Bears

Bears' playoff hopes on the brink after loss

615986.png

Bears' playoff hopes on the brink after loss

This time there was no Marion Barber, no Roy Williams to blame. The offense gave as many points as it scored. The defense did about the same. And the Bears playoff hopes moved so close to the brink that, with a trip to Green Bay coming up next Sunday, any scenarios by which the Bears could make the playoffs didnt seem worth figuring out anymore.

The 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks (7-7), in which Seattle scored 31 unanswered points in the second half, allowed yet another team to slip by the Bears, who were 7-3 this time a month ago and wondering who besides themselves would be in the wild-card round.

Until someone tells us were eliminated or something like that, said coach Lovie Smith, well continue to play, but theres disappointment right now.

Uphill run

But no Bears team has ever lost four straight games and made the postseason that year. And the suspicion after Sundays death spiral in the second half is that the Bears are not done losing this season.

The Bears have lost in stunning overtime fashion in Denver and to Kansas City by way of a Hail Mary heave at the end of halftime. This week, they were blown out in the second half as the defense allowed 202 yards and appeared rocked into submission by lack of help from the offense or special teams.

Its been a tough way to lose, said defensive end Israel Idonije, who scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone in the first quarter. All of these losses have been extremely tough to swallow.

The Bears can still qualify for the playoffs if they win at Green Bay and Minnesota, and the Detroit Lions lose the rest of their games. But the Bears have not won in a month and there is little reason to suspect they will start now, even against a Packers team that finally lost and has little to play for now beyond late-playoff seeding.

Hanie disastrous

Caleb Hanie completed just 7-of-15 passes through three quarters for 92 yards. He had a 25-yard TD pass but also had a crushing interception returned for a touchdown by a Seattle defensive lineman.

Hanie finished with 10-for-23 passing for 111 yards and three interceptions, the last returned 42 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Brandon Browner late in the fourth quarter.

Hes had his ups and downs. Its just something hell learn from, said wide receiver Roy Williams, who may given the best indicator for Hanies future.

Best of luck to him the rest of the way.

No. 2 quarterback Josh McCown came on with five minutes to play and was unable to make any difference. It will be an NFL-grade surprise if McCown is not under center with the No. 1 offense this week after the Bears futility reached 0-4 under Hanie.

The defense put points of its own on the board but was pushed around in a listless second half, 137 yards in the third quarter, and appeared to be simply going through the motions as Seattle rolled off 31 unanswered points in the second half, albeit with huge help from Hanie.

Hurtin Bears unravel

This defeat was marked by several scary injury moments. Wide receiver Johnny Knox had to be carted off the field after suffering a back injury following his fumble in the first quarter. Safety Chris Conte was lost to a foot injury in the second quarter.

After going in with their first halftime lead in four games, the Bears came unhinged.

The defense allowed Seattle only 40 yards in the first quarter and 44 in the second. The Seahawks virtually matched those two plays on their opening drive of the third quarter, with Marshawn Lynch finishing an 80-yard drive with a three-yard scrum into the end zone.

The drive included Tarvaris Jackson completions covering 33 and 43 yards, the longest plays other than the Kansas City Hail Mary in the past three games.

That was followed by a nightmare dj vu for Hanie as he responded to a blitz in his face by linebacker K.J. Wright and unloaded a pass right into the midsection of 323-pound defensive end Red Bryant.

Bryant did exactly what Green Bay nose tackle B.J. Raji did with a similar Hanie gaffe in the NFC Championship game: returned it for a touchdown, covering 20 yards and putting Seattle ahead 21-14.

The disasters gave the Seahawks 14 points in the span of 50 seconds.

Finally

The Chicago offense got into Seattles end of the field three times in the first half. The third time was the charm, ending with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Hanie to Kahlil Bell.

That throw gave Hanie a brief stay of job execution after an otherwise punchless offensive first half in which the Bears totaled 168 yards of offense.

The score gave the Bears their first halftime lead at 14-7 with Hanie as their quarterback. The difference was that the offense converted all three third-down opportunities on a 57-yard drive, the Bears longest under Hanie since the fourth quarter of the Oakland game.

Horrible beginnings

A team desperately needing a fast start suffered anything but. Hanie was nearly intercepted by defensive end Chris Clemons dropping into coverage on Hanies first attempt. Then Hanie completely overthrew a wide-open Bell on a third-down attempt inside the Seattle 40.

Far worse, Knox caught a third-down pass on the previous possession, had the first down but then fumbled. The ball was recovered by Seattle but that was secondary to a frightening injury to Knox, who was bent backwards by defensive end Anthony Hargrove.

Knox was carted off the field, done for the game, but fortunately able to move his extremities sometime later.

The fumble was turned into points despite the Bears throwing the Seahawks for losses on three straight plays starting at the Chicago 1. But on a short field-goal attempt, Corey Graham used teammates to gain additional height trying to block the kick.

The leverage personal-foul call gave Seattle a break that became 7 points when Marshawn Lynch powered in for a touchdown.

Explosive answer

The defense picked up both the offense and special teams as Peppers slipped down on his pass rush, got back to his feet and arrived with second-effort in time to knock the ball out of Jacksons hand before the Seattle quarterback could start his arm forward.

The resulting sack-fumble, in the end zone, was recovered by Idonije to give the Bears their first first-half touchdown under Hanie since the Oakland game.

Bears add another pair of players following Mitch Trubisky to the Pro Bowl

Bears add another pair of players following Mitch Trubisky to the Pro Bowl

Add two more names to the list of Bears Pro Bowlers this season.

Offensive linemen Cody Whitehair and Charles Leno Jr. are also heading to Orlando to help lend some protection to Mitch Trubisky, who was named as a replacement to Rams QB Jared Goff Monday.

Leno takes the place of Saints tackle Terron Armstead and Whitehair is replacing New Orleans center Max Unger for this weekend's exhibition game.

Whitehair and Leno have been staples on the Bears offensive line, starting every game the last three seasons (Whitehair at center or guard, Leno at left tackle). 

Whitehair, 26, was a 2nd round selection in 2016 while Leno, 27, was a 7th round draft pick in 2014 in Phil Emery's last draft as Bears GM.

Both players were a huge part of a line that paved the way for Trubisky and Co. to pass for 3,747 yads and rush for 1,938 yards with 44 total offensive TDs.

The complete list of Bears players going to the Pro Bowl after a 12-4 season now sits at: Trubisky, Whitehair, Leno, Tarik Cohen, Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson. 

This is the first time the Bears have had 8 Pro Bowlers since 2007 (following the 2006 season). They previously had 9 selections in the Super Bowl championship season of 1985 and 11 Pro Bowlers in 1942.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Elite? More proof the Bears are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2019

Elite? More proof the Bears are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2019

Comparisons in sports are both easy and inevitable, particularly when the actual entities being compared don’t in some way compete directly against each other to settle the discussion. Joe Louis didn’t ever meet Muhammed Ali in the squared circle. The ’85 Bears defense was a decade too late to take the field against the ‘70’s Steel Curtain, and besides, they wouldn’t have been on the field at the same time anyway.

But comparing the 2018 Bears – and for purposes here, the 2019 Bears – to the current standards of excellence – Super Bowl entrants Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots – is possible. And arguably relevant. More on that momentarily.

For context’s sake, consider the Bears vs. the NFC North and in particular the two measuring standards going into last season, Green Bay and Minnesota.

The Bears went a convincing 5-1 in the division. They dispatched the Detroit Lions twice by a combined 19 points, including 7-point win in Detroit in the second game when their backup QB outplayed the Lions’ starter, whose arrow is what it is at this point. Detroit had won nine of the previous 10 meetings before last year; it can all change that quickly.

The Bears also took the measure of the Packers, going on the road in week one and letting complacency creep into a game they controlled. That was back when Cody Parkey was making all (three) of his field goals and before a young team fully grasped that a wounded animal is sometimes more dangerous than a healthy one. By the time the Packers made their visit to Soldier Field, the Bears had evolved to the point of never trailing in a game in which they, fittingly, clinched the NFC North outright.

As for the Vikings, the popular pick to win both the division and the NFC was squashed a second time in a season. The Bears won going away over a team that was playing for its playoff life.

Pulling the camera back for a wider perspective…

The division is one thing, and it’s entirely possible that the Bears could be incrementally better in 2019 with a settled-in coach, system and roster and still lose more than one game in the division. Green Bay is getting a new coach, Kirk Cousins could perform closer to the level the Vikings thought they were getting with their $84 million guaranteed, and the Lions could…well, the Lions…the Lions are tough at home.

But with the not-assured assumption that the Bears at least offensively can improve in 2019, the case can be made that they in fact are deserving of being in the NFC-elite discussion, perhaps NFL-elite.

The reasons start with the obvious, that they field a defense that is superior to that of the Patriots (16th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranking) and the Rams (19th). The correlation between that and success, however, isn’t automatic: Only they and the Baltimore Ravens from among the top seven defenses reached the postseason.

Seven of the top 10 offenses, based on Football Outsiders’ metric, did reach the playoffs, though, and Nos. 2 (Rams) and 5 (Patriots) play for the next Lombardi. The Bears ranked 20th; among the playoff participants, only Houston (21st) and Dallas (24th) ranked lower, and the Bears and Texans were out in the wild-card round.

The Bears benefitted from a fourth-place schedule that included only three playoff teams – Rams, Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. But the Bears did defeat two of those three (Rams, Seahawks).

Next season, six of the Bears games are against playoff teams, plus two against 8-7-1 Minnesota, meaning that half of their games are against winning teams, based on that strength-of-schedule permutation.

But getting to a final point of comparison, the Bears defeated the Rams despite an-overamp’ed Mitchell Trubisky throwing three interceptions (to Jared Goff’s four). They led the Patriots early in the third quarter, fell behind and came up a yard short on a Hail Mary that would’ve tied the game (with the leap of faith that Parkey would have converted the PAT). Trubisky threw 2 interceptions but the Bears out-rushed the Patriots, an area that has been an underappreciated area of strength for the Brady offense. The majority (81) of the Bears rushing yardage (134) came from Trubisky, and an upgrade at running back rates here as the No. 1 offseason Bears need. (Well, tied for No. 1, with kicker; that’s in a different class.)

The future is promised to no one. GM Ryan Pace said as much in his season-ending remarks: “It’s on us to ensure that we’re on the right track and that we stay on the right track.”

But rare has been the season this decade that ended with legitimate bases for projecting the Bears into a position where the oft-amusing odds of winning the Super Bowl get at least a cursory look for reasons other than ridicule. Reflecting on the conference championship games and the upcoming Super Bowl, the Bears have those legitimate reasons.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.