Bears

Bears buried under early blizzard of Pats' points

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Bears buried under early blizzard of Pats' points

Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010
Posted 6:12 PM Updated 9:10 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears were fueled through their five-game winning streak by a number of total team wins, games in which offense, defense and special teams turned in winning performances.

That win streak came to a disastrous and brutal end Sunday against the New England Patriots (11-2) with a total team loss. The Bears (9-4) were soundly thrashed on offense, defense and special teams in a 36-7 loss that will unleash a new spasm of questions as to the legitimacy of the Bears as a championship hopeful.

The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us.

The afternoon was a particularly bitter setback, with the loss coming after the Green Bay Packers (8-5) lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a concussion and their game 7-3 to the Detroit Lions. A win over New England would have given the Bears a two-game lead in the NFC North with three games to play.

The good news, however, is that the Packers go to New England next Sunday. The Bears can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Minnesota Vikings and a Green Bay loss to the Patriots, which now looks extremely likely. The resurgent Vikings had their Sunday game with the New York Giants bumped to Monday night and to Detroit after snow collapsed sections of the Metrodome, also placing in question the locale for the Bears game next Monday night against the Vikings.

But we cant count on other teams, said quarterback Jay Cutler. We have to take care of our business. We dont want to slide in the back door. We want to be playing our best football right now so we can make a serious run at this.
How bad was it?

The Bears were playing anything but their best football Sunday against arguably the NFLs best.

We were outplayed, said defensive end Julius Peppers. We need to get better, a lot better, quick.

Swirling snow obscured yard stripes most of the game, with Chicago Park District shovelers and sweepers working during breaks to clear areas of the field. They shouldve saved themselves the trouble. There was precious little worth seeing from a Chicago perspective and they mightve done the Bears a service by moving the snow onto the field instead.

But neither the snow nor the winds gusting as high as 53 miles per hour nor the wind chill of 9 degrees turned out to matter.

There were some gusts from time to time, Cutler said, but other than that it wasnt that bad.

It wasnt a game. It was virtually a seven-on-seven passing drill by the New England offense with a defense that didnt appear allowed to tackle.

The Bears actually outscored the Patriots 7-3 in the second half, with a 1-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor midway through the third quarter when many of the 56,161 in attendance had long since departed. All that did was take the victors margin below 30.

New England quarterback Tom Brady did nothing to tarnish what is moving toward an MVP season. Brady methodically ran up 314 passing yards through three quarters, a passer rating of 110.2 and tossed two touchdown passes against zero interceptions. The Patriots 475 yards were a season high.

Tom Brady is the best QB in the NFL, said Urlacher. We knew it coming in and this game just confirmed it.

Cutler and the Bears offense, which had controlled the ball and games in the process of rolling off five straight wins, did nothing remotely comparable. The Bears managed only 115 net yards through three quarters, had just eight first downs to New Englands 22, and Cutler was 8 for 19 for 96 yards, no TDs, an interception and a rating of 36.3.

No Bears opponent had scored more than 26 points in a game this season. The Patriots, leading the NFL with an average of 31.6 points per game, had 33 in the first half alone, including 10 directly off turnovers by a disoriented, ineffective offense.

New Englands 273 yards in the first half were more than Detroit, Carolina, Minnesota and Miami each managed in whole games against the Bears this season.

The Bears had 33 net yards, two first downs and zero points to show for 30 minutes of play against a team that was handing them their third home loss of the season.

Ominously, the Bears failed to make the playoffs in all three of their seasons under Lovie Smith when they lost three times in Soldier Field.

The reality is we got our butts kicked and were still in first place, Urlacher said. Well watch film and learn from it but were still in first place in the NFC North and thats where we wanted to be when the season began.

Its happened before

The Bears can only console themselves with the knowledge that they are far from alone in enduring New England batterings. Since falling behind the Detroit Lions midway through the third quarter on Thanksgiving, through the early third quarter Sunday when their lead over the Bears reached 36-0, the Patriots outscored three opponents 109-3.

And two of those opponents were nine-win teams: the New York Jets and the Bears.

The Patriots had the ball for six possessions in the first half and scored on five of them. To make up for the one failed possession (the first of the game, when Urlacher and Israel Idonije combined on a sack of Brady), New England even scored on one of the Bears possessions.

The Bears had allowed only one opponent (Seattle) as many as two drives of at least 80 yards. New England had three in the first half alone.

Hopeless early

If there was any hope of catching the Patriots in a letdown after their 45-3 dismantling last Monday of the New York Jets, that vanished abruptly and brutally less that 20 minutes into Sunday.

The Patriots went through the Chicago defense on drives of 85 and 87 yards, lasting 12 and 11 plays against a unit that had allowed drives of double-digit plays only five times in the last five games. Less than five minutes into the second quarter the Bears were in a 14-0 hole.

That worsened to 21-0 almost immediately when Johnny Knox was stripped of the ball by cornerback Devin McCourty after a catch at the Chicago 39. The ball was recovered by linebacker Gary Guyton and returned 35 yards for a touchdown.

The Bears challenged the ruling when in slow-motion replays Knox appeared to be down before the ball came out. But close-up camera work revealed that Knox was on McCourtys foot, not the ground, when the ball was lost and the Bears were in their biggest hole of the 2010 season.

Getting worse

Matters continued to spiral downward in a hurry.

A 42-yard punt return by Julian Edelman set the Patriots up for a 30-yard Shayne Graham field goal midway through the second quarter. Graham was called on again barely a minute later when Cutler was sacked and lost a fumble to linebacker Jerod Mayo at the Chicago 9. Graham turned that into points with a 25-yard boot that pushed the New England lead to 27-0.

Edelman broke a 71-yard return for an apparent touchdown just before halftime but was denied because of a holding call by one of his blockers.

No problem.

The penalty simply moved the Patriots back to their 20, from where Brady found wide receiver Deion Branch several steps behind cornerback Charles Tillman for a 59-yard touchdown. The PAT was wide right, one of the few things the Patriots missed.

We should have had someone back deep and we didnt, Lovie Smith said. It was as simple as that, basic cover-four breakdown in coverage.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears preseason notes: Matt Nagy's starter-sitting plan, Javon Wims' roster spot and a peaking Duck

Bears preseason notes: Matt Nagy's starter-sitting plan, Javon Wims' roster spot and a peaking Duck

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Twenty-six Bears starters/key players did not play in Friday’s preseason loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, ranging from guys established as among the best in the league (Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson) to players with more to prove (David Montgomery, Adam Shaheen, Mitch Trubisky). 

Of the eight players who caught a pass, only two have seemingly punched their tickets to the Bears’ 53-man roster (wide receivers Riley Ridley and Javon Wims — more on Wims later). Of the six players who had a rushing attempt, only quarterback Chase Daniel will be comfortable over cut-down weekend. 

And on defense, 25 players recorded at least one tackle but only four look like locks for the Bears’ roster (Nick Kwiatkoski, Sherrick McManis, Deon Bush, Roy Robertson-Harris). 

“My biggest thing is I’m trying to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears, and every team is different, and that’s okay,” coach Matt Nagy said. “… We love where we’re at right now in regards to our starters. We feel really good about it.”

The Bears held a mock game at Halas Hall on Wednesday, one which allowed Nagy to get his starters some situational work in a controlled setting instead of in a less-predictable preseason game. Instead, these preseason games have turned into extended tests for the large group of players fighting to make the Bears’ roster — the Bears’ second-team offense and defense went against the Giants’ first-team defense and offense for a portion of Friday’s game, which’ll be notable as the team evaluates the guys who’ll fill out the back end of their roster. 

Nagy’s preseason approach to his most important players may start catching on around the league, especially as so many teams have hired younger, offensive-minded coaches who haven’t been doing something a certain way for decades. So the next time you'll see Trubisky throw a pass in a game, barring something extremely unexpected, will be Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. 

Even Nagy’s mentor, Andy Reid — one of most progressive, longest-tenured coaches in the NFL — still plays his starters in preseason games. That’s not to say it’s right or wrong. Nagy just doesn’t think that approach makes sense for his team. 

“Coach (Reid) has his way and I think coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then I’m not coach Reid,” Nagy said. “I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and our situation I need to do what’s best for us and I just feel like that’s where it’s at.

“September 5th is an important day for us.”

The Bears lost reserve tackle Rashaad Coward to an elbow injury during Friday’s game, while longtime practice squad safety Jonathon Mincy was looked at for a concussion. Left guard Cody Whitehair, who injured his finger during Wednesday’s practice, was participating in pregame warmups with only that lone finger taped. 

See Montgomery, burns?

Nagy felt himself getting carried away praising Montgomery after the third-round pick’s impressive preseason debut last week against the Carolina Panthers, to the point he later smirked that Montgomery’s seven-yard touchdown run was just “average.” 

Still, the Bears clearly had seen enough of Montgomery after one game. All the things he put on tape at Iowa State — patience, contact balance, tackle breaking, good hands, etc. — showed up against the Panthers. So in addition to Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis, Montgomery wasn’t put into harm’s way against the Giants. The next snap he takes in a game will be Sept. 5, barring a surprise. 

“I would say he’s done a good job in practice,” Nagy said. “We like what we’ve seen.”

Spot locked up for Wims?

As promised, some thoughts on Wims, who led the Bears having caught five of six targets for 64 yards, including an impressive 29-yard snag just before halftime. It was games like this that led the Bears to feel as if they had to keep the 2018 seventh-round pick on their roster last year instead of risking him to waivers in an attempt to sneak him on to the practice squad. With another strong showing on film for the rest of the league to see, the thought here is Wims’ roster spot is all but secure. 

And it’s not like Wims’ good game came out of nowhere — he’s been progressing to a night like this since the start of training camp. Cornerback Prince Amukamara — who got in a tussle with Wims during Tuesday’s practice — said he’s sensed a different gear in Wims since OTAs in spring, combining improved speed with developing route-running skills and the same go-up-and-get-it ability that was all over his college tape at Georgia. 

Wims’ 29-yard reception — after which the Bears clocked the ball with one second left, leading to Eddy Pineiro hitting a short field goal (one he wished he was longer) — was probably the most impressive offensive play of the game. 

“We practice that stuff,” Nagy said. ‘So what they just did with 16 seconds is hard to do and they did it very effectively, so when you look for positives for us, that’s something that I’m going to come away from this weekend and say you guys just rocked it, you did that the right way and we just got three points off of you guys executing what we teach you,”

Marvin Hall can still make the Bears’ roster, and for the second consecutive week broke free downfield for what could’ve been a big-chunk play only to have third-string quarterback Tyler Bray overthrow him. But he had a rough punt return, running backward from his own 19-yard line and, combined with a penalty assessed to sixth-round pick Duke Shelley, dropped the Bears at their own eight-yard line. 

Peaking Duck, and other ups and downs

— Undrafted corner Clifton Duck jumped an Alex Tanney pass at the goal line and dashed 62 yards for the Bears’ most impressive defensive play of the game. Duck is undersized and may not have the speed of Shelley, but his ball skills have consistently shown up during training camp. Those haven’t come out of nowhere, either: No FBS player had more interceptions than Duck from 2016-2018. 

And it’s not just the interceptions that’ve caught Nagy’s eye. His tenacity on the field has been noted, and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets more run with the second-team defense next weekend against the Indianapolis Colts. At the least, he looks like a good practice squad candidate; at best, he could make a push for a roster spot in a crowded group of young reserve corners. 

“He’s done it in practice. I like that,” Nagy said. “I think anybody that has some ball skills, which he does, that is always playing hard, you appreciate that. And I know he makes it difficult for our quarterbacks.”

Read more about Duck here

— It wasn’t as impressive a day for the rest of that aforementioned group of young corners. Shelley missed a tackle on wide receiver Bennie Fowler, allowing the ex-Bears training camp receiver to score a touchdown on the Giants’ opening drive. Shelley also committed that penalty on Hall’s punt return. 

The Bears rotated Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin as their outside corners throughout the game. Franklin had wide receiver T.J. Jones blanketed to force an incompletion in the second quarter, but was then beat by the former Notre Dame receiver for a 15-yard touchdown later in the game. Franklin, the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback, was also beat for a 37-yard gain in the third quarter, though it looked like Giants receiver Da'Mari Scott might’ve pushed off on the play. 

Joseph was beat for a 40-yard gain, though the play was more about the outstanding throw made by sixth overall pick Daniel Jones to wide receiver Cody Latimer. 

— Running back Ryan Nall had a solid 14-yard run to pick up a first down in the first quarter, which undrafted tight end Dax Raymond helped spring with a nice block on the edge. Nall started on offense over seventh-round rookie Kerrith Whyte Jr., though neither were particularly effective on the ground (Nall: seven carries, 23 yards; Whyte: six carries, 10 yards). Nall did catch four passes for 21 yards while. 

— Still, Whyte had the best non-highlight highlight of the game when he housed an Aldrick Rosas’ kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown, only to have it called back due to a holding penalty on Isaiah Irving (if you were watching the TV broadcast — Franklin was initially flagged for the penalty, but it was corrected to be assessed to Irving). While it didn’t count, it put Whyte’s breakaway speed on display. That could be an important point in his favor if the Bears’ roster comes down to keeping four running backs (with Whyte) or seven wide receivers (with Hall). 

— Receiver/running back Taquan Mizzell lost two fumbles in the span of four offensive plays. The most notable part of it: The Metlife Stadium PA system blasting Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot" after the first one, and then playing Britney Spears' "Oops...I Did It Again" after the second. Ouch. 

— It didn’t feel like a particularly good game for the Bears’ reserve tight ends. Bradley Sowell was whistled for a false start with the Bears at their own eight-yard line, and he was burned by Giants linebacker Markus Golden for a sack. While Raymond had a good block on Nall’s run, neither he nor fellow undrafted rookie Ian Bunting were noticeable. Neither player was targeted — in fact, not a single Bears tight end received a target on Friday. 

— Two other splash plays on defense: McManis with a perfectly-executed Peanut Punch to force a fumble, and outside linebacker James Vaughters’ strip/sack/recovery, which he returned eight yards to the Giants’ 12-yard line. 

That McManis has been working with the third-team safety pairing shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s on the roster bubble — he’s a veteran core special teamer who acquitted himself well enough as a slot corner following Bryce Callahan’s season-ending injury last year. 

And Vaughters’ play was notable if only because the Bears’ reserve outside linebackers — him, Irving, Kylie Fitts, Mathieu Betts, Chuck Harris — haven’t flashed much during both practices and games so far this preseason. The Bears may only wind up carrying four outside linebackers (Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, TBD — though Irving has the inside track) if general manager Ryan Pace sticks to the “best 53” approach he’s said he’s taking. 

Bears, Matt Nagy make statement by leaving G Kyle Long off trip to face NY Giants

Bears, Matt Nagy make statement by leaving G Kyle Long off trip to face NY Giants

The reason behind guard Kyle Long not making the New York/Jersey trip with his teammates presumably traces to his confrontations with teammates during two practices over the past week, principally the ugly fight in which he was involved during practice Wednesday night. Whether the full and true details will surface is problematic, though, given coach Matt Nagy’s declared approach of handling certain matters internally, seconded by GM Ryan Pace.

“Really that’s an internal matter for us and we’ll keep that inside,” Pace said during FOX-TV’s “Bears Kickoff” pregame show.

Wherever the matter is kept, the overall played out as a situation in which Nagy was faced with a need to establish definitively where lines are within his program. Coaches who don’t – see: Trestman, Marc – eventually lose control of their team. Nagy is still in the installation phase of his program, and a lack of discipline in any venue portends a lack of it on the field when it matters.

A team leader being disciplined publicly obviously takes it beyond “inside” or “internally.” It also suggests a deeper concern and message – to Long or the team or both – if for no other reason than neither cornerback Prince Amukamara nor receiver Javon Wims, who got into a heated dustup in which punches were thrown at Tuesday’s practice, were effectively suspended from a team activity.

Nagy was visibly unhappy with the Long incident afterwards, in which the veteran offensive lineman ripping the helmet off of Jalen Dalton and hitting the rookie defensive lineman with it several times before hurling the helmet down the field. Long was sent out of practice, which very likely did little to improve his mood and may have started a burn that turned into an attitude that Nagy could not leave unaddressed.

Nagy and the Bears have some precedents for sanctioning Long and for how serious incidents can be.

Kansas City tackle John Tait, whose eventually came to the Bears via free agency, suffered a broken nose, needed 17 stitches to close a head wound, and missed two weeks of the Chiefs’ 2002 training camp when defensive lineman Eddie Freeman got Tait’s helmet off and smashed the offensive lineman over the head with it in a camp fight. Neither player was disciplined, however.

Possibly more in line with the Long situation, tight end Martellus Bennett was fined and suspended for conduct detrimental to the team following a fight in a Bourbonnais practice with then-rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. Bennett became incensed after Fuller knocked him down while attempting to knock the ball out of Bennett’s hands. Bennett body-slammed Fuller, setting off a larger fracas and was sent away from training camp after a volatile meeting with GM Phil Emery.

The suspension lasted a week and cost Bennett an undisclosed amount in fines. No initial word if Long was fined for his conduct.

*                     *                          *

Meaningful takeaways from preseason games are always spotty, particularly with teams like the Bears, who played exactly zero of their offensive and defensive starters on Friday. Teams do little to no scheming, players are substituted extensively and virtually all of the action is from backups, many of whom will not be on the final roster and even the ones who are won’t be prime-time players, barring lineup vacancies caused by injuries.

Still, the Bears 32-13 loss to the New York Giants was cause for a handful of observations:

  • The Chicago defense in the first half alone generated two takeaways (it should have been three but two players attempted to pick up a Giants fumble instead of falling on the football, which New York offensive lineman Nick Gates did). This follows a two-takeaway game against Carolina last week. The two Friday were supplemented by a diving red-zone interception by rookie cornerback Clifton Duck, who returned the INT 62 yards
  • But the No. 2 offense under quarterback Chase Daniel managed just six first downs and 97 total yards for the entire half, and ran just seven plays for minus-19 yards off the takeaways. Three of the plays were sacks of Daniel for a combined minus-25 yards. Not insignificantly from a perspective standpoint, the Giants started many of their No. 1’s, including quarterback Eli Manning, while exactly zero members of the Bears No. 1 units played in this second preseason game.
  • Aspiring defensive back John Franklin III, who’d produced flash plays through this offseason, played himself dangerously close to the edge of the roster. Franklin was beaten for a touchdown pass from Daniel Jones to wide receiver TJ Jones, then allowed a 37-yard completion late in the third quarter.
  • Rookie Kerrith White, who may have punched his ticket for a roster spot, returned the ensuing kickoff 103 yards for an apparent touchdown, only to have it called back for holding by linebacker Isaiah Irving.
  • It was not the only piece of a second straight poor performance by special teams. Whyte returned a second-quarter kickoff 34 yards, only to have it called back because of a holding infraction by running back Ryan Nall.
  • Whyte demonstrated some strong running in tight situations, getting the football across the goal line in the third quarter on a one-yard push, his fourth carry in five snaps to finish the drive following the interception by Duck.