Bears

Bears buried under early blizzard of Pats' points

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Bears buried under early blizzard of Pats' points

Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010
Posted 6:12 PM Updated 9:10 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears were fueled through their five-game winning streak by a number of total team wins, games in which offense, defense and special teams turned in winning performances.

That win streak came to a disastrous and brutal end Sunday against the New England Patriots (11-2) with a total team loss. The Bears (9-4) were soundly thrashed on offense, defense and special teams in a 36-7 loss that will unleash a new spasm of questions as to the legitimacy of the Bears as a championship hopeful.

The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us.

The afternoon was a particularly bitter setback, with the loss coming after the Green Bay Packers (8-5) lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a concussion and their game 7-3 to the Detroit Lions. A win over New England would have given the Bears a two-game lead in the NFC North with three games to play.

The good news, however, is that the Packers go to New England next Sunday. The Bears can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Minnesota Vikings and a Green Bay loss to the Patriots, which now looks extremely likely. The resurgent Vikings had their Sunday game with the New York Giants bumped to Monday night and to Detroit after snow collapsed sections of the Metrodome, also placing in question the locale for the Bears game next Monday night against the Vikings.

But we cant count on other teams, said quarterback Jay Cutler. We have to take care of our business. We dont want to slide in the back door. We want to be playing our best football right now so we can make a serious run at this.
How bad was it?

The Bears were playing anything but their best football Sunday against arguably the NFLs best.

We were outplayed, said defensive end Julius Peppers. We need to get better, a lot better, quick.

Swirling snow obscured yard stripes most of the game, with Chicago Park District shovelers and sweepers working during breaks to clear areas of the field. They shouldve saved themselves the trouble. There was precious little worth seeing from a Chicago perspective and they mightve done the Bears a service by moving the snow onto the field instead.

But neither the snow nor the winds gusting as high as 53 miles per hour nor the wind chill of 9 degrees turned out to matter.

There were some gusts from time to time, Cutler said, but other than that it wasnt that bad.

It wasnt a game. It was virtually a seven-on-seven passing drill by the New England offense with a defense that didnt appear allowed to tackle.

The Bears actually outscored the Patriots 7-3 in the second half, with a 1-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor midway through the third quarter when many of the 56,161 in attendance had long since departed. All that did was take the victors margin below 30.

New England quarterback Tom Brady did nothing to tarnish what is moving toward an MVP season. Brady methodically ran up 314 passing yards through three quarters, a passer rating of 110.2 and tossed two touchdown passes against zero interceptions. The Patriots 475 yards were a season high.

Tom Brady is the best QB in the NFL, said Urlacher. We knew it coming in and this game just confirmed it.

Cutler and the Bears offense, which had controlled the ball and games in the process of rolling off five straight wins, did nothing remotely comparable. The Bears managed only 115 net yards through three quarters, had just eight first downs to New Englands 22, and Cutler was 8 for 19 for 96 yards, no TDs, an interception and a rating of 36.3.

No Bears opponent had scored more than 26 points in a game this season. The Patriots, leading the NFL with an average of 31.6 points per game, had 33 in the first half alone, including 10 directly off turnovers by a disoriented, ineffective offense.

New Englands 273 yards in the first half were more than Detroit, Carolina, Minnesota and Miami each managed in whole games against the Bears this season.

The Bears had 33 net yards, two first downs and zero points to show for 30 minutes of play against a team that was handing them their third home loss of the season.

Ominously, the Bears failed to make the playoffs in all three of their seasons under Lovie Smith when they lost three times in Soldier Field.

The reality is we got our butts kicked and were still in first place, Urlacher said. Well watch film and learn from it but were still in first place in the NFC North and thats where we wanted to be when the season began.

Its happened before

The Bears can only console themselves with the knowledge that they are far from alone in enduring New England batterings. Since falling behind the Detroit Lions midway through the third quarter on Thanksgiving, through the early third quarter Sunday when their lead over the Bears reached 36-0, the Patriots outscored three opponents 109-3.

And two of those opponents were nine-win teams: the New York Jets and the Bears.

The Patriots had the ball for six possessions in the first half and scored on five of them. To make up for the one failed possession (the first of the game, when Urlacher and Israel Idonije combined on a sack of Brady), New England even scored on one of the Bears possessions.

The Bears had allowed only one opponent (Seattle) as many as two drives of at least 80 yards. New England had three in the first half alone.

Hopeless early

If there was any hope of catching the Patriots in a letdown after their 45-3 dismantling last Monday of the New York Jets, that vanished abruptly and brutally less that 20 minutes into Sunday.

The Patriots went through the Chicago defense on drives of 85 and 87 yards, lasting 12 and 11 plays against a unit that had allowed drives of double-digit plays only five times in the last five games. Less than five minutes into the second quarter the Bears were in a 14-0 hole.

That worsened to 21-0 almost immediately when Johnny Knox was stripped of the ball by cornerback Devin McCourty after a catch at the Chicago 39. The ball was recovered by linebacker Gary Guyton and returned 35 yards for a touchdown.

The Bears challenged the ruling when in slow-motion replays Knox appeared to be down before the ball came out. But close-up camera work revealed that Knox was on McCourtys foot, not the ground, when the ball was lost and the Bears were in their biggest hole of the 2010 season.

Getting worse

Matters continued to spiral downward in a hurry.

A 42-yard punt return by Julian Edelman set the Patriots up for a 30-yard Shayne Graham field goal midway through the second quarter. Graham was called on again barely a minute later when Cutler was sacked and lost a fumble to linebacker Jerod Mayo at the Chicago 9. Graham turned that into points with a 25-yard boot that pushed the New England lead to 27-0.

Edelman broke a 71-yard return for an apparent touchdown just before halftime but was denied because of a holding call by one of his blockers.

No problem.

The penalty simply moved the Patriots back to their 20, from where Brady found wide receiver Deion Branch several steps behind cornerback Charles Tillman for a 59-yard touchdown. The PAT was wide right, one of the few things the Patriots missed.

We should have had someone back deep and we didnt, Lovie Smith said. It was as simple as that, basic cover-four breakdown in coverage.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.

For hopeful Bears, more object lessons from NFL divisional round

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AP

For hopeful Bears, more object lessons from NFL divisional round

So another playoff weekend and with it some takeaways of greater or lesser relevance for the Bears, not so much as any sort of measuring standard for how close the Bears are or aren’t from this level of NFL play (but if you actually are wanting to keep meaningless score, the Bears did beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by more points (6) than the Jaguars did (3), and whacked Carolina by 14, while the New Orleans Saints only outscored the Panthers by 5, so… oh, never mind… .).

But in a copycat league that looks desperately for things that are working for anyone at all, the playoffs do offer some object lessons to the also-rans. Of course, pretty much like diets, most systems for doing things in the NFL all work. You just have to do them the right way and shop right. So some from along a spectrum ranging from “Huh?” to “Wow”… .

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QB acquisitions

Some playoffs make it indelibly apparent that the only route to team excellence runs through quarterbacks drafted pretty much in first rounds, not even necessarily by their playoff teams. Last year the final three (we’re not including New England here, because Tom Brady is the ultimate outlier, and he and the Patriots have been in 11 of the last 15 seasons he’s been involved) were quarterback’ed by Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, all 1’s. In 2015, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. Every year, at least two of the final four finishers are led by former No. 1’s, even going back to the Bears’ near-miss in 2010 (Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez.) Plus Brady.

This year, not so much. Brady aside, two of the other three (Minnesota, Philadelphia) come in not only not with No. 1’s, but not even with intended starters – Case Keenum and Nick Foles, respectively.

A couple takeaways here:

  •       What is put around the quarterback, including coaches, is potentially everything. Jacksonville, which is riding former No. 3-overall Blake Bortles, is in the AFC title less because of Bortles than Leonard Fournette rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns. No. 1’s are far from necessarily a winning ticket: No. 1’s Roethlisberger, Ryan and Marcus Mariota all bowed out over the weekend, along with Drew Brees (a No. 2), with only Roethlisberger losing to a quarterback drafted higher than he was (Bortles).
     
  •       The Bears are on the right track with prioritizing quarterback at No. 3/2 last draft in the form of Mitch Trubisky. And GM Ryan Pace was on another right track in making a serious play for a backup quarterback. Mike Glennon turned out not to be the right one, and coaches arguably erred in choosing him to open the season over Trubisky in an extremely close decision. But Minnesota and Philadelphia are in the NFC title game because of backup quarterbacks (Keenum, Foles), and the whole New England thing happened because Bill Belichick and the Patriots went after a quarterback in the 2000 sixth round despite having previously durable Drew Bledsoe in place.
     

Pace neglected the quarterback spot in his first two drafts before addressing it last draft with Mitch Trubisky (plus Glennon and Sanchez in free agency). For comparison purposes, Spielman drafted zero quarterbacks over his last three, but had that luxury by virtue of landing Teddy Bridgewater with his second first-rounder in 2014, and augmented that after Bridgewater’s knee injury with a trade for Sam Bradford and free-agent signing of Keenum after Bradford’s injury.

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Remember when the Bears just absolutely had to, couldn’t stay in the NFL unless they did, switch to a 3-4 scheme? All four teams in the conference championships are base 4-3 teams.

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Targeting the targets

Ryan Pace and new coach Matt Nagy, along with incoming offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, are expected to devote money and draft capital in the wide receiver spot, and not necessarily including a wideout with the No. 8 pick. Good idea. But Nagy comes from the West Coast cult of Andy Reid, and from the weekend’s divisional round, one template stands above all others:

Using the Patriots as the standard, New England had seven players this season haul in 30 or more passes (the Bears had two, Tarik Cohen and Kendall Wright). None of the seven were first-round New England picks, although the Patriots did trade a No. 1 (32nd overall) and a No. 3 to New Orleans for Brandon Cooks and a No. 4. Three of them were running backs (Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James White) and one was a tight end (Rob Gronkowski).

Very noteworthy: Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick and Stefon Diggs a fifth, both going to teams with histories of stocking and then stocking again and then stocking a little more at wide receiver. Diggs is one of five wide receivers taken by draft and personnel chief Rick Spielman over the past three drafts. Pace went all-in with Kevin White at No. 7 of his initial draft, but Daniel Braverman is the only other wideout drafted by Pace; over the last eight drafts, Braverman, White, Marquess Wilson and Alshon Jeffery are the extent of Bears draft capital invested at wideout.

(Brandon Marshall could be counted in there, accounting for two No. 3’s. Whether that counts as properly building through the draft, your humble and faithful narrator leaves to the reader.

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Build through the draft…mostly

Speaking of building through the draft:

Everybody talks about it and it’s certainly the ideal. But Jacksonville is a game away from the Super Bowl (No. 2 in yardage and points allowed) because of a near-historic hit rate on defense in free agency: Calais Campbell, up for defensive player of the year, plus Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson on the defensive line; Paul Posluszny at linebacker; A.J. Bouye at cornerback; and safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson.

Of course, the NFL’s No. 1 defense for points and yards allowed (Minnesota Vikings) can point to a starting unit that includes just two players (tackles Tom Johnson, Linval Joseph) who were significant pickup in free agency from other teams. Safety Andrew Zendejo was a Dallas castoff signed off the scrap heap back in 2011 but has been a Viking ever since.