Bears

Bears finish historically bad season with expectations that John Fox stays as coach

Bears finish historically bad season with expectations that John Fox stays as coach

MINNEAPOLIS – First, settling any questions about 2017… .

"I guarantee you we are going to win the Super Bowl next year," wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said after the Bears’ 38-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Of course Jeffery didn’t say who exactly the “we” was that he was referring to, and he is headed toward free agency after his franchise tag expires. But for now he’s a Bear, and he was asked about “this team,” meaning the Bears, so take that as him handicapping his current team’s chances this year.

Now, there’s also the matter of who will coach the Bears to that Super Bowl, but indications continue pointing to that being John Fox.

So, pulling the camera back to take in the much bigger picture after Fox finishing his first two Bears seasons a combined 9-23.

Jay Glazer out at FOX Sports reported before Sunday’s kickoff that Fox would indeed be back in 2017 as Bears head coach. And everything from GM Ryan Pace supports the conclusion reached here over the recent past that the Bears will not be making another coaching change.

Speaking with Bears announcer Jeff Joniak on WBBM radio before the game, Pace was clear that on strategic matters, beyond the obvious disappointments of this season, Fox has gotten the Bears turned around culturally and moving in a direction the organization wants.

“In order to develop these younger players, you really need a coaching staff that’s on board with preparing them and with playing them,” Pace said, “and I think John’s done a good job in leading our team and his staff in assisting that development.

“I also think he’s done a good job of instilling the right culture we want in our locker room, and those aren’t small things. The change of culture, that’s extremely difficult. But I think if you get it right, with the foundation of our roster, you can really build on that.”

Whether a turnaround can come sooner rather than later, “we’re on the right course,” Pace said. “I think you see how quickly teams can flip in this league.”

Fox has been part of the NFL long enough to know that kind, even supportive words are hardly conclusive. But he has said privately that he wants to see this thing through, and he reaffirmed that on Sunday.

“I haven’t, at the end of the day, I’ve never worried about job security and I’m not about to start now,” said Fox, adding, “when you have people who look at things logically, you usually come to the same conclusion.”

And right now, Pace and Fox are looking at the situation with some of the same logic, factoring in franchise direction and player development more than win totals even over a two-season stretch, the first in Fox’s 28-year career that he’s been part of two consecutive losing seasons at any level.

“It’s definitely a job I want to finish,” Fox declared.

Which is precisely what the leaders in his locker room want to hear.

“I love coach Fox,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “I never saw him in despair. He’s put together this team, wants to see it successful and was fighting tooth and nail to make it successful. We never saw any, ‘Oh, well… .” We never saw that. And when you see that kind of thing from your leader, you can’t help but want to play harder for the guy.

“One of the reasons I felt so welcome here was John Fox’s personality. It was refreshing for a coach to have that swagger, that air around him.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Said linebacker Willie Young: “As long as we have the kind of leadership we have in this locker room, we’ll be all right… . There’s a lotta upside here, lotta upside here.”

And finally, some game stuff… . (sorry, have to do it)

The Bears’ 38-10 loss to the Vikings Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium really was neither surprising or likely consequential, beyond securing the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft for the Bears. It finished an 0-8 season on the road for the Bears, a venue where decent teams play .500 or better, and it completed the year of futility with seven losses in the eight games since the mid-season off week.

All of which are the kinds of things that comprise elements of a 3-13 season, the worst win total for a 16-game season since the NFL went to 16 in 1978 and matching the second-lowest win total for any season of any length since the franchise was part of beginning professional football in 1920.

The specifics of this Sunday were pretty simple. The Bears turned the football over five times – three Matt Barkley interceptions, a Jeremy Langford fumble, a Bralon Addison muffed punt – to leave them with 14 giveaways in the last three games (five to Washington, four to Green Bay), vs. one takeaway, a meaningless end-zone interception of Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford by cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc.

Turnover ratio, specifically the lack of takeaways, were a season-long problem, but “the last two games it became problematic,” said Fox.

Bears Week 10 grades: Mitch Trubisky shines while special teams sinks

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears Week 10 grades: Mitch Trubisky shines while special teams sinks

QUARTERBACKS: A+

Matt Nagy called Sunday Mitch Trubisky’s best game of the year, and while he didn’t rack up six touchdowns like he did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t. Trubisky coolly went through his progressions and consistently made good decisions with the football. He was on time with his receivers, displaying good chemistry with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. And he ran a hurry-up, no huddle offense efficiently, effectively communicating the play calls and making the right checks at the line of scrimmage to keep the Detroit Lions’ defense off balance. His final line of 23 completions on 30 attempts (76.6 percent) for 355 yards (a career high) and three touchdowns, with an additional rushing touchdown, was indicative of how well he played on Sunday. 

RUNNING BACKS: D

Jordan Howard gained only 21 yards on 11 carries, good for an average of 1.9 yards per attempt. Tarik Cohen wasn’t much better, with 15 yards on seven carries (2.1 yards/carry). Add in Taquan Mizzell’s one carry for no yards, and Bears running backs combined for 36 yards on 19 rushing attempts. 

The issues aren’t solely at the feet of this unit — the offensive line didn’t create enough holes — but the Bears need smarter and tougher runs from their running backs. 

Saving this grade from an F: Cohen did have a three-year touchdown run and caught six of seven targets for 29 yards, while Howard delivered a good block to set up Trubisky’s four-yard rushing score on a quarterback draw. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A+

Robinson took advantage of Darius Slay’s absence and made DaShawn Shead’s afternoon a nightmare, consistently beating him with perfectly set up routes on his way to a six-catch, 133-yard, two-touchdown game. It was Robinson’s first 100-yard game since Week 15 of 2016, and his first multi-score game since Week 3 of that year. Miller, meanwhile, had his first 100-yard game as a pro, giving the Bears their first game with two 100-yard wide receivers since Cameron Meredith and Deonte Thompson hit that mark on Dec. 18, 2016 (Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen each had over 100 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 4). Gabriel wasn’t a factor, though it took Quandre Diggs’ break-up of a perfectly thrown Trubisky pass in the end zone for him to not get a big-play touchdown. 

TIGHT ENDS: B

Trey Burton made a crucial third down catch on the Bears’ opening possession to trigger a touchdown drive, and finishing with 40 yards while catching all four of his targets. Ben Braunecker, too, did well on a scramble drill to come down with a 20-yard catch. This group did miss Dion Sims’ blocking ability from the “Y” tight end position, but could get him — and, potentially, Adam Shaheen — back for Sunday night’s date with the Minnesota Vikings. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B

Six of Howard’s 11 rushing attempts went for one or fewer yard, with two losing two yards, while Cohen had two runs of one or fewer yards on seven rushing attempts. The Lions’ run defense is better than its season numbers may have shown — it entered Sunday allowing an average of 132.7 rushing yards per game — after acquiring Damon “Snacks” Harrison but a fair share of the blame for the Bears’ running woes fall on the offensive line. 

That being said, this group’s protection of Trubisky was outstanding. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in particular had strong games against the Lions’ pass rush, and Trubisky was given plenty of clean pockets to work through his progressions and make good decisions. Sunday marked the first time since Week 3 that the Bears rolled with the same five offensive linemen all game — Bryan Witzmann appears to have beat out Eric Kush for the starting right guard job — and while it didn’t lead to a big game on the ground, the Bears were able to score five touchdowns in part because of this unit’s work making Trubisky comfortable. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A

The push generated by Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Bilal Nichols was key in holding Kerryon Johnson to 51 yards on 14 carries (3.6 yards), while LeGarrette Blount was only able to manage four yards on six carries. That was the starting point for the Bears’ defensive success against Detroit — the Lions won all three games in which Johnson had 10 or more carries with an average of four yards per attempt or higher. Hicks got some good pressure on Matthew Stafford on Roquan Smith’s sack, while Nichols had a sack-strip the Lions recovered and Bullard notched a tackle for a loss and a pass break-up. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack looked 100 percent when he bowled over left tackle Taylor Decker for one of his two sacks, while Leonard Floyd notched his first sack of the year and had a productive game with three quarterback hits and a tackle for a loss. Mack, too, provided excellent help in run support with two tackles for a loss. The Bears are going to win a lot of games when Mack and Floyd combine for three sacks and three tackles for a loss. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B+

Roquan Smith followed his best game of the season last week against Buffalo with…his best game of the season on Sunday against Detroit. He led the Bears with 10 tackles and stuffed the box score with a sack (which backed the Lions up out of field goal range) a tackle for a loss and a pass break-up and was all over the field. Danny Trevathan chipped in with five tackles and played well in run support. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-

Bryce Callahan had another productive game, hitting home for a sack while picking off Stafford and impressively breaking up a third-and-six throw that kept the Lions to a field goal on their first drive of the second half. Prince Amukamara notched the Bears’ other interception, which came on a Stafford arm punt, and also forced a fumble recovered by Adrian Amos. Eddie Jackson had a productive game, too, with six tackles and a pass break-up. Most of Stafford’s passing success came in the second half while the game was largely out of reach, though Amos committed pass interference in the end zone on third down that helped get the Lions their first touchdown of the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

We’ll start this off by praising Pat O’Donnell for a couple of good punts, one of which was downed inside the Lions’ five-yard line and another that came from the back of the end zone and didn’t get Detroit entirely optimal field position. 

The rest of this unit, though, was all bad. Cody Parkey doinked four kicks — two PATs and two field goals of 34 and 41 yards — off the uprights in a self-described “comical” game in which he “let my team down.” Parkey’s post-hitting penchant affected Nagy’s playcalling, though the Bears’ coach said his confidence in his kicker is “not shot.” Parkey isn’t going anywhere, not when he’s guaranteed $9 million in a contract he signed only eight months ago. 

Additionally, Miller was whistled for illegally batting an onside kick out of bounds — the rookie didn’t know he had to bat the ball backward for it to be legal, instead amusingly swatting the ball forward for a penalty. The Lions, given a second attempt, recovered an onside kick and turned it into a touchdown. 

Taquan Mizzell returned two kicks for a total of only 23 yards, though Cohen did manage an 18-yard punt return. 

COACHING: B

Nagy thoroughly out-coached Matt Patricia with his respective gameplan, and Vic Fangio’s defense got the better of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Nagy, though, was self-critical after the game regarding a late challenge flag he threw when Kenny Golladay fumbled and was ruled to have recovered the ball — a play that likely would’ve been overturned, with possession going to the Bears, had it gone to review. The Lions quickly got to the line of scrimmage and ran a play, though, which left Nagy frustrated with himself. 

“Detroit did a good job of going quick and I was, I was looking down,” Nagy said. “This was one of the faults of going through and calling plays is I was looking at my sheet to call the next play — or to get the next series going — and it happened so quick with the replay and then, late replay. And then getting them going quick and it just was late. So that's my fault.” 

Additionally, Nagy said he “called the three worst plays of my life” before Parkey missed his 34-yard field goal. Those three plays, which happened after the Bears took over on the Lions’ 21-yard line following Amukamara’s forced fumble: A four-yard pass to Cohen, a Mizzell run for no gain, and a one-yard pop pass to Miller. 

Neat Tweets: Trubisky's first NFC North win was pretty neat

Neat Tweets: Trubisky's first NFC North win was pretty neat

It's a pretty neat time to be a Bears fan right about now. Coming off the first NFC North win in 10 tries, Chicago's franchise QB is looking like the real deal and their defense is legitiamtely championship-caliber. 

When things are going well, The Tweets tend to be especially neat. Here's what they were saying: