and the resulting changes will alter the job situation of that particular veteran player.

So the likes of cornerbacks A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore opted for less total money from Jacksonville and New England, respectively, because the Bears weren’t offering higher guarantees to compensate for the uncertainty.

(One of the reasons then-President/CEO Michael McCaskey stated to this reporter for firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season was a concern over the negative pall Ditka cast over playing for the Bears as the NFL prepared for the 1993 start of free agency. A quarter-century later, Pace didn’t fire Fox because of free agents’ aversion to Fox, but the overall wasn’t making Pace’s job any easier.)

Would Alshon Jeffery have stayed if...

On a slightly different tack: Would Alshon Jeffery have given the Bears a more receptive look had the quarterback position been addressed sooner in the Fox/Pace tenure? Jeffery took less from the Eagles in a one-year prove-it deal, not because Philadelphia was so much warmer than Chicago, but in large part because of where the offensive arrow was pointing in Chicago with Fox, Dowell Loggains and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Not insignificantly in the Jeffery case: Jeffery had four choices – Bears, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The Colts weren’t sure about Andrew Luck, coming off shoulder surgery and ultimately missing all of ’17. The Vikings were resting then on brittle Sam Bradford, whose knee broke down early, and Case Keenum wasn’t CASE KEENUM at that point. The Bears with Loggains and Glennon? Jeffery didn’t go with Philadelphia, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz only for the money, which did come anyway.

The Bears have “fixed” all of those issues in the year that’s played out since Jeffery signed with the Eagles almost concurrent with the Bears moving on from Cutler. None of that matters now in the least with Jeffery, Bouye, Gilmore or any other options that demanded too much guaranteed money or spurned the Bears back then, but it does matter going into the run-up to free agency over the next couple weeks.

Why this in fact matters more than the draft is that, while sound organizations are grounded in quality drafting, the reality is that in virtually every offseason, more starters for that season are acquired via free agency than the draft. Last year’s draft centerpiece was Trubisky, though he wasn’t supposed to start last season. But free agents Glennon, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were.

The money pit

Longtime Bears and NFL personnel chief Bill Tobin once remarked back in the beginning of free agency, “Just because you pay a guy $2 million doesn’t make him a $2-million player.” That still applies, adjusted for inflation. And that could make this free agency dicey for the Bears.

Because price isn’t always determined solely on quality; it’s a matter of supply and demand. And while the Bears are among those with the greatest estimated space under the projected cap of $178 million, the others way up on the list include Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Jets, Houston and Tampa Bay – all teams with five or fewer wins in ’17 and expected to be the most aggressive in using free agency to fix gaping holes. The Bears have a lot of money to spend, but so do a whole lot of others.

Meaning: A lot of dollars will be chasing a select few players, which will make some of them overpaid, not unlike Glennon was last offseason (how many apparently better options were there?) or a couple of others, who will be paid like $2 million players even if they aren’t, adjusted for inflation.

The result is another offseason of brinksmanship for Pace, this time in need of better results than his first three free agencies if the outcome for his second head coach is to be better than it was for his first.

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

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USA TODAY

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

The Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there may be one available.

The Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Tuesday, in a move that many believe signals the team's desire to deal him instead of losing him in free agency for nothing.

Landry put up excellent numbers last season, catching 112 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the league in catches and was fourth in touchdown receptions but was just 17th in yards. His yards per reception ranked 108th of 139 qualifying players.

Still, it's no secret he'd be an upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver. Though they'll get Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injury, the corps largely struggled and didn't give rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky much help.

Luckily, they may be interested in Landry, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

"There are a couple teams that we should keep an eye on as far as a potential Jarvis Landry landing spot......the Chicago Bears are looking for receviers," he said.

Rapoport also mentioned the Titans, Panthers and Saints as options for Landry. The franchise tag will pay Landry about $16 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019 (or has the franchise tag used on him again).