Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North


Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
Updated 9:20 PM
By John Mullin

Coach Lovie Smith has made a philosophical point of stressing November as the pivotal month for making a run at the playoffs. His players appear to have been listening as they handled Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 31-26 to finish 4-0 in November and take sole possession of first place in the NFC North with an 8-3 record many outside of Halas Hall thought unlikely at this point of 2010.

Since losing three of four leading into their off week, the Bears have reeled off four wins to position themselves squarely in the middle of any playoff scenarios. In the last 50 years the Bears have reached the playoffs every season in which they have had eight wins by this point of their season.

"I think we've taken steps each week," Smith said. "Even the times that we lost, we found out something we needed to know about our football team.

"I would definitely say our arrow is pointed up. When you win four games in a row the way we have, we talk early about getting in position in October and making that run in November. That's exactly what the guys are doing."
Total team victory

The defense allowed 398 yards, second highest total this season. And Philadelphia's 26 points were the most scored this year.

But five different defensive linemen had at least a share of a sack against quarterback Michael Vick, four sacks total. The combined efforts produced the first interception of Vick this year and handed Vick his first loss as a starter this season.

"I need to take my hat off to the Chicago Bears defense," said Vick, who finished with 333 passing yards and 2 TD passes. "They did a great job with their scheme."

The defense in particular delivered turning-point stops of Vick in the first half, forcing a field goal with a Julius Peppers sack on a play from the Chicago 3 and then intercepting Vick on second-and-goal from the Chicago 4, a turnover that led to a crucial Bears touchdown.

On the interception, defensive tackle Tommie Harris deflected a Vick pass. The ball fluttered into the end zone where safety Chris Harris collected the first interception of Vick all season, two yards deep in the end zone with 2 minutes remaining in the half.

"I made a regular inside move and just got my hand up. I knew he was in an empty backfield so didn't have a lot of options and had to get the ball out quick."

For Vick, "That interception was just deflating to us as a team. It just changes the momentum of the game."

The NFL's No. 2 scoring offense at 28.4 points per game struggled to just one touchdown and four field goals into the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Vick threaded a 30-yard TD pass between three Bears to tight end Brent Celek with 1:48 to play and keep most of the 59,911 in their seats to make sure a game the Bears led since the first quarter did not get away.

Johnny Knox pulled in David Akers bounding short kickoff and the Bears went into their victory formation.
Offensive show

Meanwhile the offense was putting up its biggest touchdown total of 2010. Jay Cutler, matching his career high of four touchdown passes, threw for scores twice to wide receiver Earl Bennett and once to Knox in a first half that saw Cutler complete 7 of 10 passes, avoid any interceptions despite pressure that sacked him four times, and post a passer rating of 152.1.

After the Chris Harris interception and 39-yard return, coming with the Bears ahead just 14-13, the Bears were presented with the ball at their 37. It took Cutler just six plays, one on a 30-yard toss to Bennett who broke tackles to get all the way to the Philadelphia 20. Cutler then found Bennett on a short route to the right side and the game was changed for good.

"To score right before halftime, then get the ball back and go down and try to score again, that's huge," Cutler said. "That's a potential 14-point swing right there."

As if to demonstrate that it was no fluke, Cutler engineered a drive to open the second half that culminated with him firing a pass to tight end Greg Olsen for a nine-yard TD that sent the Bears up 28-13 barely 90 seconds into the second half. A 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the closing minutes pushed the Bears up by three scores at 31-13 and all that effectively remained was settling on a final score.
League matters

It was a day that began with good things happening as far as the Bears were concerned.

The Bears got a pregame gift from the Atlanta Falcons, who defeated Green Bay on a Matt Bryant field goal with 9 seconds remaining. The loss dropped the Packers to 7-4 and left the NFC North door unlocked for the Bears, who finish their season Jan. 2 in Green Bay in a game before which they hope to have their post-season situation secured.

Minnesota gave new coach and former Bear Leslie Frazier his first win as a head coach. In the process the Vikings dealt an NFC loss to a Washington Redskins team that has a tiebreak edge on the Bears but now is fading at 5-6. The New York Giants (8-3) got past Jacksonville to stay atop the NFC East and New Orleans (8-3), another wild-card contender of possible future interest to the Bears, escaped with a three-point win over Dallas.

A whole half

The Bears built a 21-13 lead at halftime on near-perfect play by Cutler, who completed 7 of 10 passes, 3 for touchdowns and good for a rating of 152.1 as he managed to avoid interceptions despite pressure that sacked him four times.

Cutler and the offense had previously scored no more than three touchdowns in any entire game this season, doing that three times (Dallas, Buffalo, Minnesota). They reached that point by halftime with Cutler threading precision scoring passes of 10 yards to Bennett, 20 yards to Knox and 6 yards to Bennett again just before halftime.

D-ing Vick

Vick and the Philadelphia offense proved more than capable of gaining yardage on the Bears but that was nearly all they managed. Akers gave the Eagles the game's first points with a 45-yard field goal but that was the last time the Eagles led.

Vick guided the offense 65 yards in 10 plays and gave Philadelphia its only touchdown of the first quarter with an eight-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin. Akers added a 36-yarder midway through the quarter but that was a bitter consolation prize.

The Eagles owned the ball with a third-and-goal at the Chicago 3 and left Peppers unblocked on a Vick rollout to the left. Peppers instead sacked Vick for a 14-yard loss and a fumble, forcing the Eagles to settle for Akers' kick.

As far as a statement game, "we're not concerned with that right now," Peppers said. "We'll be concerned with that when playoff time comes."

John "Moon" Mullin is'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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

USA Today

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quenton Nelson hasn’t met with the Bears yet during this pre-draft process, and doesn’t have a local visit scheduled with them. But maybe that’s not too surprising.

Harry Hiestand has better intel on him than anyone else after coaching him for the past four years at Notre Dame, after all. 

“Coach Hiestand, he’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said. “He knows everything about me.”

Could part of that intel provided by Hiestand be that Nelson has the ability to eventually play tackle?

Nelson might be the closest to a “sure thing” prospect in this year’s draft, with his reams of dominant film and off-the-charts work ethic projecting him as an All-Pro for years to come. But that he plays guard is a stumbling block, given interior positions generally don’t hold as much value as tackles in the NFL.

So here’s a potential scenario for the Bears: They draft Nelson at No. 8 — which is still "high" for a guard — and plug him at left guard in 2018. They then, under the careful watch of Hiestand, slide him to tackle in 2019. 

“I’m pretty convinced that Q could do whatever he sets his mind to,” Mike McGlinchey, a first-round tackle in his own right who's Nelson’s ex-Irish teammate and workout buddy, said. “If that’s what teams want him to play, I’m sure he’ll take that head on and perform to the best of his ability.” 

Nelson, to his credit, is confident he could make the switch to tackle (he was recruited by Hiestand as a tackle, and began his college career backing up Zack Martin at tackle). He said the only team that’s asked him about it so far is the Cincinnati Bengals, though it’s unlikely he’ll still be on the board when they pick at No. 21. 

But maybe the thought of guards being significantly less valuable than tackles is slowly becoming antiquated in today’s NFL. Four of the top 10 highest paid offensive linemen, by total contract value, are interior linemen. Three of the top 10 offensive linemen with the most guaranteed money are guards, led by Andrew Norwell, who inked a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Only one offensive lineman — Nate Solder, who just signed with the New York Giants — is guaranteed more money. 

Following the money, if teams are willing to splash down loads of cash for the best guards in the league, a team may be willing to spend a top-10 pick on a guard who could immediately be among the best at his position in the NFL. Or the calculation for whatever team drafts him may be this: Would you rather have him as a perennial All-Pro guard or "merely" a solid-to-good tackle? 

Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, Nelson is one of those supremely-talented players who takes the right approach to his craft — in other words, one of those guys you just want to get in your building. And while Nelson said he’d love to play for his hometown New York Giants — who could be interested in him with the No. 2 pick — he said getting to link back up with Hiestand would be an incredible opportunity, too. 

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He’s the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without him or be in any conversations in the draft without him, so it would mean a lot to play for him again.”