The loss to the Giants, coming days after the New Orleans Saints fell to the Dallas Cowboys, dealt a severe blow to any hopes the Bears had for avoiding a de facto play-in game against a wild card. It also hinted at a not-ready-for-prime-time Bears persona; they’ll get another chance to establish that next Sunday night vs. the Rams, although it’s their ability to focus on lesser lights (Giants, Dolphins) that's a bit concerning.
But that’s for another discussion.
Just wandering the NFC in the meantime, the Saints have a final quarter-season with a measure of difficulty: two games against 6-6 Carolina, which has lost its last four games to fall out of a playoff seed, and one at home with Pittsburgh, which has lost its last two and suddenly is only a half-game up on Baltimore in the AFC North. One-time doormat Tampa Bay has won its last two, beat the Saints opening day in New Orleans and gets the Saints in Raymond James Stadium this time.
But the Bears failed to take care of something important that they could control, which was a conference game on a day when Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota were all losing; they still have some slack but nothing like they would’ve enjoyed with a 2-1/2-game bulge on the Vikings with four to play.
And left themselves exposed in a tiebreaker with the Saints with this second conference loss.
The Bears’ remaining four games include the Rams next Sunday night, with Los Angeles playing for the No. 1 postseason seed; Green Bay under a new head coach; and on the road vs. Minnesota, where the Bears have lost six straight. The other final-four game is at San Francisco, currently the worst (2-10) team in the NFC, but the Cardinals were a two-win team when they defeated Green Bay and the Giants were a three-win team when they downed the Bears, and the 49ers’ only two wins have come at home.
“There is way too much parity in this league,” coach Matt Nagy said after the Giants loss. It was an observation but also a warning to his team, which appeared to have taken the Giants too lightly early in a game where there was little to no homefield advantage with the thousands of stay-aways and the Bears had the advantage of a mini-off-week to prepare.
Nagy has consistently pointed to the importance of he and his team learning from failures as well as successes. But if there is a nagging (pun intended) concern coming out of East Rutherford, it is that the Bears do not look to have learned from their other truly bad ’18 loss – at Miami, where they also blew a lead and lost on an OT field goal. That game was also after a break, that time the full off-week.
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Look at Bears for Mike McCarthy replacement?
Mike McCarthy’s abrupt firing by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday creates a situation that should create more than a little passing (another pun intended) interest in Chicago. For one thing, any coaching change in the NFC North is by definition of major, major interest to the other three teams in the division.
For another, an annual offseason standard story line with the Bears is the debate over defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s prospects to be hired as a head coach. He’s obviously going to be considered by the Packers – searches like this cast huge nets – along with myriad other successful coordinators, offense, defense or special teams.
But more intriguing might be current offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Helfrich fits the current hot NFL demographic profile: age (45), side of the football (offense), rank (coordinator), experience around an upward-trending creative NFL offense (Bears). He’s also a one-off shoot from the Andy Reid coaching tree, working as he has with Reid disciple Nagy.
But Helfrich also has head-coaching experience (Oregon) that included two very good and one good season in four before he was fired by the Ducks.
Only one season around the NFL is thin, but college coaches have come in with none. Helfrich rates as a very long shot, and nothing will happen until January, but longer shots have come in.
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Too cute for no reason?
Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, safety Eddie Jackson and defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris each playing a snap on offense Sunday is certainly entertaining, as it was against Minnesota (Hicks, Robertson-Harris).
But Mike Ditka did that sort of thing with William Perry to stick it to Bill Walsh initially and then to the Packers. Something about using prominent defensive starters like Hicks and Jackson on offense, after all the offseason upgrades on that side of the football, has the feel of gimmick. Robertson-Harris played more snaps on offense (one) than guard Eric Kush; is that defensive lineman a better short-yardage blocker than Kush, an early-season starter? Really? For that matter, why not Eddie Goldman, as long as it’s a situation where size does matter?
Add to that the use of Chase Daniel as a primary receiver on the Tarik Cohen TD pass. Daniel was having enough trouble holding onto the football as it was (four fumbles, two interceptions thrown). And any play that injects discretionary risk into a game that has stratospheric levels of it naturally – and which the Bears were already one snap away from having Tyler Bray under center – is foolish bordering on reckless.
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Volunteers for head coach in Chicago? Somebody? Anybody?
Anybody up for taking a job as a head coach in Chicago? Over the past 11 months, the Bears fired John Fox, the Blackhawks fired Joel Quenneville and the Bulls on Monday fired Fred Hoiberg. The Cubs haven’t launched Joe Maddon but he’s working at the moment without a net in the form of a contract extension past its 2019 expiration date.
Rick Renteria and the White Sox – anything about that strike you as secure?
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A hunt for Hunt?
Last weekend’s release of Kareem Hunt by the Kansas City Chiefs creates a…situation…for some team. The Bears could be that “some team,” although because of his battery of a woman last February in Cleveland, Hunt will still have to serve any NFL suspension after/if he is signed by some team.
The Hunt incident offers the Bears an opportunity to acquire not only the exact type of running back that Matt Nagy envisions in his offense, but actually the exact back himself. This, however, is not Khalil Mack or Josh Sitton, elite-level players unexpectedly available at positions of need for the Bears.
The supposition here is that the Bears will not be significant players in any Hunt odyssey. Hunt’s actions on the videotape, apart from any lying to the Chiefs after things started to come out, will presumably be too reprehensible even for a team that gave and was burned by a second chance given to defensive lineman Ray McDonald.
Barring a draft-related trade, at this point the Bears have the option of using their first 2019 draft pick, in round three, on a running back. It is the round in which the Chiefs found Hunt last year.
Nagy was on the offensive staff under Andy Reid in Kansas City when the Chiefs drafted running backs in 2013, 2014 and ’17 (Hunt). And when Nagy was apprenticing under Reid in Philadelphia, the Eagles drafted six running backs in the six years from 2007-12, even after hitting big with LeSean McCoy in ’09.
Then again, with the way Nagy and Helfrich have spun the offense, as in (excluding Daniel kneel-downs in all cases) rushing 25 times for 106 yards in Sunday’s first half, then three times for eight yards in the second, the exact running-back template is a little foggy, although the Giants ostensibly took the run game away from the Bears.
“The second half, [the Giants] had a little plan for [Jordan Howard],” Nagy said. ”I would’ve loved to be able to call more runs but they did a pretty good job of getting into our backfield and stopping the run… . I don’t think I’d change what I did. We got into a rhythm in the fourth quarter and that was running the ball.”
No sense going into that whole topic, again, because Nagy’s concept for his run game likely won’t appear through the fog until he has a back of his choosing. Which isn’t likely to be Hunt.