Bulls

49ers loss a 'wakeup call' that says Bears asleep, overconfident

945415.png

49ers loss a 'wakeup call' that says Bears asleep, overconfident

SAN FRANCISCO The hardest part of a blowout loss is sorting out what it says about the defeated, first in the game itself and then about the bigger 16-game picture.

The 32-7 debacle the Bears (7-3) put on against the San Francisco 49ers was one of those. The only problem the Bears gave the 49ers (7-3-1) was a quarterback controversy, whether Colin Kaepernick is in fact a better quarterback going forward than Alex Smith.

One veteran leaving Candlestick Park said, Thats a different team than Ive been watching.

Which one? I asked.

Both, he said.

If there is a positive, it is that this time a year ago the Bears were 7-3 and losing their quarterback. This year they are 7-3 and getting him back, presuming that Jay Cutler is sufficiently recovered from his concussion condition, which is never a given with head injuries.

And if there is a big-picture negative it is that the Bears had just run off five straight wins last year to reach that 7-3 point. Their offensive line had come together and allowed a total of five sacks over that stretch.

This year the line is in tatters, allowing six sacks in Monday nights game alone. The team has lost two straight and now faces a span of three division games in four weeks, and the next four opponents are all 6-4 or better.

Over-confident

One player called the game a wakeup call. The only people or teams that need wakeup calls are ones that are asleep. The Bears were.

The Bears were not ready to play a game that was strategically the most important they have played all season, with a little more gravity than the Packers game in Green Bay because it comes with six games to offset it instead of the 14 remaining after game two.

One member of the defense said the unit anticipated first-time starter Kaepernick to throw a couple to us. That pointed to a letdown once it was learned earlier in the weekend that Smith, who does not turn the ball over, was a scratch because of lingering concussion effects.

Even coach Lovie Smith conceded that we were lucky to be down only 20-0 at the half.

Fatal flaws?

Virtually every member of every unit contributed to the outcome. But at the 10-game mark of the season, an offensive line should not be as humiliated as tackles Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb were by the San Francisco pass rush.

The problem is that there are no quick fixes, with journeyman veteran Jonathan Scott the only rostered option. The guard spot already was tweaked with Chilo Rachal replacing Chris Spencer at left guard. Rachal committed two holding penalties and was crushed in the pass rush along with the rest of the front.

The reason why the concerns are more than simple over-reaction is that while the line held the Houston Texans without a sack last week, even the Bears own defensive linemen were railing privately at the deplorable state of Soldier Field turf. It may not have been home-field advantage but it was an O-line advantage. Without that, the Bears offensive line was, as Comcast colleague and former Bear Hunter Hillenmeyer said on our PostGame Live show, a bunch of wet paper.

Brandon Marshall has been a linchpin of the offense this season, which was fine when the defense was carrying the offense. On Monday the 49ers cracked Marshall.

San Francisco double-teamed Marshall often and hard, and as the first half wore on, Marshalls frustration was amply apparent. He got into physical confrontations with 49ers defensive backs after plays were over and at one point Marshall appeared to be going off on Matt Forte or another player along the sideline. Center and offensive co-captain Roberto Garza stepped in it appeared that wide receiver Earl Bennett also mediated.

Tempers flare on sidelines and on the field. But Marshalls loss of composure started when the game was still salvageable. Worse, the 49ers basically defied the Bears to find someone else to beat them.

The Bears couldnt.

If they cant, the Bears will not be playing more than 16 games. Again.

Robin Lopez continues to contribute as 'great example,' mentor for young Bulls

robinlopez.png
USA TODAY

Robin Lopez continues to contribute as 'great example,' mentor for young Bulls

Robin Lopez hasn’t exactly had a season to remember in Year 3 with the Bulls. The longest tenured player on the rebuilding Bulls, Lopez has seen his starting spot relinquished during the preseason, he’s been a healthy scratch in half of the team’s 14 games and has struggled in the extended minutes he’s seen this past week.

But Lopez, ever the professional and positive presence in the locker room – with his framed Britney Spears picture still in view – is still having an impact. Specifically, the mentoring he’s given rookie Wendell Carter Jr. is one of the reasons the Bulls’ seventh overall pick has been able to succeed so early in his NBA career.

“Robin’s great for this young group of guys. He’s played already a couple different roles,” Fred Hoiberg said. “And any time you can show the guys the right way to approach that, be professional about it and still be a mentor throughout the tough times, it’s a great example. He’s a great role model for our young players.

“He’s really taken Wendell under his wing. You look at what Cris and Bobby did in their first couple years in the league. He had those same impact on those guys.”

When Lopez arrived in Chicago via the Derrick Rose trade, the Bulls were still competing. He started 81 games in 2016-17, averaging 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 28.0 minutes, the most he had played since his first season in Portland.

But Lopez became a victim of the Bulls tank last season, starting 64 games but sitting 18 of the final 26 contests. Lopez only played in eight of those games as a result of the NBA stepping in and asking the Bulls to play their veterans – Lopez and Justin Holiday – more. Lopez averaged just 16.9 minutes in those games.

Lopez began the year as the starter but Carter quickly established himself as the foundation of the defense while also showing off an offensive skill set that complemented the backcourt.

Through the demotion and healthy scratches Lopez has taken on a mentor role, not dissimilar to the one fellow veterans took on for him in his early seasons as a pro in New Orleans.

“I’ve been really fortunate in the league,” Lopez said. “I’ve had a lot of great veterans myself, but even if I hadn’t I have a great joy playing with these guys, being around these guys. We have a great group of guys, a great group of teammates. I’d be a huge jackass if I weren’t to do that, you know?’’

Since rejoining the rotation in New York, Lopez has averaged a paltry 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17.2 minutes. He has blocked five shots, including a pivotal one in the final seconds of regulation against the Knicks. He’s been an abled body off the bench to spell Carter – or eat minutes if the rookie is in foul trouble – or a more viable option for Felicio, who has struggled in his own right.

The on-court production is what it is, but Lopez’s teaching role has mattered more to a Bulls team sitting at 4-9 while they await the return of four rotation players.

“Coming out of a timeout or when guys come over, whether we’re going through a good stretch or a bad one, he’s always the first one to go up to Wendell and talk to him about things that he sees on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “He just has such a great feel for doing the right thing out there.”

It’s a role he’ll play for as long as he’s with the Bulls. When Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis return the Bulls’ frontcourt minutes will be swallowed up, and odds are the Bulls will want to continue trying out Felicio based solely on the money the Bulls owe him the next two-plus seasons. Lopez, a free agent at season’s end, likely hasn’t done enough to fetch anything considerable in a trade and doesn’t offer much as an expiring contract.

But that won’t stop him from continuing to compete, push the younger players in practice and attempt to create a winning culture in Chicago.

"Everybody here, we’re competitive guys,” he said. “We want that to be us. Wherever I am I want us to be winning, I’m a competitive player. You see me on the floor getting technicals and generally shouting at the refs, but occasionally other people too. I’m a competitive guy. I want to be winning wherever I am.’’

Gustav Forsling call-up comes at perfect time for Blackhawks

forsling_story.jpg
USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling call-up comes at perfect time for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks recalled defenseman Gustav Forsling from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League and placed forward Marcus Kruger (left leg) on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 9, the team announced Tuesday.

Forsling, who underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, was sent to Rockford on Oct. 22 perhaps more-so as a conditioning stint and appeared in five games. He missed four contests with a groin injury, but is coming off a two-assist game against the Chicago Wolves over the weekend.

Forsling had three goals and 10 assists in 41 games with the Blackhawks last season before getting assigned to the IceHogs for the remainder of the campaign, where he recorded five points (two goals, three assists) in 18 regular-season games and five points (one goal, four assists) in 13 postseason contests.

The Blackhawks' roster currently sits at 23 players, so it appears they will carry eight defensemen for now despite the team's reluctance to do so again this season after it backfired a year ago. Brandon Davidson (right leg injury) did not practice on Tuesday, which could be the reason for bringing up Forsling.

But his call-up certainly comes at a desperate time for the Blackhawks, who have lost eight in a row (0-6-2) and could use all the help they can get on the back end.

In other positive news, Connor Murphy skated in full gear for the first time in months as he continues to recover from a back injury. He's still a ways away from practicing, but this was the next step in his recovery process.