Bears

Bears fail 'test of character' in loss to Redskins

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Bears fail 'test of character' in loss to Redskins

After the Bears lost to the San Francisco 49ers and fell to 5-7, Jarvis Jenkins termed the final four games of this season a “test of character.” If Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins was a test of character, then the 24-21 loss speaks volumes about something in the makeup of a Bears team that has gone from resembling a good team with fits of bad, to a bad team with spurts of good — from a team that had won three of its last four leaving Green Bay, to a team that now has lost three out of its last four.

John Fox specifically noted the importance of the last quarter of the season in evaluations of players. A second straight loss with playoff implications at stake, at home, against two teams that hadn’t previously won on the road all year, will be a very, very poor start for more than a few evaluations.

And few answers were forthcoming, even to the obvious question of what a team does to pull out of the freefall.

“You know, I don’t know if you do,” Fox acknowledged. "All I know is you have to work harder and get better. It’s not a lack of effort; it’s not a lack of want-to.”

[MORE BEARS: John Fox on Robbie Gould: 'We're not going to lose faith']

Or was it?

A lack of urgency was almost palpable in Soldier Field when a team that prided itself on being fighters and finishers was neither, twice now, with the season on the line. That perhaps was the most disturbing aspect of the Washington game, and really the San Francisco game as well. That the Bears weren’t “starters,” effectively spotting mediocre opponents advantages and then and only then deciding they’d better get going.

“The bottom line is that we have to come out and match their intensity,” said rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman, one of the few Bears who played anything close to a consistently solid game. “Usually we do that. In practice we do that. I can’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong, but we’ve got to start fast and finish.”

The Bears knew the stakes, even had extra time to prepare for the 49ers, and played like a team with its playoff status already determined. Which now it is, in a manner almost hard to fathom after the spark that was present at Green Bay in what is now relegated to the status of “fluke.”

The defense that held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to 13 points on Thanksgiving allowed a below-average Washington offense 14 in less than the first 16 minutes, then allowed four drives 50 yards or longer in the second half. The finger of blame will again point toward kicker Robbie Gould for his wide-right attempt from 50 yards in the closing minutes Sunday. But, like the San Francisco game, it should never have reached that point but for an offense that managed just one score on three second-quarter possessions on which the Bears drove the ball into Washington territory.

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Three times in the span of eight weeks the Bears have been in positions to win games and ascend to .500. Three times they failed, with bad games against Detroit, Denver and San Francisco. Two of those losses were to teams (Detroit, San Francisco) with losing records, as was Sunday’s to Washington (6-7).

And the Denver, San Francisco and Washington losses were all in Soldier Field, where the Bears now stand a woeful 1-6.

What was concerning, too, is that the Bears seem bewildered by their own lack of urgency that has seen opponents more than double their point total in 2015 first quarters. Including Sunday, the Bears have scored 41 first-quarter points, to opponents’ 89. The Bears were shut out for the first 15 minutes Sunday.

“I don’t have any idea or reason why it was,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said of another poor start to a winnable game.

Maybe that is the most ominous assessment of all.

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

Eddie Goldman is entering the final year of his contract this season and in order to cash in on a big payday, he'll need to stay healthy and make good on his top-tier potential. 

If he does, he'll become a very wealthy man and the Bears defense will have an even better year than its top-10 finish a season ago.

Goldman, 24, came to Chicago via the second round of the 2015 NFL draft and quickly became a household name among Bears fans. He started 12 games that season and finished with a surprising 4 1/2 sacks, a total that was more productive than his college scouting report predicted. He was pegged as a breakout star for 2016, but injuries ultimately derailed his second season. He played only six games that year (started five) but still flashed a surprisingly productive set of pass-rush traits; he finished 2016 with 2 1/2 sacks.

This past season represented something of a mixed bag for Goldman. He started 15 games and quieted some of the injury concerns that started bubbling around him, but his production dipped. He managed only 1 1/2 sacks. That said, he set a career-high with 27 tackles, nearly doubling his output as a rookie.

Still, Goldman wasn't a dominant force in 2017. He finished the year ranked 69th among interior defenders with a 76.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite being healthy and available, it was the lowest season grade of his career from PFF.

Nose tackle is arguably the most critical position for any defense running a 3-4 scheme. It's no exception in Chicago. Goldman will set the table for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and the more bodies he can consume or attention he can draw from offensive lines, the more room second-level defenders will have to work. It's not just about filling up the stat sheet for Goldman. If he clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket consistently, he'll be worth every penny of a big contract extension despite lacking numbers.

The Bears need Goldman to bring his A-game in 2018, especially as a pass rusher. Chicago resides in arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL and for the defense to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable, Goldman has to apply pressure up the middle. He's proven he can do it, as evidenced by his rookie year production. But he's been on a steady decline in this area of his game since then and there's no room for more regression in 2018.

Players entering contract years tend to bring extra motivation to the field and there's no reason to expect anything less from Goldman. If he can combine his rookie year production with last season's availability, he could end up with the most well-rounded year of his career en route to leading the Bears' defensive line on a late-season playoff push.