Bears

View from the Moon: Bears business-like after win

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View from the Moon: Bears business-like after win

Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010
2:31 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears did some celebrating on the field after Monday nights pasting of the Minnesota Vikings. They were wearing party hats and T-shirts that said 2010 NFC North Division Champions.

But in the locker room there was a mood and universal demeanor best described as business-like. The elation over Devin Hester setting the NFL record was shared throughout, an accomplishment truly group in nature, which Hester will honor with elegant watches for those whom he considers responsible for his honor.

The reason for the lack of other celebration was pretty obvious: The Bears havent won anything yet. And this is where the quality core of veterans becomes crucial.

Division titles are nice; a number of Bears have a handful of them. Lance Briggs, Olin Kreutz, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, others.

They also have something else a failed trip to a Super Bowl. They know how important first reaching the playoffs is but they also know painfully well how incomplete a win that really is.

This is a great accomplishment for me, for this team, for the young guys, everybody, Peppers said. But weve got to stay focused at this point. We have to realize that its only one of the first steps toward the ultimate prize. Thats our role as veteran leaders, to let guys know that, and let guys know that it only gets harder from here.

And there is a deeper realization the leaders are beginning to pound into younger heads. Rookies and NFL newbies think this sort of thing, even reaching a Super Bowl, happens every year.

Lovie Smith reached the divisional round of the playoffs in his second year as Bears coach. He was in the Super Bowl (and lost) his third year. Both accomplishments were achieved faster than Mike Ditka managed. He went to a Super Bowl his first year as a defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams (and lost).

He now joins his veterans in delivering the same strong message to young players in particular.

You assume youll be back every year, Smith said. It just doesnt work like that.

Peppers was a member of the Carolina team that lost to the New England Patriots in the Pats first Super Bowl win. He experienced that same sense of NFL entitlement.

That was my thought, Peppers said. My rookie year we didnt do well but the next year we went to the Super Bowl and you think its going to happen all the time. I was lucky enough to win a couple of division championships but Ive never been able to get back to the Super Bowl.

The stats, even things like the divisional title, theyre nothing compared to the big things.

Favreing it up again, or...

Corey Wootton has been active only occasionally this season, four games in fact, counting Monday night. Yet here was this rookie defensive end setting up a Pro Bowl left tackle, beating him and putting his first career sack on a Hall of Fame quarterback.

The nerve of that kid...

Wootton beat Bryant McKinnie on a second-quarter rush, got the edge on the massive blocker, and took down Brett Favre with enough of a smash-down to put the quarterback out of the game with head and shoulder injuries.

McKinnie is a great player, Wootton said. I was able to get a good jump on the snap, use a little bit of power, rip outside and get to Favre and get him down. I kind of set him up wit a little inside pressure to make him think I was coming inside and then went outside. Coach Marinelli has done a great job of helping me get better every week and thats what I want to do, just keep improving.

The rookie impressed an important teammate, whose first thought was worry.

He got a sack? linebacker Brian Urlacher said Hell probably get fined.

The sack could give Wootton a place in Favre history, although a part of Favres NFL history the QB wouldnt mind forgetting about.

Favres last passes as an Atlanta Falcon, Green Bay Packer and New York Jet all were intercepted. His last 2009 pass as Minnesota Viking was intercepted in the playoff loss to New Orleans but Favre returned for 2010.

And given that injury and the lost cause that is the Minnesota season, the sack could well be Favres final pass play.

Goal-setting

The Bears indeed have something very, very important to play for. The Nos. 1 and 2 playoff seeds, the two division winners with the best records, receive a bye week (as distinguished from the mis-named bye week in-season, which is simply a week off, not a bye, because no one advances in that week).

The others face wild-card qualifiers, meaning they need to play an extra game, meaning they can see their playoffs come to abrupt endings. In each of the last three postseasons, fully one-half of the wild-card games were lost by the division winners.

Chicago Bears Facial Fur Society

A number of Bears are looking a little ratty around the edges but its a good thing. They are letting beards grow until after the Super Bowl or after the Bears lose in the playoffs, whichever comes first.

Not all the chin upholstery looks bad by any means. Wide receiver Johnny Knox is letting his grow, although he looks to me a little like a Mennonite, very distinctive, actually. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has his trimmed in a fashion a little like my own (mine is not coming off, regardless of playoff outcome, in case you were wondering).

It helps keep a little warm in this cold weather, too, Toub said, laughing.

Yep, sure does.

Lez e-talk

If youve got any Bears thoughts, lets chat tonight at our usual 7-8 p.m. on CSNChicago.com. Should be some good fodder to noodle on. Always is.

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.

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

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USA Today

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

Mitchell Trubisky shook his head and grinned when he fielded yet another question this week about the touchdown pass Tarik Cohen threw against the Baltimore Ravens.

“Dang, you guys can’t get enough of this,” Trubisky said. “I talked about it after the game. Dowell (Loggains) was saying it was the best pass of the game. I’m like, ‘All right, geez, let him play quarterback.

“… He threw a dime ball. I love how he was fading away on it and celebrating on the 50-yard line. Zach (Miller) made a great catch. So A-plus; really impressive spiral, especially with the gloves on. Can’t count any of that out. Tarik’s a special player and it was an awesome throw.”

The point here is less about Cohen’s throw and more about the Bears finding yet another way for the rookie running back to make an impact. So far this year, Cohen has rushed 50 times, caught 26 passes, returned 14 punts and now thrown that historic touchdown. He’s been asked to block in pass protection more frequently, allowing him to be on the field more. And he’s worked with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and Kendall Wright (who Cohen referred to as another receiver coach for him) to expand his route tree, leading him to be the most-targeted player (33 targets) on the Bears through six weeks. 

That may seem like a lot to put on the plate of a fourth-round draft pick from an FCS school, but it hasn’t been too much for Cohen. 

“We need Tarik to be that guy for us — the best playmaker we have,” Loggains said. “There’s no secret there. And he’s a guy who we’ll continue to use, and people are aware of him. So how creative can we get with him? How many different things can we do with him? 

“Like, we’re stretching him. Mentally, he’s stretched to the max playing all these positions — motioning out to wide receiver, playing running back and doing more in the backfield with more carries. So we have to keep stretching him and keep using him in the offense.”

Opposing defenses have keyed on Cohen since his explosive debut Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, scheming to muffle his playmaking ability. But he still managed to nearly have a walk-off 73-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, and then in Week 6, with defenses figuring they could crash down on him on sweep plays to the edge, he (literally) threw another wrinkle into how to gameplan against him. The next time the Bears run a toss sweep to Cohen, opposing safeties will have to think twice about bolting toward the line of scrimmage to stop him. 

Every time Cohen seems to hit a rookie wall, he and the Bears find a way to knock it down. The discussion a week ago about Cohen was that he was dancing too much and not cutting upfield quick enough; this week, it’s all about his perfect quarterback rating. 

“Our coaches do a good job of continuing to put him in places so he can be successful,” fellow running back Benny Cunningham said. “But ultimately I feel like he has such a genuine love of the game, I don’t see that happening (hitting the wall). Since the day he’s been here, from Day 1 to today, I’ve seen no drop-off in his desire to be successful and to help this offense.”

The Bears have known this about Cohen's mentality since they scouted and drafted him back in the spring, and his potential only blossomed after getting him into Halas Hall in May — “Early on, we knew Tarik was going to be pretty special,” coach John Fox said. But Cohen wouldn’t be able to reach that potential without the ability to handle the responsibilities of all the different tasks the Bears have asked of him so far. 

Cohen’s ability to do so many different things makes him an important player for this team, and his ability to do them with an exciting, playmaking flair has made him a fan favorite since training camp. So what’s next for the 5-foot-6 rookie?

“I think we’ve got something — I’ll punt the ball this week,” Cohen joked. “Naw, I’m playin’. I can’t put the ball for nothing, I don’t think. It’ll probably go like 20 yards.”

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

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USA Today

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

Nick Kwiatkoski was a full participant in Bears practice on Friday, marking the first time the second-year linebacker has done that since he suffered a pec injury Sept. 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski sounded confident he could make his return five weeks after suffering that painful injury. 

“It’s not really my decision,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m preparing like I am, so we’ll see. … “In my head I am (playing). But we’ll see.”

The Bears’ defense, despite placing three key players — linebackers Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps — on injured reserve, has been solid at worst so far this year. Pro Football Focus has Vic Fangio’s group as the third-best defense in the NFL through Week 6, behind only the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

While Christian Jones played some quality snaps next to Danny Trevathan (and John Timu — he struggled after Timu’s injury against Minnesota), Kwiatkoski represents an upgrade at inside linebacker. The Bears liked what Kwiatkoski did last year in place of an injured Trevathan, and were confident they wouldn’t miss a beat with him filling in after Freeman’s Week 1 injury. 

“He’s a smart guy who has been willing to work,” coach John Fox said. “And I’ve seen that improvement from last year to this year. And anytime you get whacked or injured or taken out for some reason, you’ve got to kind of regain that again. It’s like a do-over. So he has had a good week.”

Kwiatkoski stayed sharp by going through meetings and film study as if he were playing while that pec injury — which he said felt like a “bad pulled muscle” — kept him sidelined for practices and games. If Kwiatkoski indeed is active and/or starting Sunday against Carolina, the hope is he can step in and pick up where he left off in Week 2. 

“I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said prior to Kwiatkoski’s injury. And that confidence, in all likelihood, still exists.