Bears

Lovie: We know what's at stake

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Lovie: We know what's at stake

DENVER The focus of the past week has been on Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos hybrid unorthodox offense and occasionally with a Caleb Hanie or offensive line thought once Matt Fortes absence was confirmed.

But the Bears are now officially on the brink, having edged closer and closer to the edge each of the past two weeks.

Only one team in franchise history has lost three straight games and gone to the postseason. That was the 1979 team and it won its last three in a row to get there with a 10-6 record, which is precisely what the Bears would need to do with a loss to the Broncos, a team that has won five straight and four of those on the road.

Two losses in a row doesn't cut it around here for our football team, coach Lovie Smith said. We know what's at stake this week.

You have to hope so. No jokes this week about pronunciations of the opposing quarterbacks name. The Bears are in trouble.
Playoff disaster?
The Kansas City loss was potentially devastating in the big picture as well as the immediate setback and loss of Forte.

The Bears currently own the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff standings but find themselves in danger of falling out of the postseason even if they win their remaining four games.

The reason is because if the Bears, Atlanta and Detroit all win out, the NFL tiebreak procedure first decides between division teams. Detroit is the same 7-5 that the Bears are, but if the Lions win out, both would have 3-3 division marks but the Lions will own a better record against common opponents.

The Lions crushed the Chiefs 48-3 earlier this season, and that game would decide who joins the Falcons as a second wild card, even though the Bears own a head-to-head win over Atlanta.

There is simply zero margin for error.

We still have to win every game. 11-5 will definitely get you in. 10-6 will probably get you in, linebacker Brian Urlacher said. So its a race to 10 for us. Whatever happens with everybody else it doesnt matter. Weve got to take care of our business, like weve said all season long. We just didnt do it the last two weeks.
Some good?

The woes of Hanie and the offense will be at the heart of the situation against the Broncos. Tebow has directed five fourth-quarter comebacks in just 10 career games, suggesting that the Broncos are every bit as well conditioned as Smith insists his Bears are.

This will be difficult. Whether because of altitude or whatever, the Broncos have the NFLs best record at home (218-84) since 1975. They already have lost to Oakland, San Diego and Detroit at home this year.

While Hanie and the offense were squandering three touchdowns last Sunday Marion Barbers illegal-formation penalty, Roy Williams goal-line drop, Hanies overthrow of a ridiculously open Earl Bennett the defense has allowed just one touchdown in each of the last two games. One of those came on the aberrant Hail Mary pass at the end of the Kansas City first half.

One of the important things for them in games is that they've kept it relatively close, or close enough that they can make something happen at the end of the game, said linebacker Lance Briggs. Watching film on Minnesota, they had something like 46 yards in the first half, but in the second half there was just some badly blown coverages in critical situations.

Those are just things you can't do if you want to win games, and I thought that was a game Minnesota should have won. They were in position to win the game. And the San Diego game, just off of certain decisions, you know, running the ball and losing yardage and stuff like that. But hey, you can't worry about that. None of those teams are going to help us win once we step on the field. We have to go out to Denver and win it.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

The Bears winning a road game against a perennial playoff contender, one with a winning record coming in – that’s great.

Winning in Baltimore with a rookie quarterback in only his second NFL appearance – that’s terrific.

Generating more takeaways than giveaways and netting points from them – that’s just outstanding.

And now what?

Because too often under John Fox the Bears have posted a victory and failed to have it mean much of anything because of what followed a week later – a largely self-inflicted loss. The Bears have not posted consecutive wins since midway through the 2015 season, and even then proceeded to unravel on by squandering opportunities sitting squarely within their grasp.

Why should this time be any different? Because if it’s not, and the Bears again fail to stack even one win on top of another, then a dominating performance against the Baltimore Ravens (leaving out special teams, which surrendered in two plays more points than the defense did in 14 entire Baltimore possessions) becomes another meaningless afternoon in the overall for a team determined to reinvent itself.

Coaches typically divide seasons mentally into quarters, and clearly in Fox’s mind, Sunday was part of a different quarter from the 1-3 first quarter. “Really it takes almost four games, it’s almost like the preseason anymore, where you kind of get it figured out,” Fox said. “So just developing that confidence, usually good things have to happen to gain that confidence. And we did some good things.”

But the Bears have done “some good things” in games past and it becomes much ado about nothing, sound and fury signifying less than nothing. So again: Why should this time be any different?

Two reasons, actually. Neither absolute, but neither very complicated, either.

Reason No. 1: Trubisky

Without making too much out of one individual player, the chief reason arguably lies in the person of Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback who already has palpably changed the psyche of a previously languishing team.

“The team didn’t make nearly as many mental errors this week because of his patience,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright, who supported Trubisky with a leaping catch of 18 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

Unlike Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and 2016 Jay Cutler, each of whom won one game and one game only over the past 22, Trubisky delivered the ball security of Hoyer with added impact that none of his predecessors did manage, or arguably even could have managed.

Put simply, the Bears do in fact have a quarterback who even at this point appears able not only to make plays as drawn up, but also to create something out of nothing or at least avert catastrophe.

“Mitch made some great plays,” Fox said. “I mean, if you look at the snap over his head in the end zone, there’s probably only five or six or seven quarterbacks in this league that could get out of that. I go back to the touchdown pass to Dion [Sims, tight end]. He flushed [from the pocket], we adjusted and he dropped a dime in the end zone for a touchdown. And the play obviously at the end where more than likely if we don’t get that, we’re probably punting, the play he made to Kendall. I think Mitch played outstanding… .

“Those are really good decisions. It beats six interceptions, for sure. There’s a 3rd-and-3 play in the red area, low red, sprint out to our left. It wasn’t all perfect but he did the next best thing and that’s throw it away. So those are really, really good decisions that I think sometimes the casual or un-casual fan does not see.”

The noteworthy element in Trubisky’s game was the impact achieved by a Bears quarterback who completed all of eight passes. The reality is that Trubisky doesn’t need to attempt more than 20 passes a game (including the four sacks his protection allowed, which absolutely needs to be fixed).

For perspective purposes: Ben Roethlisberger in his first two seasons averaged 17.4 and 15.9 passes per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers reached the AFC Championship game and won the Super Bowl in those two seasons, running an offense that was just short of 60 percent runs.

Reason No. 2: Mistake reduction

A mistaken notion as to how improvement happens is the belief that it comes from just getting better and better, skill sets rising to the loftiest heights.

Not necessarily. Anyone who has had the good fortune of working their golf handicap down knows that the stroke reductions come less from suddenly adding 30 yards to drives or developing a draw on a 200-yard three-iron, than from eliminating the fluffed pitch shots, the approach shots pushed into traps, the drives into the woods. Cut down the mistakes and good things happen.

So it is with the Bears, who effectively lost the Minnesota game by allowing a 58-yard TD run by Jerick McKinnon, and sealed it with a poor Trubisky pass on a possession with a chance to tie or win. They lost the Atlanta game simply by dropping passes. They aren’t as good as the Green Bay Packers – at least not until Trubisky reaches full extension and proves to be a challenge to Aaron Rodgers.

But only in the Atlanta near-miss did they self-destruct with fewer penalties (four) than they did at Baltimore (five). Sunday was the first time since Atlanta that they threw zero interceptions. And the defense limited the Ravens to three third-down conversions out of 18, one indicator of fewer breakdowns on the most important down.

“As long as we eliminate those mistakes that we’ve been making,” Fox said, “we’re gonna be right there going into the end of the game.”

The Bears have had positive spikes in the past and then collapsed; even after winning three of four in late 2015, the inept home losses to San Francisco and Washington were arguably a tipping point in the Fox era.

The point next Sunday against Carolina is to determine if the Bears are through with their one-and-done ways.