Bears

Just like that, Cubs cant close it out for Dempster

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Just like that, Cubs cant close it out for Dempster

Ryan Dempster walked off the mound to a standing ovation, and really the Cubs couldnt have scripted this any better. Their Opening Day starter had outpitched Stephen Strasburg, and soon the fans would be chanting Kerry! Kerry!

For all the optimism and good headlines the Cubs generated over the winter, it was pretty quiet by the end on Thursday, when you heard fans muttering to themselves as they walked down the ramps toward the exits after a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Kerry Wood stood in front of his locker afterward and cut off a reporter who said you lose a game like this, and people are going to say these are the Cubs.

People or you? Wood said. We got a bunch of new faces in here, a new attitude and 161 left.

Theo Epstein has promised that his front office will be walled off from all the outside noise. But that doesnt mean Opening Day in Chicago wont be covered like its an NFL game.

These are the margins the Cubs will be working with, because of how their roster is constructed, and the way the winds blow into Wrigley Field the first few weeks of the season. They had borrowed against their bullpen last winter, but it still lined up for Wood and Carlos Marmol to get the final four outs.

Dempster was brilliant, taking a one-hitter into the eighth inning before leaving with a runner on and two outs. Manager Dale Sveum didnt get an argument: He actually said something comical: Yeah, thats not a bad move. I think if it was a calm day, (Ryan) Zimmerman would have had 900 feet of home runs.

Wood walked three consecutive batters, each on a 3-2 count, and allowed the game-tying run. He shook his head no when someone asked about his lighter workload in spring training, the idea being the bullets would be saved for the regular season.

Absolutely no excuses. I just didnt get it done, Wood said. Its just frustrating. Im frustrated for him, frustrated for the guys that worked hard today to give us a chance to win.

It had to be frustrating for the 41,176 fans who sat through the cold (41 degrees at first pitch). Marmol got two quick outs in the ninth before ex-Cub Chad Tracy lifted a ball to right field.

David DeJesus the first player Epstein signed last offseason got turned around, starting over his right shoulder before turning left and looking up into the sun. The ball bounced off the wall for a double.

A plus defender, DeJesus wrote it off as a good lesson on how to deal with Wrigley Field. By the time Ian Desmond lined Marmols slider into right, driving in the go-ahead run, Dempsters line (7.2 innings, one run on two hits, 10 strikeouts) was for nothing.

Im always comfortable handing the ball over to Woody, Dempster said. We want to win every game were out there, but especially Opening Day, when youre at home in front of all these great fans. Thats what hurts. When youre playing close games like that, when its 1-0, you realize how fast things can change.

I feel for Woody in that situation, I feel for Carlos, because Ive in both those seats before. Its not a fun feeling and I know theyre probably chomping at the bit to just get this day over with and get the ball back.

Just like that, the narrative shifted from the first victory of a new era, to a reporter asking Marmol about the feeling of dj vu.

You see a lot of new faces in here? Marmol said. Last year is over.

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

The Bears are hurtling toward another last-place finish in the NFC North, and Mitchell Trubisky is 2-4 as the team’s starting quarterback after Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. But talk to any of Trubisky’s teammates and it's clear they believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for this team, and it’s because of the bright future their quarterback has.

“He’s still young right now, a little green,” offensive lineman Bobby Massie said. "But he’s getting better every week, man.”

Explained fellow offensive lineman Kyle Long: “Just his poise and sense of urgency, at the end of the game to have the wherewithal to make the throws he’s making. Obviously it’s not all perfect — he’s a young quarterback in this league — but he has the confidence and trust of the guys around him. And that’s a rare thing in this league to have.”

Massie, like Long, also used the word “rare” in describing Trubisky, a guy who’s only started 20 games since leaving Mentor High School in 2013 (13 games at North Carolina, one in the preseason and six in the regular season). Massie, Long and the rest of the Bears’ locker room know how good Trubisky can be — or maybe, the way they’re thinking, will be — despite some uneven games this year.

The flashes of what the No. 2 overall pick can do keep on showing up, like that 18-yard jump pass to Kendall Wright that set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens, or his instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 on Sunday that set up a game-tying 46-yard field-goal attempt that Barth missed.

“That’s his mentality — y’all got to see his mentality,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “That situation, fourth and 13, he’s not going down, not taking a sack, not throwing the ball away — he’s going to find a way to make a play, and he’s going to lead us to where we need to be.”

On the other hand, there were still some missed throws and reads for Trubisky (like not connecting with Benny Cunningham on a check-down five yards from the end zone in the first quarter) that serve as a reminder of his greenhorn status.

But it’s what Trubisky has done before and after those highlight or lowlight-reel plays that’s building a groundswell of confidence in him among his teammates.

The Bears got the ball on their own 17-yard line with 91 seconds left in the fourth quarter needing a field goal to tie the Lions on Sunday. When Trubisky entered the huddle, he was calm and confident — same as he was in the first quarter of the game, when the stakes weren't so high.

“He came to huddle and told everybody, 'Calm down, we’re going to win this game,'" wide receiver Dontrelle Inman said. “And that’s what the greats do. There’s no up and down with the emotional level when it comes time to actually go win the game. That’s a plus for him.

“He’s a competitor, and you see it week in and week out. He’s never going to give up. That’s the quarterback you want to be with you and throwing you the ball.”

That Trubisky’s teammates have so much confidence in him — despite the Bears’ 3-7 record — is a significant positive for his long-term development (that he’s only thrown one interception in his last 120 pass attempts is another positive). On Sunday, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains seemed to have more confidence in Trubisky, too, with the pair opening up the playbook and leading to the Bears having their best offensive game of the season.

That trust might not lead to a lot of wins this year. It might not be enough to keep the current coaching staff in place. But the way Trubisky’s teammates talk about him, they don’t see any hurdles the rookie can’t clear on his way to becoming a legit franchise quarterback.

“It’s rare and it’s the start of something special that we get to see,” Massie said. “Hopefully — I can’t predict the f***ing future — but from this point on, it looks like he’s going to be a special player.”

Leonard Floyd's 'really serious knee injury' further bangs up Bears defense, stalls rising star's growth

Leonard Floyd's 'really serious knee injury' further bangs up Bears defense, stalls rising star's growth

You couldn’t really tell watching it live, but the replay told the story: Kyle Fuller’s shoulder pads plowed right into Leonard Floyd’s right knee.

And that’s why last year’s first-round pick was down on the turf at Soldier Field. That’s why the cart came out from the southwest tunnel. That’s why the thousands of fans in the stands watched in silence.

After the game, head coach John Fox said what could have been guessed by most who watched that replay and watched Floyd leave the field on the cart.

“Leonard Floyd left with what looks like a really serious knee injury,” Fox said, a somewhat unusual admittance of severity from the oft-secretive coach in an oft-secretive industry.

“I hate to speculate,” he continued, “but usually when you get taken out on a cart, it’s not great. We’ll evaluate it. I’ll talk to our docs more today and tonight, and we will continue to evaluate tomorrow.”

For the Bears and their fans, this kind of news has become all too familiar. The linebacking corps alone has seen injuries to four of its best players: Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Willie Young and now Floyd. Then there are the season-ending injuries to safety Quintin Demps, tight end Zach Miller and wide receivers Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.

And it’s not just the Bears. This is the new normal in the NFL, as the absences of stars like J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers and Richard Sherman have illustrated.

But for the Bears in particular, this is a really tough one to see.

Floyd has been a force for the defense this season, the kind of quarterback’s nightmare that Ryan Pace & Co. envisioned he’d be when they took Floyd with the No. 9 pick in last year’s draft. He entered Sunday’s action with the second-most sacks on the team, and only 29 players in the league had more than his 4.5 sacks.

After missing games and battling concussion issues as a rookie last season — and still recording seven sacks — this was supposed to be the full season from Floyd that would show how much of a monster he could be. Instead, though, it sounds like that season will be cut short, a building block on that side of the ball stalled.

The football implications, though, did not seem top of mind for many Bears players, who offered their well wishes for their teammate. Remember, too, that this is a team that has already been through Miller’s ordeal, the tight end confined to a Louisiana hospital as he recovered from almost losing his leg in last month’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.

“I told him I love him and I’m going to lay it on the line for him,” fellow linebacker Pernell McPhee said when asked what he said to Floyd as the second-year Georgia product was leaving the field.

And that wasn’t all.

As the media was leaving McPhee’s locker, he told everybody to “say a prayer for my boy.”