Bears

Bears' spiral downward gathers speed in loss to Packers

Bears' spiral downward gathers speed in loss to Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisc. – Sometime last Sunday afternoon the wheels of the Bears 2016 season came off, in the form of the Bears losing 13-0 and 16-7 leads in a fourth quarter to the Jacksonville Jaguars. On Thursday night at Lambeau Field, whatever was left of the season went over a cliff.

The 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, whom the Bears had defeated two of their last three times here, was just the final accounting. The Bears actually took a lead on the Packers when rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd sacked Aaron Rodgers on Green Bay’s third play of the second half, stripped the football and recovered it in the end zone for what was a 10-6 lead at the time.

The Packers (4-2) simply started from their 15 on the next series and drove 85 yards, converting four of four third downs, and reestablished their primacy. And in the process reestablished that any thought of Rodgers coming thudding down to earth was little more than wishful thinking as Rodgers, despite losing No. 1 running back Eddie Lacy and using wide receivers as running backs, threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns. No interceptions.

All of which went into the Bears’ sixth loss in seven games, the first time since 2000 (and 1997 before that) that the Bears have stumbled this wildly to start a season.

More than “a” season, however. Since upsetting the Packers last Thanksgiving, the Bears have lost 10 of their last 12, and this is before the Minnesota Vikings (5-0) come to Soldier Field to mercifully end the first half of a nightmare season.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The only hope, such as it is, lies in the eventual return of what now feels like half the starting lineups on both sides of the football. By the end of the first half, during which quarterback Brian Hoyer was lost with a broken left arm, the Bears were without their No. 1 quarterback (Jay Cutler), No. 2 quarterback (Hoyer), both starting guards (Kyle Long, Josh Sitton), and the NFL’s leading third-down receiver (Eddie Royal), not to mention their best defensive lineman in Eddie Goldman, still down with a high-ankle sprain.

“You lose your starting quarterback, it can be a little disruptive,” said coach John Fox by way of colossal understatement. Whether the weight of injuries had finally become too much, “nobody comes and rescues you,” Fox added.

Fox has directed two turnarounds in his second seasons with the Carolina Panthers (2002 into 2003) and Denver Broncos (2011 into 2012). This season is tracking with some of the worst in Fox’s coaching career. Fox teams have frequently gone into death spirals and pulled out – sort of – albeit not always resulting in trips to playoffs or even truly successful seasons:

Carolina Panthers

Year Developments Finish
2002 3-0 start, lose eight straight 7-9 (Fox's first year)
2004 1-1 start, lose six straight 7-9
2007 4-2 start, lose five straight 7-9
2009 0-3 start, 3-0 finish 8-8
2010 0-5 start, win one, lose seven straight 2-14 (Fox fired)

Denver Broncos

Year Developments Finish
2011 1-4 start, reach 8-5, lose last three 8-8 (playoffs)

Finding a finish anywhere near what Fox has done in previous dismal seasons is far less than unlikely.

“We are all we’ve got,” said Floyd, insisting, “We are buying into it and we will get ready for the next game.”

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.