Fire

What happens next is real key for 'fragile' Jeffery

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What happens next is real key for 'fragile' Jeffery

A loss is only a total loss if nothing is learned or gained from the experience. For rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, three pass-interference calls against him in the second half of the loss to Green Bay, one nullifying a touchdown, was a disaster.

RELATED: Jeffery not placing the blame on refs

Now comes the important part.

The thing Im trying to make sure of is that it doesnt destroy him from a mental standpoint, said receivers coach Darryl Drake. Hes fragile right now but thats part of it.

You have to man-up. Are you going to sit back and sulk or are you going to do something about it? Youve still got to play the game physical so you cant give in on that. You have to turn it into something positive. You say, how can there be a positive there? Its in how you respond when youre in that situation again. You have to leave no questions, and he left a question by having his arm extended.

Jeffery already has put the harsh lessons to mental use.

I just have to play a lot smarter, Jeffery told CSNChicago.com.

Beyond the penalties lies a revealing fact about Jeffery: In a short time, made shorter by missed games due to injury, Jeffery has become a crucial figure in the eyes, literally and figuratively, of Jay Cutler and the Chicago offense.

It was to Jeffery that Cutler went three times on first-down plays, a vital need area for the Bears. And it was also to Jeffery that Cutler and the play calling went once on a third-and-10 and twice on fourth-down plays. One of the fourth downs was the ill-fated completion in the end zone that was nullified by then first pass-interference call.

Put another way, in one of the games most important plays, Cutler went to the rookie.

MORE: Bears offense fails with division at stake

Some of the reason lay in the forgotten fact that Jeffery had previously drawn Green Bay penalties on successive plays resulting in 58 penalty yards.

The Bears second-round draft choice last April has always been a physical wideout. That physicality helped him catch 183 passes in 39 games for South Carolina. But while his strength and ability to be physical was part of the attraction for the Bears, it only works if used intelligently.

Jeffery also has a mentor and fan a couple of locker stalls away.

There are things that we can do to keep that from happening so much, said Brandon Marshall, also a physical receiver but who has been tagged with four penalties in 872 snaps vs. Jefferys four in fewer than half (353) that number of plays.

Well work on those things, Marshall said. I feel bad for the kid because hes working his butt off just to get healthy, and also to get back to the form that he believes, and we all believe, that he can play at.

For that to happen to him, that kinds sucks and it sucks for our team, but Alshons going to be OK. Hes a competitor and he has a lot of ability. He has heart and thats a guy that you can take in your foxhole.

MORE: 'Leadership' sentiments have a vaguely hollow ring

Jeffery was ready to crawl into a hole last Sunday. But that was then, Arizona is now.

Im really not thinking about it, Jeffery said, just concentrating on the next game.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16