Bears hold on to beat Packers on Thanksgiving night


Bears hold on to beat Packers on Thanksgiving night

With Bears fans expecting the worst after years of torment at the hands of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers quarterback couldn't close the deal on Thanksgiving night, allowing the Bears to grab a holiday win at Lambeau Field.

With the Bears ahead, 17-13, Rodgers threw a late interception, but the Packers got the ball back and drove down inside the Bears' 10-yard line in the game's final minute. But incompletion after incompletion followed, and Rodgers' fourth-down pass bounced away, preventing what would have been another crushing fall-from-ahead loss for the Bears, who hung on for a win to boost their record to 5-6.

The Packers got on the board first when Eddie Lacy took an Rodgers pass 25 yards for a touchdown, and that was the first half's only scoring until an action-packed final six minutes of the second quarter. After the Bears recovered a Lacy fumble, Jay Cutler's touchdown toss to Zach Miller tied the game at 7, and on the next possession, the Packers took the lead back when the Bears' defense forced a field goal in a goal-to-go situation, making the score 10-7.

The Bears answered with another touchdown drive, Jeremy Langford capping things with a one-yard touchdown run after a Cutler pass to Marquess Wilson that was initially ruled a touchdown was overturned after review. The Packers took the ball into field-goal range in the first half's final seconds, kicking a field goal as the clock ran out on the second quarter to send the game to the break with the Bears in front, 14-13.

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Both offenses struggled in the second half, combining for a scoreless third quarter before a long Bears drive in the fourth quarter reached as far as the Packers' one-yard line. But the Bears couldn't punch it in and had to settle for a field goal to extend their lead to 17-13.

The Packers were charging late when Tracy Porter's interception of Rodgers gave the ball back to the Bears, stopping that Packers drive in its tracks. The Bears couldn't pick up a first down and punted the ball back shortly after the turnover, though the Packers were forced to use all their timeouts before getting the ball back.

Still, Rodgers got the Packers from their own 20-yard line all the way down to the Bears' eight-yard line. From there, though, he threw four straight incomplete passes with goal to go, turning the ball over on downs and allowing the Bears to kneel away the final seconds and seal the victory.

Cutler finished completing 19 of his 31 passing attempts for 200 yards and a touchdown. Langford rushed 12 times for 48 yards and a touchdown, and Matt Forte carried the ball 15 times for 44 yards. Alshon Jeffery caught seven passes for 90 yards.

Rodgers completed 22 of his 43 passing attempts for 202 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Lacy had 15 carries for 105 yards.

The Packers out-gained the Bears, 365-290, and had advantages in first downs, total plays, yards per play and rushing yards. But the Bears won the turnover battle, 2-0.

The Bears next host the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 6.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.