Bears

Bears-Redskins: And the winner is….

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Bears-Redskins: And the winner is….

John Fox is among the coaches who break seasons down into quarters, and few in recent seasons have been as successful as Fox at strong finishes. His last three Denver teams were a combined 10-2 in fourth quarters of their seasons. The Bears need that pattern to continue.

“It would be huge for us,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “I think any team across the NFL, if the quarterback is playing well, they’re going to have a chance do well on offense and win football games. That’s our goal right now.”

The Bears and Washington Redskins come into Sunday’s game with the same 5-7 records. They come with nearly opposite records home and away, with Washington 0-5 on the road and the Bears 1-5 at home, including last week’s emotionally gutting loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The big difference is that Washington is leading the NFL’s weakest division while the Bears need to win out to even remain in the playoff discussion. Losing to the 49ers took most of the Bears’ fate out of their hands, making four more wins over NFC opponents both a challenge and an opportunity, particularly because the four games include Minnesota (8-5) and Tampa Bay (6-6).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Meaning: The Bears are in the “pre-playoffs” right now.

“I mean, we could look at it that way,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “But we're just taking it one game at a time, we're going to try to tally up as many wins as possible but we're just going to take it one game at a time trying to win each game and practice until Sunday.”

The Bears are favored and playing against a winless road team with a losing record. That was, however, the same situation that the Bears had last week with San Francisco.

[MORE: Defense taking injury hits heading into matchup with Redskins]

The anomaly is that the Bears are 1-3 in games when they hold a positive turnover ratio and 3-2 when they give the ball away more than they take it. But they are 1-4 when they fail to come up with at least one takeaway. Kirk Cousins hasn’t thrown a pick in his last two and four of his last six games but is sackable (11 in his last four games) and the Bears are due.

And then, pending results elsewhere, the playoff talk can start again.

“That’s the goal every season and until the season’s over or you’re mathematically eliminated, I think that’s a carrot out there for every team in the league right now unless you’re mathematically eliminated,” Fox said. “It’s important, whether it’s the fourth quarter of a game or fourth quarter of a season.”

Prediction: Bears 17, Redskins 14

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

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USA TODAY

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.

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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.