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Offensive grades: Bears return to prominence

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Offensive grades: Bears return to prominence

A desperately needed rebound from the disaster in San Francisco is the only way to look at the overall offense.

The distribution of the ball bordered on the bizarre with Brandon Marshall targeted on 17 of 31 throws by Jay Cutler, but Mike Tice put together a plan and packages to force the Minnesota Vikings to respect the run, with the result that Cutler was sacked only once, and that when he tripped over his own centers feet.

The commitment to the run (39) and balance (32 pass plays) was a decisive factor with the offense putting together drives of 10, 14 and 12 plays, and at least one first down on eight of the first 10 possessions when the game was remotely in any question. The offense scored on four straight possessions in the first half, three times for touchdowns, and took the heat off the defense for a change.

QUARTERBACK B

Jay Cutler evinced no signs of his concussion of two weeks ago and was an efficient 23-of-31 for 188 yards, a touchdown and one interception off a tipped ball. He used mobility in the pocket well and spread the ball among eight different receivers, albeit with 17 throws to Brandon Marshall.

Cutler created a problem by tripping over the foot of C Roberto Garza on his first dropback for a sack. Cutlers gratuitous flip of the ball at the end of a successful scramble inside the Minnesota 20 cost the Bears 15 yards and was an inexcusable lack of composure in a critical situation, and resulted in the Bears losing a TD chance.

Overall, an important return from injury and managing the game well without excessive exposure to risk other than some forced throws toward Marshall.

RUNNING BACK B

The numbers were not big but the effects from backs were. Michael Bush reaffirmed the value of his signing last offseason with two rushing TDs and yeoman work throughout the game, particularly after Matt Forte suffered an ankle injury in the second half. Bush moved the chains and also moved the pile as well for 60 yards on 21 carries, none for more than eight yards.

Forte fought for 42 yards on 14 carries before his injury. Fortes fumble on the Bears first play from scrimmage gave the Vikings three points and was just poor ball control since he wasnt hit by a tackler. It was his first of the year in 145 carries but a big mistake at the time.

Evan Rodriguez swung out of the backfield for a key 11-yard catch for a third-down conversion in the second quarter.

RECEIVERS A-

A difficult group to critique if only because the passing game was so Marshall-centric. Marshall was exceptional with 12 receptions for 92 yards, many times working against double-plus coverage and taking hits. His average per catch was a modest 7.7 and he gave away yardage with questionable moves after a couple of catches, but he also blocked well and created a place for Cutler to go in crisis.

Earl Bennett caught all four of the balls thrown to him, with a Bears-long of 20 yards and picking up three first downs on his catches. Matt Spaeth made a picture-book catch of a 13-yard TD pass in the second quarter and his blocking throughout was key in the run game.

Kellen Davis grab in traffic in the first quarter set up Bushs first scoring run. But Davis had two catchable balls get away and missed chances to sustain drives.

OFFENSIVE LINE A-

Have to grade on a curve here. This group spent the last week in turmoil with changes at RT (Jonathan Scott for Gabe Carimi) and LG (Chris Spencer for Chilo Rachal). And it only got more chaotic on Sunday.

Spencer and Louis both exited with knee injuries, forcing Edwin Williams in at left guard in the second quarter after Spencer was shaken up, and Carimi at right, for the first time in his career high school, college or NFL.

Carimi as an extra tight end and JMarcus Webb caved in the Minnesota right side for Bushs one-yard TD run in the first quarter. Webb more than atoned for his nightmare in Game 16 last season against Jared Allen, holding Allen without a sack and to one quarterback hit, that long outside the pocket.

Scott was outstanding on the right side, containing Brian Robison with one hit and a couple of tackles.

COACHING A

Mike Tice called himself out on his play-calling but had a plan in place for the Vikings. The Bears had 39 snaps in the first half, with 21 runs and 18 pass plays on the way to a 25-3 lead. The running wasnt dominating (2.7 yards per carry) but the physical play slowed the pass rush.

Using a jumbo package of Gabe Carimi as the extra tight end, Matt Spaeth as a wing, and Michael Bush behind Evan Rodriguez gave the Bears some heft in the run game.

Tice used a mix of max-protect with chipping on Jared Allen to slow the blindside rush from the All-Pro end. But the mix of signals was key against a defensive front that had allowed only seven rushing TDs all year but gave up two to the Bears.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: How should Hawks mentally approach getting back into playoff race?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: How should Hawks mentally approach getting back into playoff race?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk podcast, Adam Burish joins Pat Boyle to discuss the three-game losing skid the Hawks are experiencing, the problems on the power play and how they should mentally approach getting back into the playoff race.

The guys also discuss Corey Crawford’s first public sighting, trade rumors and Burish shares his favorite Original 6 story.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here:

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Weird things tend to happen in New Orleans. Things filed under “unbelievable” or “unexplainable.”

The Bulls’ double-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t exactly fall under either, but the circumstances leading to it certainly do.

Justin Holiday, the reliable 84 percent free throw shooter missing the last of three freebies that would have ended the game in regulation after being fouled with 0.3 seconds left?

Unexplainable.

“Could’ve won the game with a free throw,” Holiday said, dismissing the notion of nerves. “Thought it was cash, it just didn’t go in. Wasn’t meant to happen, I guess. I was hyped. You get that opportunity, I don’t miss free throws. When you get an opportunity like that, that’s what was on my mind.”

Holiday raced to the 3-point line after the Bulls fell behind 114-112 with three seconds left, drawing a whistle on Darius Miller as the buzzer sounded—giving them a chance to win a game they had no business losing in the first place.

“He made the hard ones, which the first one is the hardest,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made a great play to be fouled in the first place to even get himself to the line.”

It seemed so unlikely the Bulls would find themselves in their wildest game of the year after seemingly driving the Pelicans to insanity and frustration, taking a 17-point lead with 5 minutes left.

Zach LaVine looked comfortable in his fourth quarter minutes, while Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic hit big shots to extend the Bulls lead—ignoring the irritated atmosphere at the Smoothie King Center as the Pelicans fans felt their team had gotten an unfair whistle.

Then the Pelicans—and their maddeningly talented star DeMarcus Cousins—got mad and took all his frustration out on the Bulls in a historic performance. He needed every bit of the 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists to put the Bulls away, as he bullied the game inside and finessed things from the outside (five 3-pointers) as his teammates finally caught up to his intensity in those frenetic five minutes.

His numbers put him in the company of Wilt Chamberlain—not surprising considering he did everything down the stretch including bringing the ball upcourt as if he were the world’s biggest point guard.

Unbelievable.

“It’s cool to be in company with a guy like Wilt (Chamberlain). He’s a guy that’s put up videogame numbers his entire career,” Cousins said. “Just to have a little game like his, that’s pretty cool.”

His alley-oop to Anthony Davis with 1:39 left in regulation gave him a triple-double and cut the Bulls lead to 110-107, and the Bulls seemed to be in full panic mode. Davis fouled out in the first overtime but not after inflicting 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists of damage in 43 minutes.

“The inability to get a rebound late cost us,” Hoiberg said. “Their pressure, getting into us, really lost all of our pace that we did a good job of for the most part all game. It really slowed us down. That’s what got their run started.”

Jerian Grant, who had performed solidly in Kris Dunn’s absence, then became a target for the Pelicans defense as they harassed Grant, taking the Bulls’ offense out of its rhythm.

Grant had six turnovers in 47 minutes and was visibly bothered by the pressure employed by the Pelicans’ defense, nearly negating his 22-point, 13-assist, five-rebound performance.

“I thought we had really good flow,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Jerian had a really good game. But the pressure really did bother us. Gotta do the things that got you the lead we had. A lot of pace, a lot of movement. A lot of good things.”

The good things certainly included Lauri Markkanen holding his own against Davis and making big defensive plays in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Pelicans foolishly tried to switch Markkanen onto their guards.

But Markkanen kept his composure, moved his feet and was never exploited. Although he shot just 5-for-12 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Markkanen took steps forward defensively as he finished with 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Robin Lopez went at Cousins on the other end, as both were exhausted at the end of the marathon. Lopez scored 22 points in 39 minutes, his only regret likely getting stripped by Cousins at midcourt during the Pelicans’ comeback, leading to free throws.

“We just decided to play defense,” Davis said. “It was tied up going into the fourth quarter. They went on a crazy run. There was like eight minutes left, we just said we going to play defense. Play defense one possession at a time and we are going to be able to come back here.”

Jrue Holiday, Justin’s younger brother, was the main irritant late, along with former Bull E’Twaun Moore, giving just enough support for Cousins and Davis. The Pelicans’ Holiday scored just 12 points with six assists, but had big baskets in the first overtime after Davis fouled out.

“They turned it up, physically,” Justin Holiday said. “My brother started guarding full court. They all starting pressuring us a little more. Sometimes, it’s tough. When they turn the pressure up like that and we have the lead, we don’t necessarily want to be in a rush to score. Then they’re scoring on the other end. We gotta get stops.”

It was hard to ignore how the pressure affected the Bulls. The composure and poise they’ve played with over the last several weeks gave them a level of confidence in hostile environments, but missing Dunn meant they were without a critical part of their offense.

“I don’t wanna say trouble but it bothered us for sure,” Holiday said. “We kinda got sped up. Forget about the offensive end but if we get stops and rebound, we win the game. Again, they have all-stars and things like that, supposed to do their job.”

Even then, though, everyone walking away from the Smoothie King Center knew they witnessed a historic, unbelievable performance as well as an unexplainable collapse.