Bears’ fight building into an identity as finishers


Bears’ fight building into an identity as finishers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As the victorious Bears streamed into their Arrowhead Stadium locker room Sunday afternoon, their 18-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in hand, Jarvis Jenkins threw his head back and let out with a roar that rattled windows in Des Moines. “I’m a happy dog, man,” Jenkins said, laughing. “That was some finish.” (More on that last word shortly)

Kyle Long, still wearing his game face, strode by with his own roar: “CHICAGO BEARS, MAN!” Coach John Fox, he of 2013 open-heart surgery, had himself under control…to a point, then let loose: “Way to FIGHT, men! THAT’S what I’m talking about!” (one nearby staffer later remarking, “Thank God he had his heart fixed before THIS one!”)

Winning does bring out that sort of thing. But it was the way of the Bears winning that was and is the real point.

For the second straight week, the Bears shook off problems, some admittedly of their own making, and came back to win a football game. In the process, the identity of the John Fox Bears came into sharper focus, and it was far more important than an “identity” as a running football team, a defense-based team or anything football-specific.

Losing doesn’t build character; losing reveals character. And the start of the 2015 season under Fox has revealed much about Bears character and identity. Losing the first three games didn’t reveal how bad the Bears were or were going to be; it was revealing something else.

Fox had made winning an emphasis during a 3-1 preseason, looking to take another step in eradicating a losing culture and replacing it with something quite different. Back in the Green Bay game, in which Clay Matthews’ interception of Jay Cutler ended what was a potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, signs were there. After the Packers scored to seemingly put the game away with a 15-point lead, Cutler simply went back out on the field and directed a 72-yard drive for an answering touchdown. Not enough, but an identity was forming.

[MORE: John Fox and Co. do all the right things]

In the locker room at halftime Sunday, with the Bears down 17-3 and doing little in any phase of the game – “We had so many excuses that could’ve been there, with the injuries and everything,” said Matt Forte – talk among players was only in one direction.

“You could’ve rolled over,” said defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff. “If you looked at that point deficit [17-3], you could’ve said, ‘Let’s just come back next week.’ But nobody had that mentality, nobody took that approach.”

“In the beginning everybody says they want to go to the Super Bowl. All that talk. Some teams start off real hot. Other teams start off with adversity. We’re one of those. We just have to keep going, one week at a time, because that’s the good thing.”

The underlying point was even deeper than one week at a time. The Kansas City game would have been lost if the Bears defense had been satisfied with stopping the Chiefs on three plays inside the Chicago 10 at the end of Kansas City’s first drive of the second half, that already had pushed the Bears backwards for 71 yards. Forcing the Chiefs to settle for three points would have been generally classed as a success.

But – getting back to Jenkins’ “finish” word from earlier – Pernell McPhee crashed through to block Cairo Santos’ 27-yard attempt, a “finish” for special teams in keeping with what the Bears see as their true identity. Finishers.

“We always talk about ‘finishing,’ at practice, in the weight room, everywhere,” Jenkins said. “And you could see it at halftime when we’re down 17-3 and we’re saying, ‘We got to finish this game.’ Believe and finish.

“The defense gets a third-down stop. Finish. The offense goes down and scores. Finish. That’s what we tell ourselves. Finish. Then at crunch time, you make plays and finish.”

[MORE: Cutler leads another fourth-quarter comeback]

Talking about finishing is easy unless something else is part of the character: “Man, this team’s got a lot of fight, a lot of fight,” Jenkins added, shaking his head. “We put ourselves in some bad situations but there’s so much fight in this team.”

As Fox himself had said on his way into the locker room: “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.


Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.