Bears face nightmare turnaround scenario with Seahawks in Seattle


Bears face nightmare turnaround scenario with Seahawks in Seattle

SEATTLE – One overlooked reality of the Bears’ 2015 schedule is that they could have played reasonably well and still opened 0-2 or, after Sunday’s meeting with the Seattle Seahawks, presumably 0-3. Games against three straight playoff teams can do that.

And while expectations of the new offense were generally positive if only because of veteran talent at skill positions, both coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio alluded to at least some sort of learning curve due to the change to a 3-4 scheme on defense.

But the “curve” has been steeper than anticipated, and may not look any better against the Seattle Seahawks, the 2014 NFC Super Bowl representatives who are determined to put the brakes on their own 0-2 start. Indeed, the Seahawks rightfully are anything but in crisis mode, given a pair of Super Bowl appearances in the past two seasons.

“This is not a world-is-coming-to-an-end moment for us,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “We’ve been here before. We know how to fight out of these predicaments. We’ve lost two games in a row before. It’s no different. We’re the same confident bunch. We keep it one game at a time. We don’t let anything that happens in the past dictate or future.”

Sunday’s game against the Seahawks isn’t exactly a world-at-an-end moment for the Bears, either. But for an organization and new coaching staff seeking to eradicate the  losing culture that grew over recent seasons, the Bears need a positive, and soon.

[RELATED: Complete Bears-Seahawks coverage Sunday on CSN]

Problem is, the Bears don’t have quite the successful experience of extricating themselves from dire situations. Fox, Fangio and some others on the staffs and in the locker room may individually, but the events of the past four seasons, beginning with the 2011 collapse after Jay Cutler fractured his thumb, leave gaping questions about the resiliency within one of the NFL’s charter franchises.

And bad coincidence perhaps, the chance to establish resiliency as part of the new Fox-era Bears character could not encounter a more difficult hurdle than the Seattle Seahawks.

For a team (offense, defense and special teams, all three areas) reeling from giving up 79 points in two games, the Seahawks may be the most difficult of the first three early season opponents.

In the loudest and toughest-to-win-in venues in the NFL, the offense is faced with a starting Jimmy Clausen at quarterback and not having Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) for him to throw to. The Bears have outgained each of their first two opponents but failed to take control of either game against Green Bay or Arizona.

But the sense of need for impact arguably hangs heaviest over the defense, which has zero sacks through two games and allows nearly 58 percent conversions on third downs. Now that phase is tasked now with coping with running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson. History against Wilson is not promising.

The current downward spiral for the Bears that has not ever been successfully reversed arguably began against the Seahawks and specifically because of Wilson. The 2012 Bears missed the postseason and cost Lovie Smith his job when they could not contain Wilson in a 23-17 loss in 2012. That followed regular-season losses to the Seahawks in 2010 and 2011, interrupted by a divisional-playoff Bears win in 2010.

[MORE: Adam Gase, not Jimmy Clausen, the key for Bears against Seahawks]

That 2012 game, however, was part of a dramatic coming-out season for Wilson, who as a third-round rookie took the starting job away from Matt Flynn after the Seahawks had wasted major contract money on the former Green Bay backup.

“He’s a magician,” Fangio said. “He’s extremely fast, extremely quick, extremely instinctive. And very confident with the ball, sees the field, has a feel for what’s around him. He doesn’t get hit very hard even when he carries the ball as much as he does.

“He’s a good passer. This guy was 15th in the NFL in rushing yards and that’s with all the running backs mixed in there. He’s a dual threat obviously. They do a good job with him, their scheme has been tailored to him and it’s become a good offense.”

Chances of getting to Wilson with any impact appear minimal. Albeit that most have only played the Seahawks once if at all, only one current Bear has ever sacked a quarterback, that being Lamarr Houston as an Oakland Raider. But the matter may turn as much on the Bears’ mental state as anything specific to Seattle.

“Right now all of our focus and energy is directed at the Seattle Seahawks,” Fox said. “I don’t want them thinking about 0-2.”

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.”