Bears steamrolled by Cardinals, lose Jay Cutler in the process


Bears steamrolled by Cardinals, lose Jay Cutler in the process

It's not how you start, it's how you finish. 

However, the Bears didn't follow that old adage as they followed up their inauspicious start with a duplicate finish as they were annihilated by the Arizona Cardinals, 48-23, at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon.

And to make matters worse, the blemish on their now 0-2 record isn't the only thing they suffered in defeat: Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler (8-for-9, 120 yards) could be out for the foreseeable future after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half

Late in the second quarter with the Bears trailing the Cardinals, 21-14, Cutler threw a pass that was intended for tight end Martellus Bennett (four receptions, 48 yards), who appeared to have stopped his route, and Arizona defensive back Tony Jefferson stepped in to make an easy interception and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. While trying to make the tackle, Cutler appeared to have landed awkwardly on his shoulder. He immediately went into the locker room with the team training staff and the Bears ruled him out for the remainder of the game with a hamstring injury.

[MORE: Bears: Jay Cutler out vs. Cardinals after suffering hamstring injury]

The Cutler injury was just the cherry on the top to a brutal day that seemed destined for failure from the start.

Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears in a 7-0 hole before they even got their hands on the ball. 

Before the injury Cutler managed to keep the Bears in the game with a near perfect start. Late in the first quarter, Cutler connected with Josh Bellamy (one reception, 48 yards) who was wide open down the left sidelines for his first career NFL reception resulting in a 48-yard touchdown to even the game.

The Cardinals (2-0) quick-strike offense answered the Bellamy touchdown just over two minutes later when Carson Palmer (17-of-24, 185 yards, four touchdowns) connected with wide receiver Jaron Brown for a six-yard score. The play was set up in the red zone when Michael Floyd drew a pass interference penalty inside the 10-yard line on Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.

A seesaw battle for nearly 25 minutes was knotted up for the second and final time when Bears rookie running back Jeremy Langford (six carries, 21 yards) scampered into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

That would be the closest the Bears came as the Cardinals outscored the hosts, 34-9, over the final 34 minutes of the contest, highlighted by a resurgence from Cardinals veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who had eight receptions for 112 yards and three touchdowns. 

Backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen struggled in relief of Cutler, finishing the game 14-of-23 for 121 yards and an interception. 

The Bears tied a franchise record for penalty yards in a single game (170) as they compiled 14 penalties for 170 yards.

Chicago will look to earn its first victory of the John Fox era when they travel to Seattle take on the defending NFC champion Seahawks in Week 3.

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.