Surging Bears not looking past struggling Carolina


Surging Bears not looking past struggling Carolina

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears could breathe a little easier this week even if their quarterback was having some trouble.

That's because the Carolina Panthers are coming to town in disarray.

The Bears? They're doing just fine.

Tops in the NFC North and with a four-game win streak, Chicago (5-1) will try to keep it going against the struggling Panthers (1-5) on Sunday.

This sure looks like a mismatch - or a trap.

``It's hard, week in and week out, and then you get some teams that have their backs against the wall,'' said the Bears' Jay Cutler, who vowed to be ready after Detroit's Ndamukong Suh bruised his ribs on a sack Monday night. ``You just never know. They're going to play their hardest football they've played all year.''

With a four-game losing streak and the worst record in the NFC after falling 19-14 to Dallas, the Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney and essentially put everyone else on notice.

Coaches, players - no one's safe, except maybe Cam Newton. And his inconsistent play is one reason the Panthers are in this spot.

Injuries haven't helped, either.

In the past two weeks, they've lost three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil (foot), cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason (knee and shoulder issues) to season-ending injuries.

They've been unable to pull out close games, with four of their five losses by six points or less, and there's just simply a bad vibe around this team. Hurney pointed toward a leadership void in the locker room, and several players and coaches agreed.

Then there's Newton and his demeanor, which is being dissected as if his last name were Cutler.

``I just keep living life,'' Newton said. ``I understand I'm not perfect. I'm striving to be great. What other people may think or what other people may criticize me on, I take it for what it's worth but continue to try to make myself better each and every opportunity that I get.''

Clearly, the rough start is taking a toll. Losing is something he didn't do at Auburn, and his leadership has come into question.

He was criticized by teammate Steve Smith earlier in the year for sulking on the sidelines, and national media outlets chided him for pointing fingers after Sunday's loss to Dallas.

Newton was 21 of 37 for 233 yards in that one with a touchdown and an early interception in the red zone. He has more interceptions (6) than touchdown throws (5) this season, and with 1,387 yards passing, he's on pace to finish with about 3,700 after going off for 4,051 as a rookie.

Now, he's staring at a team allowing a league-low 13 points per game, one that also leads the NFL with 21 takeaways. The way the defense is playing, Panthers coach Ron Rivera just might have a few flashbacks to 2006, when he was the Bears' defensive coordinator and Chicago was stifling opponents on the way to the Super Bowl.

That group lost two key components to season-ending injuries along the way in defensive tackle Tommie Harris and safety Mike Brown. The Bears have all their main players available, although Brian Urlacher still is limited as he tries to work his way back from a knee injury.

``I think this group can be better,'' Rivera said. ``I really do. Because the front four is probably better (than 2006), and it really begins with those guys up front.''

The Bears have been getting big contributions from the usual suspects in Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, who contained Calvin Johnson on Monday. But Tim Jennings has stepped up in a big way with four interceptions, and the defensive line has come through, too.

Even so, the Bears could be tested.

``They have two excellent running backs,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ``They have a very good tight end in Greg Olsen that we know all about. And Steve Smith is still one of the best receivers in the game.''


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3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

The Washington Capitals had not beaten the Dallas Stars at home since 2006, Alex Ovechkin's second season in the NHL. That streak ended on Tuesday in a 4-3 Caps win.

Here's how the Caps were finally able to down Dallas in Washington.

Oshie still hot

After going 19 straight games without a goal, T.J. Oshie has been red-hot of late with four goals in his last four games. He scored Washington’s first goal in what would become a three-goal period for the Caps as they battled back from a 1-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie through 40 minutes. Oshie also added an assist as he won a power play faceoff that John Carlson fed to Alex Ovechkin for the goal.


Ovechkin victimizing his favorite target

You knew Ovechkin would score given he was playing against one of his favorite targets. With his second period goal, Ovechkin now has 22 goals against Kari Lehtonen in his career, tied with Henrik Lundqvist for the most goals he has scored on any netminder. Lehtonen has not been in the Eastern Conference since the 2008-09 season. When he goes to sleep at night, Ovechkin is who he sees in his nightmares.

The Carlson-Klingberg duel

Carlson and John Klingberg entered Tuesday’s game each with 59 points, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. Carlson downplayed the matchup both before and after the game, but it was clear that both players were playing at another level all game long. While both players tallied two points on the night, you have to give the win to Carlson as he had the most significant point, a game-winning goal in the third period.


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Redskins make contract offer to pass rusher Pernell McPhee, per report


Redskins make contract offer to pass rusher Pernell McPhee, per report

Free agent pass rusher Pernell McPhee visited the Redskins on Monday, and by Tuesday night a report emerged that Washington offered the veteran outside linebacker a contract.

Last week, Trent Murphy signed with the Buffalo Bills and things remain uncertain between the Redskins and Junior Galette. That means the organization has a need for an edge rushing linebacker, and that's exactly the role McPhee can play. 

A 29-year-old that played the last three seasons with the Bears, McPhee posted 14 sacks while in Chicago. Prior to his time with the Bears, McPhee was a solid contributor on some good Ravens teams. 


His best season in Baltimore came in 2014 when he posted 7.5 sacks. That's also the last season McPhee played a full 16 game schedule. He's missed 12 games over the last three years in Chicago. 

McPhee could provide the Redskins with solid veteran depth at outside linebacker, and he's also considered a plus defender against the run. With Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith cemented as the starting outside linebackers, if signed, McPhee would pair up with Ryan Anderson on Washington's second unit. At 6-foot-2 and 275 lbs., McPhee carries more weight on his frame than either Kerrigan or Smith. 

Pro Football Focus gave McPhee a strong grade for the 2017 season. He notched a +11.5 and ranked 13th out of 46 outside linebackers graded. For comparison, Broncos star Von Miller ranked 1st at +57, Kerrigan ranked 8th at +22.9 and Galette ranked 10th at +16.2.

It's unclear what a move for McPhee would mean between the Redskins and Galette, but it's hard to imagine it helps.

Free agent Johnathan Hankins also visited Washington on Monday, and while he plays an interior defensive line position different from McPhee, it's also unclear what this offer would do to any negotiations between the Redskins and Hankins. 

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