'Bench Mob' fourth-quarter blitz stuns Raptors


'Bench Mob' fourth-quarter blitz stuns Raptors

TORONTOFor the games first three quarters, the Bulls (39-10) appeared as if, like in last Fridays surprising home loss to Portland, they were resting on their laurels after a big win and had overlooked an inferior opponent.

Until the fourth quarter hit, that is, as the visitors to Canada, were poor guests and with a dominant defensive effort from the Bench Mob, blew away the bewildered Raptors (15-32), to end a two-game road trip with a 94-82 victory Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

Maybe it was the camouflage-themed uniformsworn in honor of Canadas armed forcesthat disoriented them, but the Bulls, coming off arguably their best defensive performance of the season, allowed the high-scoring Raptors, propelled by the point production of athletic swingman DeMar DeRozan (23 points, six rebounds), to make it a high-scoring affair in the early going.

Countering for the visitors was first-time All-Star Luol Deng (17 points, 10 rebounds), who appeared to be in pre-wrist injury form, as he was efficient scoring the ball in a variety of ways, yet still showcased his all-around skills.

Along with the playmaking of floor general Jose Calderon, former Bulls reserve James Johnson (16 points, seven rebounds), in a starting role for the hosts, was another reason Toronto was able to jump out to an early edge and even after their guests caught up and eventually, take the lead.

But with Joakim Noah pounding the boards in his typical fashion, as well as displaying his underrated ability to distribute the ball, and C.J. Watson (13 points) bouncing back after a rough offensive outing Monday in Orlando, the Bulls were able to take a 27-23 advantage into the second quarter.

The offensive battle between Deng and DeRozan continued into the second period and the game remained a close-knit contest, as the Bulls allowed the home team to shoot a higher percentage than desired with many of the Raptors opportunities coming in transition.

The visitors also endured surprising ball-security issues, considering their opponents usual sieve-like defense, and found themselves in a shallow hole, as Toronto, buoyed by the play of frontcourt reserves Aaron Gray and Linas Kleiza, built a slim cushion.

Despite a stated desire to not allow the contest to be a so-called trap game, following an impressive road victory Monday in Orlandoin which the Bulls set a franchise record for the fewest points allowed to an opponent in a regular-season gameit certainly appeared they werent playing with the urgency and intensity that has marked this stellar campaign thus far.

At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 51-43, following a deep jumper by star forward Andrea Bargnani toward the end of the first half.

After the break, the Bulls offensive woes continued, while the Raptors remained potent on that end of the floor and quickly took a double-digit lead over their supposed upper-echelon guests.

However, the tough-minded bunch from Chicago fought back and used a rapid 6-0 spurt, led by Watson and swingman Ronnie Brewer (13 points), to get back within striking distance.

The hosts wouldnt let up, though, and with DeRozan maintaining his hot hand, as well as contributions from a variety of sources, including Johnson and frontcourt partner Amir Johnson, the Raptors took full advantage of Chicagos offensive ineptitude to keep the breathing room they had earned.

With the Bulls bench providing little to nothing in the way of helping to staunch the bleedingin fairness, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau turned to them sparinglythe visitors were the wrong end of a 69-62 score through three quarters of play.

At the outset of the final stanza, sparkplug John Lucas III (14 points, four assists), whos more familiar than most with the Air Canada Centre rims, led a Bulls comeback with the instant-offense scoring and intelligent playmaking that has become so familiar as of late.

Lucas, along with the Bench MobTaj Gibsons athleticism, Omer Asiks defense and Kyle Korvers (10 points) outside marksmanship were other highlights of the blitzand Deng, left the Raptors absolutely shell-shocked, as the visitors went on a 20-0 run, holding the hosts scoreless for exactly 20 minutes.

Each of the players on the floor had their moments, but the Bulls familiar theme, defense, truly carried them as the game entered its stretch run.

Although the first three periods were far from ideal, the fourth and final frame embodied why the Bulls, even without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, have the leagues top record, are a dominant defensive unit and even after an NBA-best 62-win season a year ago, have evolved into a squad capable of beating the odds on a nightly basis, as they cruised to the win in the games waning moments.

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a game full of pivotal moments, one seemed to irk the Bears in particular following Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Driving on the Dolphins three-yard line, the Bears lined up in a T formation with Jordan Howard, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen lined up left to right in the backfield behind Mitch Trubisky, who was under center. Burton motioned out of the backfield and to the right, and ran his route into linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Trubisky threw a short pass to a wide open Cohen for a touchdown, with Alonso late getting to the running back after being hit by Burton. But that score was taken off the board for offensive pass interference, with officials ruling what Burton did amounted to an illegal pick play.

“Trey did everything I asked him to do,” Matt Nagy said, sharply.

On the next play, Trubisky forced a pass into double coverage in the end zone, which was easily picked off by Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald. Miami turned that interception into eight points on Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown and an ensuing two-point conversion.

The way Burton understood the rule was that offensive pass interference was only assessed on a pick play if he intentionally ran into a defender without running a true route. That’s what Burton felt he did; the officiating crew disagreed.

“I thought I ran a route and the guy ran into me,” Burton said. “I thought they changed the rule this year or last year — if you run the route, it doesn’t matter if you pick the guy or not, you’re good. Obviously they called it.”

A Rough Return

The conversations surrounding the Bears Sunday into Monday would be awfully different had a number of things happened — Trubisky doesn’t throw that interception, the Bears’ defense gets a stop, Tarik Cohen doesn’t fumble near midfield, etc. In that same group: If Cody Parkey hits what would’ve been a game-winning 53-yard field goal in overtime.

Parkey, instead, missed that kick wide right. His career long is 54 yards, which he hit last year while with the Miami Dolphins (and that was a game-winner with about a minute left against the Los Angeles Chargers).

“I had the distance, I just didn’t kick it straight enough, bottom line,” Parkey said. “But you’ve got to move on. I’ve made game winners, I’ve missed game winners. As long as I keep playing, I’m just going to keep trying to kick my best.

“… I control what I can control, and unfortunately I missed a field goal. I’d like to have that one back, but it is what it is and I’m just going to focus on the next game. That’s all I can do.”

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

Their points production in the 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday marked the fourth time in five games under coach Matt Nagy that the Bears have scored 23 or more points. All of the 28 were heaped on the Dolphins by the offense, which churned for 467 yards one game after amassing 483 and 48 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the Bears did in fact lose, and not all of the reasons can be laid at the feet of the defense. Not nearly all of them.

In great position to put the game virtually out of reach for the struggling Dolphins, the Bears offense failed. The yardage total gave the Bears consecutive 400-yard games for the first time since games 14-15 in 2016, and well could have represented a statement that the offense of Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich was indeed hitting a potent stride.

It may be. But a combination of troubling factors gave Sunday’s output a hollow ring.

Against the Dolphins, 149 of the yards came on possessions ending in turnovers, including an interception thrown by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and fumble by running back Jordan Howard both occurring in the red zone with points well within reach.

The offense hurt itself with a handful of pre-snap penalties, and the overarching sense is that the belief in Nagy and the overall offense is growing amid mistakes that clearly rest with players themselves.

“For sure, 100 percent trust in Coach Nagy and what he believes is best for this team,” Trubisky said. “What he believes is what I believe is best for this team. Whatever he calls, we're going to run it to the best of our ability. We put ourselves in a great chance, and I have faith in our guys that next time we get the opportunity we make it.”

Opportunities taken and opportunities missed

For Trubisky, the linchpin of the evolving offense, it was a day of extremes.

His production (316 yards) gave him consecutive 300-yard games for the first time in his 17-game career. His passer rating (122.5) was the seond-highest of his career, behind only the stratospheric 154.6 of the Tampa Bay game. His three TD passes are second only to his six against the Buccaneers. Trubisky’s yardage outputs this season are pointing in a decidedly upward arc: 171 at Green Bay, followed by 200-220-354-316.

But decision-making proved costly at tipping points against the Dolphins. From the Miami 13 with a 21-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, and holding a chance to create potentially decisive breathing room on the scoreboard, Trubisky forced a throw toward tight end Ben Braunecker, who was double-covered in the Miami end zone. The ball was intercepted by safety T.J. McDonald, and the Dolphins went from the touchback to a touchdown and subsequent game-tying two-point conversion.

“I just thought the safety went with the ‘over’ route,” Trubisky said. “He made a good play. I lost him when I was stepping up [in the pocket], and I forced one in the red zone when I shouldn't have… . I forced it and I put my team in a bad position, and I shouldn't have thrown that pass.”

The second-year quarterback started poorly, with an overthrow of a wide-open Anthony Miller on the third play from scrimmage, resulting in a three-and-out and a concerning start for what would be only scoreless Bears first half this season. A failed fourth-and-2 conversion gave Miami the football at its 41 later in the quarter.

Trubisky badly overthrew an open Miller in the second quarter, creating a third-and-long on which the Dolphins broke down his protection for a second sack in the span of just 11 plays. After a 47-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel, Trubisky threw an checkdown pass nowhere near running back Jordan Howard.

Fatigue factor overlooked?

Running back Tarik Cohen totaled 121 yards for the second straight game and the second time in his career. For the second straight week Cohen led or co-led the Bears with seven pass receptions.

But the last of the seven came with a disastrous finish. Cohen was hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso after taking a swing pass and picking up 11 yards, fumbled and had the ball recovered by cornerback Xavien Howard at the Chicago 45. The defense did manage a stop, leading to the overtime, but the result was devastating.

“Personally for me, it’s [frustrating] because I know I took my team out of position to win the game late in the ball game,’ Cohen said. “So personally, that’s frustrating for me… . I feel like I had an opportunity to get ourselves down in scoring position. I let fatigue get the best of me, and I forgot about the fundamentals.”

That Cohen mentioned “fatigue” is perhaps noteworthy. A question was raised to Helfrich last week as to whether there was an optimal or max number of snaps for the diminutive Cohen, who had five carries and was targeted nine times – not including one punt return and plays on which he ran pass routes but was not thrown to in the south Florida heat.

“It was hot,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “It was hot out there.”

Weapons rising

Last offseason and millions in contracts were spent upgrading offensive weaponry. The investments produced in Miami.

Touchdown passes were caught by wide receivers Anthony Miller (drafted) and Allen Robinson (free agent) plus tight end Trey Burton (free agent). Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (free agent) caught the five passes thrown to him for a team-high 110 yards, his second straight 100-yard game after none in his previous four NFL seasons.

Five different players posted plays of 20 yards or longer, including pass plays of 54 and 47 yards by Gabriel and a run of 21 yards and reception of 59 yards by Cohen.

Uncharacteristically for the normally fast-starting Bears offense, the group followed the scoreless first half with 21 points in the third quarter and 343 yards of combined offense in the second half and overtime.

“We came out with more energy and had the attitude that we were going to go down and score the ball,” Trubisky said, “and we played a lot better the second half.”