Bears

Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15

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Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15

Defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins described the remaining four games of the 2015 season as “a test of character” now that the Bears have stumbled to 5-7 in the playoff discussion purely as an exercise in mathematics.

Because the Bears have faced multiple character tests this season and come up short too many times, notably the three different times they have held .500 in their hands and fumbled it.

Football “character” has different elements and the Bears need to address them in the time left to them.

[RELATED - Blown chances in OT loss to 49ers put Bears on brink of being finished]

Amid the aftershocks from the Bears’ 26-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, safety Chris Prosinski passed on offering details of what went so horribly awry on the 71-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith that ended the game and effectively more than that.

“I’m not going to point fingers,” Prosinski said.

Nor should he or anyone else. Because the only digit that should have been pointed anywhere was the thumb.

If one or more of the Bears’ defensive backs wanted to step up and say, “My bad,” as Robbie Gould did after his failed field-goal try, fine. But players usually don’t discuss schematic specifics, good or bad, and that’s not really the point, anyway.

What is, is that for the first time this season, the word “appalling” can be hung on a defeat.

If the Bears weren’t as good as the 49ers, that’s one thing. But while disparaging Bears talent borders on the cliché’d by now, the simple fact is that their talent was enough to:

  • split with the Green Bay Packers;
  • be within a missed assignment of taking the 10-2 Denver Broncos to overtime;
  • allow the Minnesota Vikings 10 points in the final 1:49 to lose by three;
  • and take down the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Chiefs who are 6-1 since that game.

“The only difference between people with good records and maybe not so good records is they've won more of their close games than the not-so-good-record teams,” coach John Fox said.

[MORE: Bears shoot themselves in the foot in OT loss to 49ers]

Not necessarily.

Judging effort or focus is never easy or always altogether fair, but questioning it isn’t unreasonable, certainly not in this case. Jenkins said that the Bears were focused before this game, but “focus” is fluid and the Bears are 5-7 in very large part because of how they played at the end of the game – if there was focus in all three areas, it wasn’t apparent – as well as how they played at the beginning, not looking like they were fully ready to play.

“We’ve just got to show up every Sunday,” said defensive end Willie Young, a tacit summation that the Bears didn’t this time. Not at the beginning on offense, settling for field goals or less, or at the end on defense with the disasters of Blaine Gabbert’s TD run or Torrey Smith’s TD catch.

“We just lost rush lanes,” defensive lineman Will Sutton, taking some ownership of a sloppy fundamental by a position group having a strong game. “We’re taught to do some things but sometimes you gotta just play football, and [Gabbert] just hit the hole where nobody was at. It’s just the little things at the end. I thought on defense we played a real good game and just let it slip.”

Poor effort or sloppiness is typically laid at the feet of coaching. But effort and sloppiness are products of poor preparation during the week, and maybe the Bears just took wrong conclusions out of their film sessions, maybe that the 49ers really weren’t very good. It happens; just ask the New England Patriots after their experience with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But if professionals need to be motivated when all they need to read are a calendar and schedule, then the term “professionals” does not apply.

A criticism leveled at Fox by former boss John Elway was that Fox’s Denver Broncos didn’t go down “kicking and screaming” at the end of big games. (I never quite got that, when you’re talking about a coach who consistently wins; so Elway was saying Fox’s teams just kicked and screamed in little games?). Not sure that is the relevant problem, certainly not with every member of the beaten Bears.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The offensive line and running backs played as good a game collectively as they have all season, to cite one group of individuals who pass the effort eye test. Young, to cite another, was within a shoelace of taking down Gabbert early in that 44-yard gutting run in the fourth quarter “To know you were just a shoestring away and ended up in a touchdown… ,” Young said, reflecting. “Any closer and I think I’d have had him.”

Jay Cutler and his receiver group were collectively handled by one of the NFL’s poorer pass defenses. Cutler, for his part, was personally out-schemed by San Francisco on his pick-6 in the first quarter, set up by blitz looks, not recognizing peril, and getting no help from receivers like Josh Bellamy in the screen cluster.

If the Bears truly didn’t have enough talent – and they’ve achieved what they have so far without Alshon Jeffery for five games, Eddie Royal for six, Kevin White for 12, Matt Forte for three, and that’s just offense – the San Francisco loss would be at least a little understandable. Fox and coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers did have players with enough talent in enough right positions to have won this and other games.  

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.”