Bears

Bears impose their will on Vikings in wrap-up to epic 12-4 turnaround season

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USA TODAY

Bears impose their will on Vikings in wrap-up to epic 12-4 turnaround season

Week 17’s of NFL seasons can veer into a sort-of faux preseason games 3 or 4 depending upon teams’ personnel strategies. Like game 3’s they can be modest “tells” hinting at futures, either short-term (playoffs) or a little longer (next season).

For the Bears (12-4), their 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1) was a dominating performance, in which they imposed their will on a division rival who has so often done exactly that to the Bears over the last decade. The Bears doubled the yardage of the Minnesota offense (332-164), converting nearly 60 percent of their third downs while holding the Vikings to one conversion out of 11 third downs, and winning in Minneapolis for the first time since 2012.

Coach Matt Nagy considers the Bears’ 25-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings back on Nov. 18 to be a tipping-point win for his team. It was a game in which the Bears offense imposed its will on a rival that had won the NFC North two of the past three seasons, going on three scoring drives of 10 plays or longer the first four times they had the football. The defense imposed its will on quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense in the form of three-and-out’s on the Vikings first four possessions, with a combined net of 2 yards.

It was a template the Bears have sought to establish, and they did nothing short of impose their will on the Vikings with their opening drive and on through a dominant first half.

“We’ve gotta build that consistency and that mindset that we want to impose our will on defenses,” Mitchell Trubisky said last week, “and whatever we call and whatever we’re playing, we gotta go with the mindset that it can’t stop.

"We just gotta be consistent more of the time and I think that’s when we’ll get to the point of when we’re more imposing our will instead of playing inconsistent.”

The Vikings drew to within a field goal at 13-10 in the third quarter, at which point the Bears, the only NFL team to have a second-half lead, in every game this season, reimposed their will and answered with a 16-play drive going 75 yards for a clinching touchdown and two-point conversion.

Feeling no draft

For the first time since the 2010 season, the Bears don’t know what their draft position is at the close of football business on Sunday No. 17. Making the playoffs by definition means a standard slot no sooner than No. 21, plus the Khalil Mack trade took the Bears out of round one’s entirely for 2019 and 2020, sending those picks to the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.

The Raiders haven’t enjoyed their own 4-12 season and the Bears’ playoff season certainly hasn’t improved the mood of Jon Gruden and his front office, with the draft pick from the Bears setting up, not in the top 10 as Chicago’s last four have been, but at a 20-something slot to be named later.

The roads not taken…

Sometimes the best things in life are the ones that don’t work out.

Early in the 2017 offseason the Bears were kicking the tires on myriad quarterback options. Very high on the interest scale was Kirk Cousins. But he was ultimately franchise-tagged by Washington, with the result that the Bears went in an entirely different direction, for Mike Glennon over Brian Hoyer in free agency as a placeholder.

And Mitchell Trubisky in the draft.

For starters…

With the No. 1 seed in the NFC clinched, the New Orleans Saints opted to sit starters, including quarterback Drew Brees. That made them the exception rather than the rule, if only because they were the only team in the NFC playoff bracket to lose on Sunday: the Bears, Rams, Cowboys and Seahawks all won with their A-listers, as did the Eagles, who of course went with their varsity in the 24-0 win over Washington to make the playoffs.

“We weren’t looking ahead, we weren’t thinking about sitting out,” Trubisky said.

Same in the AFC: The Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers, Texans and Ravens all went with and won with starters, as did the Colts and Titans, obviously, in their playoff play-in game Sunday night.

“I didn’t want anybody talking to me about score in the first half,” Matt Nagy said. “I love winning. I think it’s fun to win… Let’s just play football.”

A kick in the…

Kicker Robbie Gould was jettisoned after missing a couple of field goals in the 2015 season and two PATs in the 2016 preseason. Cody Parkey established himself as an early 2019 roster longshot on Sunday with his third missed point-after of the year, to go with roughly missing one-quarter of his field-goal attempts – a hint at why the Bears are Parkey’s fourth team in the last four years.

 

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Finding the 'It Factor' – Teams pondering draft mega-deals need to study Bears’ hits, misses trading No. 1’s

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Finding the 'It Factor' – Teams pondering draft mega-deals need to study Bears’ hits, misses trading No. 1’s

At some point of Thursday’s first night of the draft, history says that some team will push a big pile of draft chips over in front of another team at the NFL table in return for the latter’s pick. Some of those will work out; others will be considerably less than successful.

Just ask the Bears. Ask them why some of those mega-deals work and others don’t.

Last year it was Arizona trading up from No. 15 to Oakland’s spot at No. 10, taking quarterback Josh Rosen. The deal netted little, unless you believe that the NFL’s worst record and this year’s No. 1-overall pick count for something.

In 2017 it was the Bears going all-in for a one-spot move and Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears at least cashed one playoff check. Kansas City traded two No. 1’s and a 3 to move from 27 to 10 for Patrick Mahomes. Two slots later Houston traded two No. 1’s to move from No. 25 to 12 for Deshaun Watson.

The Bears, Chiefs and Texans all cashed playoff checks last offseason.

In 2016 the Rams traded up from 15 to No. 1 overall for Jared Goff. Philadelphia jumped from No. 8 to No. 2 for Carson Wentz. Both teams were in the 2017 and 2018 postseason, the Rams in the last Super Bowl.

In the might’ve-been category, Bears general manager Ryan Pace pondered a move from No. 7 to No. 2 in 2015 in a quest for Marcus Mariota but judged the price too steep.

The Cardinals’ Rosen gamble and the Bears’ for Trubisky – plus three other Bears mega-deals – offer case studies on the do’s and don’t’s of blockbuster trades involving top draft picks.

Three times in the past decade, and once 10-plus years before that, the Bears rocked the NFL with franchise-altering trades for what they hoped would be franchise-defining talents. Twice they appear to have gotten what they bargained for; twice, not so much, for intriguingly similar reasons.

These deals form a collective object lesson for teams (Oakland? Arizona?) contemplating the kinds of trades this week that the Bears made that brought them Jay Cutler, Khalil Mack, Rick Mirer and Mitchell Trubisky. Only the Bears-49ers deal that secured Trubisky represented a specifically draft-weekend trade; Cutler happened 10 years ago, ahead of the 2009 draft, Mirer was moved in February 1997 for a Bears No. 1 and Mack was a late-preseason deal.

But the four together serve as a collective trail of breadcrumbs regarding what is typically the difference between those kinds of blockbusters working out vs. blowing up on the acquiring team, in those cases the Bears, this draft, someone else.

Finding “It”

The critical element is, pure and simple, football character. It’s not talent. It’s the “It Factor.”

“The competitiveness, a guy playing with, we call it ‘dog’ or energy or swagger, those kinds of things,” Pace said. “There's more specific things I don't want to get to, but I would just say you can feel a guy's football character on tape and we're really strong on that.”

Mack and Trubisky have that essential football character, the “It Factor;” Cutler and Mirer didn’t. And the results reflected it.

The Cleveland Browns snagged “undersized” quarterback but leadership-heavy Baker Mayfield and improved by seven wins last season and by four prime-time games going into this one. Irrespective of any trade situations here, the Browns, like the Bears, can vouch for what happens without “It” – Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Brady Quinn.

Cutler, Mirer: leadership-lite

If there is a jolting difference that sticks out, it is that Pace very clearly has made football character a priority (Mike Glennon notwithstanding). Others haven’t.

Those inside Halas Hall at the time recall the personnel staff asking for evaluations of Cutler by the coaching staff. Those were done and included prescient, serious reservations about Cutler’s leadership and personality.

Those were disregarded by the dealmakers as not significant. They were. Cutler's Chicago teammates said all the right things about him, even as he was shoving one offensive lineman coming off the field, told another to shut up and play his own position at another point and was telling one position coach, on the practice field, to back off his fundamentals.

Cutler took a Lovie Smith team that reached the 2005 postseason behind Kyle Orton and the 2006 Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, and missed the playoffs four of his five Smith years, then in both of his Marc Trestman years and both of his John Fox years. Grossman and Orton were a combined 40-24 in Chicago. Cutler was 51-51.

Cutler simply wasn’t worth what the Bears gave up for him. It seemed obvious at the time (certain commentators who will remain nameless here were roasted for saying so at the time) and it proved out. He was in Chicago exactly what he’d been in Denver. He was the same middling quarterback with suspect “weapons” as he was with Pro Bowl’ers Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, behind an offensive line that included Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long, both Pro Bowl players.

Mirer was a disaster after the Bears chose to ignore his dismal four years with the Seattle Seahawks and give away. Mirer seemed perceptibly overmatched by the game when he was given three starts in ’97, all losses. He had no confidence and, worse, inspired none.

On the other hand, Mack and Trubisky… 

A rookie Trubisky told veteran Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton to shut up in a 2017 huddle (no one is supposed to talk in there except the quarterback), which Sitton respected and recounted. Not the same thing as embarrassing or disrespecting. Head coach Matt Nagy on more than one occasion last season made mention of Trubisky’s reactions to adversity and mistakes.

Football character. There is something to be said about a rookie quarterback who earns a complimentary nickname – “Pretty Boy Assassin" – from the defense for what he was doing to them running scout team. The defense’s nickname for Cutler doesn’t clear NBC censorship standards.

Mack brought with him from Oakland not only sacks, but also a mindset that took root in and resonated with an already-strong defensive unit.

“When you bring a guy like Khalil in,” Pace said, “I think the longer you’re around him, it’s not just the player, it’s his work ethic and it’s his professionalism and it’s everything he is as a person. And to have your best player be absolutely one of your harder workers is a great thing to have as a franchise.”

Football character.

The unfortunate reality is that character is harder to assess than talent. But as a handful of Bears transactions involving all-important high-round draft choices (and quarterbacks) have repeatedly demonstrated, arm strength, size, 40-times, all that stuff, don’t make up for a missing “It” factor if that targeted player doesn’t have “It.”

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SportsTalk Podcast: Robbie Gould continues to toy with Bears fans... is a potential deal in sight?

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SportsTalk Podcast: Robbie Gould continues to toy with Bears fans... is a potential deal in sight?

0:00 - The Cubs crush the Dodgers as El Mago puts on another show at Wrigley. Meanwhile, is the bullpen the biggest reason why they are above .500?

5:00 - One day away from the NFL Draft. Is Kyler Murray a lock to be the #1 pick. Will the Bears move up to the 2nd round?

8:00 - Robbie Gould continues to dominate the conversation with Bears fans. Hub gives his insight on a potential deal.

10:00 - Frank Thomas and Chuck Garfien join the panel to talk White Sox. They discuss when the top prospects should get called up and if now is the time for the Southsiders to add veterans like Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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