Bears see MNF win over Chargers as 'starting point' for playoffs


Bears see MNF win over Chargers as 'starting point' for playoffs

SAN DIEGO – In a 16-game season, pretty much every game is a statement, one way or the other. Monday’s 22-19 comeback win over the San Diego Chargers was indeed one of those.

It isn’t important to be an artistic success, only a success. And the Bears are daring to dream.

The Bears still need to beat someone other than AFC West also-ran’s. But going to St. Louis next weekend, “it definitely could be [a turning point],” said cornerback Tracy Porter, who forced a turnover and delivered a crucial pass breakup on the Chargers’ final drive. This is something to build on. This is just one win. It feels good but we still have a long season ahead of us.

“Our goal is to get to the playoffs. This could definitely be a starting point.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

After failing to hold off the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings in fourth quarters of consecutive losses, the Bears (3-5) underscored the statements made in similar victories over the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. In those games, the Bears felt they had found an identity as fighters, such that no matter what went wrong in the first 55 or so minutes, they would be standing at the end.

“We’ve been in these types of games for several weeks now,” said tight end Martellus Bennett, who caught eight passes, one for a touchdown in the second quarter. “Everybody knew what it actually takes to win one of these and we were able to do it, make a play. The defense made a play at the end, [the offense] was able to make a drive.

“It was just one of those things. Every single week has been the same thing; we just haven’t been able to make those plays at the end. Today we made those plays.”

"Those plays" on Monday included 142 combined yards by rookie running back Jeremy Langford, with a one-yard TD run and a two-point plunge to put the Bears up by 3 points in the closing minutes.

They didn’t always make "those plays," but maybe that’s the point. The Bears had the football in San Diego’s end of the field on eight of their first nine possessions, yet scored only seven points total from the first six. They missed two field goals for only the third time in Robbie Gould’s 11-year career. They needed 15 points in the fourth quarter, the last coming on an epic one-handed catch by tight end Zach Miller of a Jay Cutler pass for a 25-yard touchdown with less than 4 minutes to play.

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“It’s one of those things where instincts take over,” said Miller, whose last touchdown catch came in 2011 before a run of debilitating injuries. “I really didn’t have time to go with two [hands]. [Cutler] put some juice on it and I had to go get it with one and thankfully pulled it down and made the play when it was needed.”

They then gave themselves a three-point lead when Cutler checked out of a pass play and had rookie Jeremy Langford smash in for two points behind an offensive line delighted at the change of play.

“I don’t know what Jay’s rules were to check to it,” said center Matt Slauson, but as soon as soon as he did, we as a line were all, ‘Yeah, here we go!”

To the playoffs? They think so.

Charles Leno says 'it's just gonna suck' without Kyle Long around

Charles Leno says 'it's just gonna suck' without Kyle Long around

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. has a fond place in his heart for right guard Kyle Long. He's probably not alone in the Bears locker room with his feelings for the seven-year pro and three-time Pro Bowler.

Since being selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Long has ascended into a leadership role with the Bears both on and off the field. And while his play in recent seasons has been negatively impacted by a variety of injuries (Long's been limited to just 29 games over the last four years), he still offered an experienced voice in the huddle and an enforcer's mentality after the snap.

But we may have seen the last of Long in a Bears uniform after the team officially placed him on season-ending injured reserve Monday (hip). It was news that Leno struggled to embrace.

“It’s the tale of the league for you,” Leno said from Halas Hall. “He’s been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and that’s just how the league goes. You never know when that time is going to come. His happened so fast. So abrupt. It’s like, ‘Damn. He’s not going to be here.’ So it just sucks. That’s how I look at it — it’s just gonna suck.”

Long hasn't been great this season. His play was progressively getting worse, too. He has the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of any player on Chicago's offense (38.0) and played his worst two games of the year in Weeks 3 and 5 (he missed Week 4 with the hip injury).

It was time to shut him down. Maybe for good.

“This is his words — he said he’s a Bear for life,” Leno said of his conversation with Long. “[Those are] the words I remember him saying. That’s how he wanted to end things.”

That certainly doesn't sound like a player who expects to ever wear a Bears jersey again. It's a shame, but it's also the reality of professional football for an offensive lineman. No position absorbs as much wear and tear as the big uglies up front, and Long is a perfect example. He was once considered the most promising young interior offensive lineman in the NFL just a few years ago. Now, it's anyone's guess if he'll ever play another snap.

“When he was healthy and he was on, he was a dominant football player," Leno said. "I told him plenty of times, ‘Get back to that [2013, 2014, 2015] self.’ It just sucks because so many times he would try to get back to it and had to take a step back. When injuries compile, it’s just really [unfortunate].”

The Bears will look to fill Long's starting role with either Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen or rookie Alex Bars. And while one (or all) of them will provide an upgrade on the field, none will be able to replace Long's larger-than-life presence everywhere else.

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

USA Today

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

The Bears returned to Halas Hall with a flurry of injury updates, most notably involving Kyle Long and Mitch Trubisky

And while the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against New Orleans is still TBD, wide reciever Taylor Gabriel will be back out there. Gabriel technically announced his return via Instagram on Sunday night, but confirmed to reporters on Monday that he's been cleared to play. 

"It’s just good to be back, to be around the guys," he said. "To be on the sideline just watching what’s been going on, I’ve been hungry to get back on the field... I probably practiced the hardest I’ve ever practiced in my life. I just had fun, and am glad I’m back." 

Gabriel suffered a concussion in the second half of the Bears' win in D.C., and dealt with the lingering effects of it up until last week. 

"I just woke up and I felt like myself," he said. "It was just a blessing. You always hear about concussions and all the crazy things. The athletic trainer, they did a great job with the whole process. I’m glad that I’m back."

Gabriel was coming off the best game of his Bears tenure: a six-catch, 75 yard performance that included three first-half touchdowns. The third touchdown – a 36-yarder featuring a highlight-reel catch – showcased the type of wrinkle that the Trubisky-Gabriel connection can bring to the offense. 

"The one thing that Taylor brings is he has that one element of downfield speed that helps out," Matt Nagy said. "So you’re able to take the top off of some defenses with him. And then he’s one of those wide receivers for us, like Allen Robinson, he’s got experience. So there’s a calming in the huddle that you understand that he knows what to do versus certain coverages. He’s coming off a pretty good game in Washington, and unfortunately got hurt, but there’s a calming element to him and then being able to take the top off.”

The Bears also had good news regarding second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols. Nichols returned to practice for the first time since breaking his hand during the Week 2 win in Denver. It's especially good news considering the team expects to be without Akiem Hicks sidelined for the foreseeable future. 

"[I] felt good today," Nichols said. "Just trying to continue to keep moving in the right direction and we'll see where it goes." 

Nichols wouldn't commit to playing on Sunday, and plans to see how he feels after a full week of practice. Nagy indicated that, at this point in his recovery, it's more about getting back into playing shape. 

"He’s been out a couple weeks, so now it’s just the ability for him to show probably more conditioning than anything," he said. "He has that cast on him, but he has the fingers that he’s able to use. Again, if you’re able to be out there and you’re able to suit up and go out there, then to me, let’s go.”

If Nichols is able to play against New Orleans, he'll do so wearing a club for extra protection. This was the first hand injury he's ever suffered, and Nichols admitted that playing with the cast takes some getting used to. Leonard Floyd wore the same type of club during the first half of last season, and has talked with Nichols about how to deal with it. 

"He's giving me a lot of insight and what to expect," Nichols said. "And things that he did that helped him out a lot. You know, we'll see. I'm going to try some things out."