After losses to Packers and Cardinals, Bears are … what, exactly?


After losses to Packers and Cardinals, Bears are … what, exactly?

Trying to make sense out of what unfolded Sunday in Soldier Field, because some of it really doesn’t make sense...

The great misfortune of the Marc Trestman era was that in part because of coaching, the whole was so much less than the sum of the parts; a team good enough to win eight games in 2013 despite an avalanche of injuries on defense degenerated into whatever the 2014 Bears were by the end.

There is no such thing as an overachiever but the whole point of coaching is to sports-wise enable and draw the absolute best from a group of players. That’s why John Fox was hired, as well as Vic Fangio and the rest.

Perhaps then the disturbing aspect of the Bears’ 48-23 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, apart from specific instances of incompetence, was that so much of the damage done to the Bears was self-destruction, which was directly opposite the general expectation of an accomplished coaching staff like Fox’s.

“What killed us were self-inflicted wounds,” said left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

[MORE: Cutler out with 'strained' hamstring; Bears won’t name Jimmy Clausen starter yet]

Those fell into more than one classification, unfortunately. And fair or not, coaches typically are blamed for a team as bereft of discipline as the Bears were Sunday, although Jimmy Clausen, in his first 2015 declaration as presumptive Bears starting quarterback, took the back of his mates.

“We’re not undisciplined,” Clausen stated post-game. “I don’t agree with that statement at all. The biggest thing is we’ve got to get everyone on the same page so we don’t have those same mistakes and we can keep letting drives go. ... I have to do a better job of communicating with those guys, just moving the chains down the field.”

The problem is that the Bears help so much. Despite playing two of the more reputable offenses in the NFC, the Bears outgained both, by a combined 737-622.

Except for the giveaway yards. The undisciplined ones.

The Bears incurred 170 yards in penalties, tying a franchise record set 71 years ago, 14 misdeeds in all. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who ran his winning streak to eight games dating back through last season, passed for 185 total yards; the Bears gave the Cardinals 80 passing yards on pass-interference calls and another 15 on a roughing-the-passer infraction.

[RELATED - What do Bears have in Cutler replacement Jimmy Clausen?]

The Bears were penalized six times in the first half; with time to reorganize and collect themselves at halftime, they drew 11 penalties over the final 30 minutes.

The reality, as evidenced by the Green Bay game, is that too many of the mistakes lay beyond the reach of the coaches and lay in dismal execution. Of Arizona’s 42 points through three quarters, 35 of them were the direct result of catastrophe misplays and mistakes by the Bears.

Arizona’s first and second touchdown drives covered a combined 145 yards; the Bears gave the Cardinals 80 of those yards on pass-interference penalties by cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Alan Ball.

But it was far worse than just those two plays. Far worse.

The Cardinals returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, which could be ascribed to superior scheme and execution except that it was clear that Bears coverage personnel almost to a man was incapable of getting off blocks.

Fuller committed an obvious pass-interference penalty after failing to get any initial jam of receiver John Brown. That flag cost the Bears 42 yards and put the football at the Chicago 11-yard line.

[MORE: John Fox message after Bears’ loss: 'We’ll find guys who want to do it']

One Arizona possession later, Ball failed to make any effort to turn his head and on a deep throw, also to Brown, incurred a 38-yard penalty for pass interference. From the Chicago 16, the outcome was effectively certain.

The deadlies

Bears quarterbacks threw two interceptions, giving the ball to Arizona once in the end zone (the pick-six of Cutler) and once at the Chicago 32-yard line, both turnovers turning into touchdowns.

Clausen’s third-quarter interception by Patrick Peterson left the Cardinals at the Chicago 32, and two plays later the Cardinals were in the end zone.

Bad teams do the kinds of things the Bears do. That’s why they’re bad. And maybe the Bears, being without expected critical components (Jeremiah Ratliff, Kevin White, Ray McDonald, Alshon Jeffery), are. And maybe it’s not really that simple.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

“The difference between 5-11 and 11-5 is this much,” said defensive end Jared Allen, holding two fingers nearly together. “I hate to break it to the fans and [media]. It’s not a big difference. It’s not a whole lot of changes you need to make. It’s execution at this level. It’s execution and guys making a play here or there to change the tide of the game.

“Very rarely are you going to see pure domination. And that’s the difference. We’re going to keep plugging away. I know everybody on the outside looks at the score. We look at the details. If you fix the details, everything else corrects itself.”

That will be worth watching. Because right now, on a John Fox-coached team, some things aren’t making sense.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”