Bears

Itching for his first playoff game, Kyle Long returns to practice with Bears

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USA Today

Itching for his first playoff game, Kyle Long returns to practice with Bears

Kyle Long returned to practice on Friday for the first time since injuring his foot Oct. 28 against the New York Jets, signaling an important step toward the offensive lineman returning either for the Bears’ regular season finale against the Minnesota Vikings or during the playoffs in January. 

The Bears now have 21 days from Friday to activate Long off injured reserve and onto their 53-man roster, potentially adding a significant player back into their offense for what the team hopes is a deep playoff run. 

“I’ve never had a chance to play in the playoffs,” Long, a six-year veteran, said. “I’m just really happy for our team. We have put ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs. But right now we are going to San Francisco tomorrow and we’ve got business to take care of the next two weeks. There’s obviously no timeline, so I’m just trying to progress every day and make strides.”

For Long, the most important thing he needs to show over the next week or so is that he’s back in football shape after being sidelined for nearly two months (“I’ve got to make so I’m less out of breath the next day than I was before,” he said). Ideally, Long would be activated off injured reserve next week and be able to play in Minnesota to get game action before the playoffs start.

The Bears could still re-insert Long into their lineup come the playoffs even if he doesn’t play in the regular season, though move would be something the team’s coaching staff and trainers would need to think through, coach Matt Nagy said. 

“If we get to a point to where we feel like we can have him ready or play in the last regular season game, if that would make sense, great,” Nagy said. “If we feel like just talking through with him we get into the playoffs and that's something he can do, we can test that out, too, we just have to see. More so for him, he's gotta be honest with us, and then we've just gotta see conditioning because it is different. It's not like going out and running a mile or two miles, it's just a different type of conditioning.” 

The Bears’ offensive line has played better as of late, especially in pass protection, as James Daniels and Bryan Witzmann have settled in at left and right guard, respectively. But adding Long — who, when healthy, is one of the team’s best offensive linemen — back into the mix at right guard could act as a boost to the Bears’ burgeoning Super Bowl hopes. 

“I think he's a natural-born leader,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And then on top of that, he was playing really well. You forget and you see him out here at practice, you forget how huge he is. He's massive. He's strong, powerful, quick for his size and it's good to get him back. It's a good thing.”

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The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

America got a taste of live sports on Sunday via The Match, a charity golf outing pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. The competition raised $10 million for coronavirus relief.

It also offered Manning the chance to take a friendly jab at Brady, long his competitor on the gridiron, using new Bears quarterback Nick Foles.

In a mid-match interview, Manning noted how it's difficult to get to Brady's head on the field. The former Colts and Broncos quarterback then named two potential caddies he could have brought to disrupt Brady's focus: his brother, Eli Manning, and Foles.

"Do you bring Eli? Could do that," Manning said. "Do you bring Nick Foles? Maybe."

"Cheap shot," Brady said in response, grinning.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII two years ago, with Foles, a backup turned starter, leading the charge. Based on Brady's comment, Manning may have struck a nerve with the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Foles got in on the fun on Twitter:

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2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

The game

The Bears will make a late-season visit to Jacksonville on Dec. 27. The last time the Bears faced the Jaguars, Jacksonville prevailed 17-16 on Oct. 16, 2016, thanks to a late TD pass from Blake Bortles to former Fighting Illini wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Rest assured, there will be some extra motivation on the sideline this time around, as former Jaguars Nick Foles and Allen Robinson face their ex-teammates.

Player to watch

The Bears will be facing the man who replaced Foles as Jaguars starting QB last season, Gardner Minshew. In 14 games, he threw for nearly 3,300 yards with 21 TD and 6 INT, but Jacksonville ranked just 26th in the league in total scoring and limped to a 6-10 record. Entering his first full season as the unquestioned starter, Minshew will have DJ Chark as a top target after the wideout exploded onto the scene last season.

RELATED: Bears 2020 schedule: Game-by-game predictions

Additions and subtractions

One defensive standout to keep an eye on is Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville’s best pass-rusher who had the franchise tag placed on him but has repeatedly demanded a trade. Whether or not a trade partner is found will be the biggest issue facing the team as they head toward training camp, whenever that may be. Jacksonville also added talented but injury-plagued tight end Tyler Eifert in free agency.

Key storyline

Since their tough loss in the 2018 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, the Jaguars have torn their roster to shreds as they move into the next era of their franchise. Standout players sent packing over the last year or so include Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and of course, Nick Foles.

New GM David Caldwell is nearly done purging the roster, and that means this Jacksonville team will be playing the long game and likely setting themselves up for a top pick in next year’s draft.

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