Bears rush to Cody Parkey’s defense as embattled kicker feels ‘terrible’ about playoff exit

Bears rush to Cody Parkey’s defense as embattled kicker feels ‘terrible’ about playoff exit

Cody Parkey took responsibility for one of the worst, most gutting losses in Bears history, saying in the locker room at Soldier Field following a 16-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday that he feels “terrible” and “I 100 percent take that loss on me.”

But after a throng of media dispersed around the beleaguered kicker’s locker, Parkey’s teammates went to bat for him. When asked what his message would be to people sending Parkey death threats, or vitriolic tweets or Instagram comments filled with pure anger and slurs, Bears left tackle Charles Leno Jr. had this to say.

“What would my message be? F*** you,” Leno said. “You’re not in this position. You don’t know how hard this s*** is. Like, that’s all it is. That’s all it is.”

The Bears’ best season in years ended with a doink, first off the left upright in the north end zone and then, bizarrely, off the crossbar. Maybe the ball was tipped (, but it doesn’t matter. This was a team that had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but couldn’t vanquish the defending Super Bowl champions. And the feeling was that the game never should’ve came down to Parkey making or missing a 43-yard field goal with five seconds left. 

“One person didn’t lose this game,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “We lost this game together.”

Center Cody Whitehair echoed that sentiment. 

“I just didn’t want (Parkey) to think it’s his fault,” Whitehair said. “It never comes down to one guy or one play. Collectively we all could’ve been a little bit better.”

That much is true: The Bears did not save their best game of the season for the playoffs. Mitch Trubisky struggled to move the ball against the Eagles’ defense until the fourth quarter. The league’s best defense couldn’t make a stop when given the lead, allowing Nick Foles to work his magic and score a go-ahead touchdown with under a minute left. A few players had standout games — like Allen Robinson and Akiem Hicks — but in a number of ways, the Bears were out-coached and out-played on Sunday. 

And yet, they still had a chance to survive with the kind of win that could spark a deep run into the playoffs, maybe even the Super Bowl. All Parkey had to do was hit the kick Ryan Pace envisioned he would when he signed him to a four-year, $15 million deal with $9 million guaranteed back in March. 

“That’s one of the worst feelings in the world, to let your team down,” Parkey said. “I feel terrible. I’m going to continue to put things in perspective, continue to put my best foot forward and sleep at night knowing I did everything in my power to go and make that kick and for whatever reason it hit the crossbar and the upright, and I still couldn’t do it. So, yeah. I feel terrible.”

Leno was one of the first players to dash over to Parkey after he missed the kick, a move indicative of the kind of team unity fostered and possessed by the Bears this year. 

“You put a lot of pressure on you, of course his job is go out there and make his field goal and do his job,” Leno said. “But at the end of the day, he is a human being. And I respect him as a person, as a man and I just wanted to let him know — I mean, the story is not written yet. You know what I mean? We don’t know when it’s going to come, but you’re going to make a play for us, you’re going to make a kick for us that’s going to be huge. So keep your head up, stay strong and we can say we lost on this one play, but we could’ve won on many other plays. I was just letting him know that.”

The harsh reality is Parkey may not get that chance, nor did he do enough in 2018 to earn it. His story in Chicago could very well have ended with that kick Sunday night. 

One of the most glaring weaknesses for the 2018 Bears was Parkey’s inconsistency, which led him to connect on only 23 of 30 field goals in the regular season (the third-worst rate among qualified kickers) and miss three PATs, too, all of which doinked off an upright. Had Parkey hit a 53-yard kick in overtime in Miami in Week 6, the Bears wouldn’t have even been playing Sunday, instead watching wild card weekend from home while in possession of a first-round bye.  

That will leave Pace with a decision to make in an offseason that came far quicker than anyone in Chicago would’ve hoped. The Bears would lose cap space — $1.125 million, per Spotrac — if they release Parkey before June 1, and wouldn’t save anything against the 2019 cap if he’s released after June 1.

So it’s unlikely the Bears will jettison Parkey anytime soon. But Pace and this team has to fix the kicking woes that’ve followed it since Robbie Gould was cut before the 2016 season (Gould, ironically, was in attendance at Soldier Field on Sunday — and he’ll also be a free agent).

Otherwise, the Bears risk having another spectacular season cut short in gutting, brutal way possible. 

“I thought I hit a good ball and unfortunately I didn’t make it,” Parkey said. “I feel terrible.”

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

USA Today

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

Pro Football Focus doesn’t seem to expect much regression for the Bears defense, at least when it comes to run defense.

PFF analyst Mike Renner ranked every team’s ability to stop the ground game, heading into 2019, and Chicago remains on top.

The team retained its entire front seven, top-to-bottom, with the exception of Sam Acho, who spent most of last season on injured reserve anyway.

One of the biggest keys, in Renner’s analysis, is Akiem Hicks, who was among Pro Football Focus’ top performers in the running game.

“The former Saint is proving himself one of the best free agent additions in recent memory,” Renner wrote. “His 13.3 run-stop percentage was the second-highest figure of any interior defender in the NFL last season.”

The Bears allowed the fewest rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of any defense last season, and the 3.8 yards per attempt they gave up was fourth best.

With the whole gang back together for 2019, the team is in a great spot to run it back under Chuck Pagano.    

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

The Bears will begin training camp next week without many significant position battles — outside of kicker, of course — which stands as an indicator of how strong a roster Ryan Pace has built. But that doesn’t mean there won't be some intriguing decisions to be made in a month and a half, especially involving depth at some critical positions. 

So here’s a pre-training camp stab at projecting what the Bear’s 53-man roster will look like on the night of Sept. 5:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Missing the cut: Tyler Bray

These two guys are locked in, leaving Tyler Bray to likely return to the practice squad for another season. 

RUNNING BACKS (4): Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, David Montgomery, Kerrith Whyte Jr. 
Missing the cut: Ryan Nall

Cohen, Davis and Montgomery are roster locks, leaving Whyte and Nall to compete for, likely, just one spot on the roster. Matt Nagy praised Nall during OTAs, and he could become a versatile option with the ability to play some fullback, but we’ll give the last spot to Whyte given his speed and the Bears’ focus on that trait in the offseason. 

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley, Marvin Hall
Missing the cut: Javon Wims, Emanuel Hall, Taquan Mizzell, Tanner Gentry, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Thomas Ives

Robinson, Gabriel and Miller are locks, while Patterson’s contract structure ($5 million guaranteed, all in 2019) and Ridley’s draft slot (fourth round) easily get them on the team, too. That leaves Javon Wims, Marvin Hall, Emanuel Hall and a handful of others to compete for what probably is only one more spot on the 53-man roster. There’s not much separating those three heading into training camp, though Emanuel Hall’s sports hernia surgery sidelined him during OTAs, putting him a little behind the curve. Wims is the incumbent here but didn’t get on the field much in 2018, while Marvin Hall played a little with the Atlanta Falcons over the last two years. We’ll give the edge to Marvin Hall for now based on his speed and meager experience, but also with the knowledge that the Bears’ sixth receiver likely won’t be active on game days unless of an injury. 

TIGHT ENDS (5): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell, Dax Raymond
Missing the cut: Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted, Ellis Richardson

If Burton has to begin training camp on the PUP list, will he be ready for Week 1? Can Shaheen stay healthy for a full season? Those are perhaps the two biggest questions needing answers not only for this unit, but for the Bears’ offense as a whole. Burton’s 11th-hour injury prior to the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles limited how dynamic Nagy’s offense could be, while Shaheen’s preseason injury meant the Bears were ineffective when using 12 personnel during the regular season. The Bears need better depth behind Burton and Shaheen — Braunecker is a reliable special teamer with flexibility to play both the “U” and the “Y” spots, but can more much-needed depth emerge from a converted offensive lineman (Sowell) and a handful of undrafted free agents (Raymond, Bunting, Horsted, Richardson)? We’ll give Sowell (at the “Y” behind Shaheen) and Raymond (at the “U” behind Burton) the spots for now, but both will have to earn their way onto the roster during training camp. 

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen, Alex Bars
Missing the cut: Cornelius Lucas, Joe Lowery, T.J. Clemmings, Blake Blackmar, Marquez Tucker, Jordan McCray, Sam Mustipher

The Bears moved Sowell to tight end thanks, in part, to their confidence in the development of Coward — a converted defensive lineman — to take over as their swing tackle in 2019. He’s still under construction as an NFL offensive lineman and will have to beat out a handful of challengers, including a five-year NFL reserve in Lucas, but Coward has the edge for a roster spot. The interior reserves are less clear, though: Larsen was brought back in free agency but only has $90,000 guaranteed on his one-year deal, while Bars played for O-line coach Harry Hiestand in college but is coming off an ACL/MCL injury that led to him going undrafted in April. Any of the other reserves could make a push, or the Bears could look to add interior depth on cut-down weekend. For now, though, Larsen, Bars and Coward make the most sense to slide behind the same starting five the Bears had to end 2018. 

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Williams
Missing the cut: Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Daryle Banfield, Jonathan Harris

This is the Bears’ deepest unit, with the only battle to see who will make the roster and wind up inactive on game days, as Williams was for all but two games in 2018. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Chuck Harris
Cut: Kylie Fitts, Mathieu Betts, James Vaughters

Irving flashed during 2017’s and 2018’s preseasons, and might need to do so again to secure his spot on the Bears’ 2019 roster. But consider this an open battle for reserve roles behind Mack/Floyd/Lynch: Irving has the inside track to one spot but will have to earn it; while whoever flashes the most from the Harris/Fitts/Betts/Vaughters group should get another. We’ll go with Harris here — maybe Mack can take his fellow Buffalo alum under his wing during training camp. 

INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Cut: Josh Woods, Jameer Thurman, Kevin Pierre-Louis

Woods might be as close to the bubble as anyone on defense, and could force his way on to the roster with a strong preseason and a commitment to special teams. But with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and he and Iyiegbuniwe being core special teamers, it’s hard to see Woods beating out any of those four for a spot right now. 

CORNERBACK (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver II, Duke Shelley, Sherrick McManis
Cut: Stephen Denmark, John Franklin III, Michael Joseph, Josh Simmons, Clifton Duck, Jonathon Mincy

There should be a strong competition among the reserve outside corners on this roster, with Toliver having the best shot but needing to fend off the raw athleticism of Denmark and Franklin as well as the talent of Joseph, who stuck on the practice squad last year after going undrafted out of Division III Dubuque. Shelley flashed during OTAs and minicamp during the spring and looks likely to wind up on the 53-man roster. While McManis worked at safety some during the spring, we’ll include him among the cornerbacks for now. 

SAFETY (4): Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Cut: Doyin Jibowu

Barring injury and a more permanent move to safety for McManis, there’s little that’ll change in this unit between now and Week 1.

SPECIALISTS (3): Greg Joseph (PK), Pat O’Donnell (P), Patrick Scales (LS)
Cut: Elliott Fry, Eddy Pineiro, John Wirtel

Surprise! While the battle between Fry and Pineiro will dominate the headlines in Bourbonnais, the “winner” isn’t guaranteed to be the Bears’ Week 1 kicker. So not only are those two competing against each other, they’re competing against the field, too. In this scenario, the Cleveland Browns keep fifth-round pick Austin Seibert and cut Joseph, who made 17 of 20 field goals (with a long of 51 yards) for them in 2018. The Bears could try to swing a trade for Baltimore’s Kaare Vedvik here, too. The larger point, though, is this: Pace may have to look outside the organization for his Week 1 kicker, and there will be some talent — like Joseph — available if he does.