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.

[MORE: Tim Jennings cut by the Bucs]

“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.

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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.