Bears

For Bears, a statement win over Rams puts playoffs one “W” away

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USA TODAY

For Bears, a statement win over Rams puts playoffs one “W” away

As the Bears have too often learned the hard way this season, it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. And in a game the NFL flex-scheduled to give the nation an uncluttered look at what are all but assured to be two playoff teams, the Bears seized control of their 2018 destiny with a 15-6 win in which they throttled the playoff-bound offense of the Los Angeles Rams in a way unseen to this point of the season.

The Bears (9-4) held a Rams team that had scored 30 or more points 10 times in 12 games and averaged 440 yards per game without a touchdown and to 214 total yards, fewest since the finale of the 2016 season, Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff’s rookie year. The Rams averaged nearly 15 points in their last three fourth quarters before Sunday. They were shut out when it mattered most by the Bears, the first time in nine games that the NFL’s No. 2 scoring-offense hadn’t scored in the final quarter.

That fourth quarter against a dominant Rams (11-2) offense may provide a pivotal, convincing learning step for a team still trying to close games they have in their control.

“I think we’ve had those moments where we didn’t finish and still came out on top,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who needed a break during his media get-together to calm down from the game. “[After] so many times this season, I think it finally hit home for us and we said, ‘We have been playing a great three quarters and giving up points in the fourth quarter.

“Imagine how good our defense would be statistically if we didn’t have the fourth quarters. That’s the lesson I take away from this.”

The Bears won a game with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky having his worst game as a professional, with a career-low passer rating of 33.3 on 16-of-30 passing for 110 yards with three interceptions and his only touchdown pass going to an offensive tackle.

Playoff push

In the process, the Bears put themselves in position of needing win just one in their final three games to clinch at least a wild-card berth. That could come next Sunday at home against a possibly reenergized Green Bay Packers team after the coaching change last week, who ended a four-game losing streak Sunday with a win over Atlanta.

The Minnesota Vikings visit the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, matching up two of the three five-loss teams remaining (plus division-leading 8-5 Dallas), and the Bears hold a tiebreaker edge with a 7-2 mark in the NFC. If the Vikings lose, the Bears will hold a 2-1/2 game lead in the NFC North with three games to play.

“Our guys have worked hard to put ourselves in this position,” said head coach Matt Nagy. “It’s not easy. It started for just the belief at the very beginning, when we started in training camp, then you start having some different types of games, some different losses... .

“The stage wasn’t too big for them.”

Sunday night was not so much a rebound game from the upset loss last week to the middling New York Giants as it was using that defeat as a launch point.

“I think, if anything, that propelled us even more because we know what kind of team we are,” Hicks said. “We didn’t anticipate losing that game, so coming into this week, we put a lot more in the tank.”

That they put a lot more in the tank for the Rams hints at a team that is still learning that it cannot go into any NFL week complacent, which the Bears have done (Miami, New York) and even let off during games (Green Bay).

Coaches placed an enormous, almost apocalyptic focus on this game, players indicated. This was a night that represented a test kitchen for what the Bears have endeavored to become – a legitimate contender in the NFC to start with, and ideally beyond. Notably perhaps, with the burgeoning fascination with offense as the NFL has tilted the game in favor of that side of the football, the Bears tilted it back with defense, even with defense masquerading as offense for their only touchdown of the game.

Quarterback duel…not

What was highly anticipated to be a showcase for two of the NFL’s emerging stars at quarterback was anything but. Jared Goff generated a first-half passer rating of 21.0 on the strength of two interceptions. Trubisky would’ve been happy with that; the Bears quarterback was 9-for-20 with two of his own interceptions and rating of 12.5 for two quarters of wildly missing open receivers and looking every bit the young quarterback who’d been out for the past two games and was coming back from a throwing-shoulder issue.

“When you look at it numbers-wise,” Nagy said, “I think there were some throws -- some of the interceptions sailed on him a little bit. It wasn't his best game. You know, what I told him, I said, ‘Who cares?’ I mean, we're about winning the games.

"He knows that we can all play better. It's not all on him. So he's going to get better from it. We talked again with our team about the next-play mentality. These are the ones that you look back, for myself as a coach, for him as a quarterback, and you grow from.

"Again, as I've always said, when you win the game, it's a lot easier to critique and understand the why part, use it to help you down the road. In the end, do I care? Can we be better as an offense? Yes. Do I care about numbers? Not one bit.”

Trubisky did manage one touchdown pass, running his string of games with at least one touchdown pass to eight, excepting the two games missed with the shoulder strain.

Then again, somewhere general manager Ryan Pace may have been head-scratching, thinking that he’d spent much of the offseason and millions of McCaskey dollars getting his new head coach a whole passel of skill-position threats.

Then, against one of the top teams in the NFL, his coach instead trots out an entire squadron of behemoths – tackle Bradley Sowell, defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris – and has his quarterback throw to Sowell, whose sole contribution to NFL “offense” was an 11-yard kickoff return his rookie year (2012) as an Indianapolis Colt.

The Bears held defensive tackle Aaron Donald without a sack for just the second time in the Rams’ last 10 games and the Rams to just one total sack of Trubisky in a game that saw the Bears rush for a season-high 194 yards (101 by Jordan Howard), the most since the 232 against Cincinnati Dec. 10, 2017.

“We had a plan for [Donald],” Trubisky said. “[The Rams] got a good defense all the way around. We had a plan for Donald. The O-line did a great job keeping him in check all night. That's what we wanted to do.

“Obviously we had some turnovers, which falls on me. He didn't have any game-destructive plays that he usually causes. That's something that we definitely kept in the back of our minds.”

If there was a smudge on the glass it was another missed field goal by Cody Parkey, this from 38 yards in the fourth quarter when a conversion would have put the Bears up by 12 points instead of within reach of a Los Angeles touchdown and field goal.

The Bears can address and worry about that tomorrow. For now, “it's a great win for us,” Nagy said.

“I think more than anything, it's going to continue to keep letting our guys understand that every team in the NFL, every game is different. Last week against the Giants, that game is going to be different than the following week. There's so much parity.

“The belief of our guys. They hear me talk about it. But now to do it, for them to go out and do it, for a [Rams] team to only have one loss all year long in as far of the season as we are, it's so powerful for our guys now because it helps us grow with confidence, it helps us grow togetherness.

“When you teach that and you talk about it over and over and over as a culture, building everyone together as a family, then they do it, it just lights a fire. It puts us in a great position.”

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Projected lineups for Eddie Jackson’s charity softball game

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USA Today

Projected lineups for Eddie Jackson’s charity softball game

Eddie Jackson is hosting a charity softball game this Saturday, June 15th at Schamburg Boomers stadium at 5:05pm. It’ll be offense vs defense so let’s take an early look at what these lineups might look like for both teams.

Defense

1. Eddie Jackson

Has home run hitting ability in the leadoff spot and a flair for the dramatic. This rising star puts the pressure on the opposing pitcher from the very first pitch. Plus it’s his game, so of course he’s batting first.

2. Kyle Fuller

Tied for the NFL interception lead in 2018, Fuller’s combination of speed, instincts and film study  at the top of the lineup helps set the table for the big bats.

3. Akiem Hicks

As Ed O’Bradovich said at the 100 year celebration this past weekend, Khalil Mack “is a man-eater, but (Akiem Hicks) is the man who makes it happen.” It’s long been said you put your most important hitter in the 3-hole.

4. Khalil Mack

The quintessential cleanup hitter. Who else would you want in this spot?

5. Danny Trevathan

Provides world champion protection behind Mack in the likely event that the opponent tries to pitch around #52.

6. Roquan Smith

Just when an opponent think they’ve gotten thru the heart of the lineup, the 2018 rookie who came up just shy of Brian Urlacher’s franchise tackling mark is there to “break a man,” as he said right after his Bears intro press conference.

7. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix

Sliding this new addition into the 7-hole takes some of the pressure off of him to make an immediate impact, while also trapping pitchers into thinking they might get a break against a guy who has shown big play ability in the past.

8. Bilal Nichols

One of the most underrated players in the entire league is perfectly fine lurking at the bottom of the order. A second cleanup hitter, he’s happy consistently performing and making his teammates better. Everyone in this lineup knows how valuable he is.

9. Leonard Floyd

Still in a bit of a prove it spot, but if he consistently plays the way he’s shown shown flashes of, he could not only be dangerous in this spot, but he could climb up the lineup pretty quickly.

10. Prince Amukamara

Veteran who knows he’s there to do a job and turn the lineup over. His speed and ball skills make him a threat.

11. Buster Skrine

Another newcomer, let’s see what he’s got at the bottom of the order.

Offense

1. Taylor Gabriel   *Anthony Miller

We can all agree there’s no reason for Miller, a guy who dislocated his shoulder multiple times to be swinging a bat amiright?? Miller has the Willie Mayes Hayes swag you want from the leadoff man when healthy tho.

As for ‘Turbo’ Taylor Gabriel, of course you’re putting a guy who’s been clocked at 23 mph at the top of the lineup.

2. Tarik Cohen

Perfect spot for the swiss army knife of the offense. Could lay down a bunt and beat it out, move the runner, or even hit one to the gap and clear the bases.

3. Mitch Trubisky

The obvious spot for the leader of the offense and Akiem Hicks’ pick (outside himself) to win the home run derby part of this event. Let’s just hope he breaks out the punky QB headband and sunglasses look again this weekend.

4. Kyle Long

The most veteran member of the offensive line is there to protect the QB. Whether or not he’s even in the lineup, if anyone goes high and tight on # 10, better believe they’ll answer to #75.

5. Cody Whitehair

Some more muscle in the middle of the order. Has made it clear he’s good with moving around the lineup if the coaches think it’s best for the team.

6. Allen Robinson

Based on what we saw in the playoff game, he could be on his way to putting up big numbers anywhere in the batting order. Definitely a guy you want up late with the game on the line.

7. Charles Leno

Flies under the radar at one of the most important positions in football. If a pitcher thinks he’s in the clear after getting past Robinson, Leno will be there to throw a big block into that thinking.

8. Trey Burton / Adam Shaheen

When healthy, they provide some pop towards the bottom of the lineup. Let’s have Anthony Miller ready as the designated runner if these guys can get on base.

9. Bobby Massie

The ultimate team guy as he showed by signing a team friendly deal to stay in Chicago much earlier in the offseason than he had to.

10. James Daniels

As the new man in the middle on the offensive line, the burden falls on him to turn the lineup over and set the table for the speedy top of the order.

11. Mike Davis

Good spot to start for this new addition. Could easily see him towards the top of the lineup if he produces the way Matt Nagy & company thinks he can.

The defense has been ahead of the offense for pretty much the entire Pace/Nagy regime. But if Matt Nagy is involved, there’s sure to be no shortage of hidden ball tricks, squeezes and other trick plays with awesome names, so I might have to give a slight edge to the offense in this game.

The Bears are on summer break for the next 5 weeks. So what exactly will they be up to?

The Bears are on summer break for the next 5 weeks. So what exactly will they be up to?

For the second time in 2019, a field goal attempt sent the Bears on vacation.  

This time it was off the feet of Eddy Pineiro and Elliot Fry, both hitting kicks that wrapped up the team’s three days of veteran minicamp. Don’t tell them there weren’t stakes, either.

“They both nailed two 40-yard’ers down the middle so our guys got out of gassers, which was nice,” said Matt Nagy. “So if you heard any cheering, that’s why. Our guys think I’m nice and that if they would’ve missed it, they weren’t going to run anyway. But they were going to run.” 

And now, the Bears go on vacation for the next five weeks -- as mandated by the NFL -- before heading down to Bourbonnais in late July to start the highly-anticipated Year 2. 

What happens next depends on who you ask. For the Bears’ outside corners, coincidence or not, it’s off to bask in the arid heat of southwestern summers. 

“I like to go down to Arizona, where I’m from, and train at my high school,” Prince Amukamara said. “I’m probably not going to do any traveling, but I’ll train and probably get my mind off it a little bit.” 

“I like to get away somewhere a little bit quieter,” Kyle Fuller added. “I go to Arizona ... I play a lot of golf. That’s really it.” 

If you can believe it, Fuller won’t be the only professional football player hitting the links during his down time. For wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who just recently picked it up, the next month or will be all about tinkering his swing. 

“I'm going to do a lot of golfing this little break,” Gabriel said. “I'm decent, I'm not that good, not just yet. Just two months in, give me a little time.” 

The sense around Halas Hall (and realistically most of the NFL’s other halls) is that the next five weeks will act more as a mental break than a physical one. For example: defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano requested that his unit watch just one hour of film per day. After two weeks of practices in which, on more than one occasion, Nagy had to tell the team to dial back the intensity, the goal is now to find whatever mindset is needed before The Grind starts. For some, that means radio silence. 

“Right now I'm about to go into my shell and I'm going to be hard to reach and hard to talk to,” said Akiem Hicks. “The only person that gets through is Mom.” 

Not everyone will go MIA, though. Trey Burton will stick around Lake Forest while he continues to rehab and get treatment for a sports hernia surgery he underwent this offseason. Mitch Trubisky has no plans to take it easy, either. 

“I’m not thinking about going home, I’m thinking about getting out here to practice in a little bit,” he said. “This is what I love to do, this is what we look forward to do.

“For me, you get to relax and take care of your body for a little bit, but I’m always thinking about football.”

For others, it means soaking up the much-needed time around loved ones that can prove to be elusive for 8 months of the NFL year. Eddie Jackson goes home to Florida to train with “the guys I started with, from when I was little.” Matt Nagy eschews his Bears visor for his Dad Hat, which presumably is also a visor. 

“I personally think it’s important that I make sure I’m still a good dad, a good husband, and during the season you don’t get any of that,” Nagy said. “And that’s your obligation. We’ll be going some places with my family and I’ll put football aside for a little bit, because that’ll make me better if I do that, and better in the season.”