Bears

Bears Grades: Cutler leads Bears to another comeback win

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Bears Grades: Cutler leads Bears to another comeback win

After a decidedly pedestrian first half, including 0-for-3 in the second quarter, Jay Cutler exploded on the Kansas City Chiefs in a fourth quarter that saw him complete 11 of 21 passes for 114 yards, shake off two potentially devastating drops by his receivers, and direct touchdown drives of 88 and 67 yards for an 18-17 victory that rocked even his own locker room.

Cutler finished with 26-for-45 passing for 252 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions for the first time in 2015. Cutler absorbed two sacks but stayed on track with a passer rating of 88.4. It marked the second straight fourth-quarter comeback for the Cutler Bears and 23rd of his nine-year career, only four coming over the previous two seasons combined.

But Cutler was directing the praise elsewhere.

[MORE: Cutler, Bears stun Chiefs with fourth-quarter comeback]

“I feed off those guys [teammates],” he said. “Honestly I have a lot of pride but I didn’t really feel good about the first half. But at that quarterback position you have to count on those guys and you have to count on everyone to do their job.”

The win, which also included Cutler directing an 11-play drive for 73 yards and a third-quarter Robbie Gould field goal, was accomplished with Cutler dropping in perfect passes to Marquess Wilson for 22 yards and a touchdown, followed 3 minutes later by Cutler managing to pick up a low snap and recover to feather a seven-yard throw to Matt Forte for the winning points with 18 seconds remaining.

Both throws were in the ideal of being where either Cutler’s receivers or no one was going to make the catch.

“It was an amazing throw,” Wilson said of his ball, landed between two Kansas City defensive backs. “He put it exactly where it needed to be, right on the money. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. He threw that before I even got out of my break… . It was a phenomenal throw.”

But it was what Cutler did in the days leading up to Sunday that arguably was nearly as important big-picture as what he did to the Chiefs. Cutler cajoled, encouraged, berated and otherwise coached up his group of inexperienced receivers in ways that domino’ed into a win that an evolving team and players needed for their confidence.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

“I think Adam [Gase, offensive coordinator] and Mike [Groh, receivers coach] put a lot of trust in the quarterbacks just to help coach these guys up,” Cutler said, then smiled. “Coaches can only go so far. At some point you’ve got to tune them out and players need to take some ownership.”

On Sunday, Cutler also made a conscious effort to quicken the pace in the second half in order to minimize the think-time for young players like center Hronis Grasu and left tackle Charles Leno.

With a receiver group that included Wilson and Josh Bellamy starting at wideouts, Cutler had few easy throws to wide-open receivers, yet took the lead himself with a run on a read-option, a second called run when he dove for a first down and avoided turnovers other than a sack-fumble in the first quarter that the Chiefs recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

“I just need to hang onto the ball and avoid the safety,” Cutler said.

Moon's Grade: A

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.