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Bears down and out; hated Packers claim Halas

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Bears down and out; hated Packers claim Halas

Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
Posted 5:19 p.m. Updated 8:46 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Guard Chris Williams sat silently in front of his locker, showered and dressed to leave, a hat pulled down a little farther than usual over eyes that looked a little damper than usual. Across the locker room, two teammates sat next to each other, looking straight ahead after most of the locker room had cleared out, neither speaking.

The shock of the Bears 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers was nearly palpable among players who were within a play or two of the Super Bowl and were having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that their season was over.

Thisll sit with us until we play another game, said center Olin Kreutz.

In the final analysis, the Green Bay Packers were simply a little bit better than the Bears. The Packers came into the home of the Bears and took away the NFC Championship trophy named for the Bears own founding father.

Read: Bears' grades come up short

The win advances the Packers to Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the AFC Championship.

But as Sunday wound down, none of that seemed to matter.

There were some things to be proud of, said a subdued Julius Peppers, still in his uniform pants long after improbably near-hero Caleb Hanies final pass was intercepted at the Green Bay 12 with 40 seconds to play. But the main goal we wanted to accomplish, we werent able to do that.

Its very disappointing. I just dont know how else to say it.

Then Peppers issued the mission statement for the 2011 season: Well be back, he said matter-of-factly. We will be back.

Almost back this year

The Bears were almost back Sunday in a game where they appeared to be thoroughly outclassed to start with and then thoroughly out-manned, literally, in the second half.

Green Bay went 84 yards effortlessly through the Bears defense on its first possession for a 7-0 lead while some of the crowd of 61,171 were still filing in. They pushed the lead to 14-0 less than 4 minutes into the second quarter with Aaron Rodgers picking the secondary apart for some of the 252 yards the Packers amassed on the Bears in the first two quarters.

The Bears then awoke on defense and shut the Packers out over the final 41 minutes of the game, with Green Bays only score coming on an interception and 18-yard return for a touchdown by defensive tackle B.J. Raji deep in the fourth quarter.

By that time, the Bears had lost quarterback Jay Cutler to a possibly serious knee injury; they had seen No. 2 Todd Collins come off the bench and deliver a putrid performance on two possessions; and they were in the suddenly very capable hands of No. 3 Hanie.

Watch: Lovie's postgame comments on Cutler injury

Without running one of his own offenses plays since October when he was demoted to No. 3 behind Collins, Hanie completed 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in just the fourth quarter. He directed scoring drives of 67 and 60 yards, setting up one score with a 32-yard pass to Johnny Knox that was followed by a one-yard bolt by Chester Taylor, and he threw 35 yards to Earl Bennett with just under 5 minutes for a touchdown that brought the Bears to 21-14.

Watch: Could there be a QB controversy?

But they could get no closer. A fourth-and-4 pass toward Knox was intercepted by cornerback Sam Shields and the Bears season was over.

I felt good going in, said Hanie, who was not restricted just to handing off to Matt Forte despite having little practice time. I felt like we had a chance to go down and score every time.

In his first action since throwing three passes against Carolina in Week 5, Caleb Hanie directed the Bears on two touchdown drives including throwing one TD pass to Earl Bennett. (AP)Comeback Caleb

The Taylor score was the first touchdown by the Bears against Green Bay in nine quarters, since a Greg Olsen TD catch in the second quarter of the first Packers game this season.

Hanie shook off the disastrous interception and return by Raji to throw the pass to Bennett between two defensive backs, one of whom was 2009 NFL defensive player of the year Charles Woodson.

I kinda wish we had Jay in there the whole game, the way things were going, a relieved Clay Matthews said after the Packers escape.

The Bears dont leave Sunday with a conference championship or the chance at a second Super Bowl in five years. But they finished with plans.

Watch: Cutler says Bears were in position to win Super Bowl

Were in this for the long haul and we might have fallen short of our goals this year, said linebacker Lance Briggs. But next year we wont fall short.

Our jobs not done. Hats off to the Packers; theyll represent the NFC very well. But next year the Chicago Bears will have their day.

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.

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

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USA Today

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

Chicago Bears left tackle Charle Leno, Jr. has outplayed expectations after joining the team as a seventh-round pick in 2014. General manager Ryan Pace rewarded Leno for his play with a four-year, $38 million extension last offseason, committing to the former Boise State product as the Bears' blindside protector for the immediate future.

Leno joined his teammates at the team's annual Bears Care Gala on Saturday and said new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is going to make him and his linemates better.

"We love Harry, let's just get that out of the way," Leno told 670 the Score's Mark Grote. "Harry is a great coach. I saw what he did for guys that he coached in college and the guys that were before us here in Chicago. He's getting us better."

Hiestand's efforts at Notre Dame produced four first-round picks: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style back to Chicago, where he last served under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. 

STANKEVITZ: In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Leno enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. His 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the best of all Bears linemen and his highest overall mark over the last four years. He finished 15th among all tackles graded by PFF last season.

Regardless, Leno still has to impress his new coach just like every other offensive lineman on the roster. The Bears haven't added any competition for Leno, but his fate as the team's long-term answer at left tackle could be decided by Hiestand.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”