Bears

Bears steamrolled by Cardinals, lose Jay Cutler in the process

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Bears steamrolled by Cardinals, lose Jay Cutler in the process

It's not how you start, it's how you finish. 

However, the Bears didn't follow that old adage as they followed up their inauspicious start with a duplicate finish as they were annihilated by the Arizona Cardinals, 48-23, at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon.

And to make matters worse, the blemish on their now 0-2 record isn't the only thing they suffered in defeat: Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler (8-for-9, 120 yards) could be out for the foreseeable future after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half

Late in the second quarter with the Bears trailing the Cardinals, 21-14, Cutler threw a pass that was intended for tight end Martellus Bennett (four receptions, 48 yards), who appeared to have stopped his route, and Arizona defensive back Tony Jefferson stepped in to make an easy interception and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. While trying to make the tackle, Cutler appeared to have landed awkwardly on his shoulder. He immediately went into the locker room with the team training staff and the Bears ruled him out for the remainder of the game with a hamstring injury.

[MORE: Bears: Jay Cutler out vs. Cardinals after suffering hamstring injury]

The Cutler injury was just the cherry on the top to a brutal day that seemed destined for failure from the start.

Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears in a 7-0 hole before they even got their hands on the ball. 

Before the injury Cutler managed to keep the Bears in the game with a near perfect start. Late in the first quarter, Cutler connected with Josh Bellamy (one reception, 48 yards) who was wide open down the left sidelines for his first career NFL reception resulting in a 48-yard touchdown to even the game.

The Cardinals (2-0) quick-strike offense answered the Bellamy touchdown just over two minutes later when Carson Palmer (17-of-24, 185 yards, four touchdowns) connected with wide receiver Jaron Brown for a six-yard score. The play was set up in the red zone when Michael Floyd drew a pass interference penalty inside the 10-yard line on Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.

A seesaw battle for nearly 25 minutes was knotted up for the second and final time when Bears rookie running back Jeremy Langford (six carries, 21 yards) scampered into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

That would be the closest the Bears came as the Cardinals outscored the hosts, 34-9, over the final 34 minutes of the contest, highlighted by a resurgence from Cardinals veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who had eight receptions for 112 yards and three touchdowns. 

Backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen struggled in relief of Cutler, finishing the game 14-of-23 for 121 yards and an interception. 

The Bears tied a franchise record for penalty yards in a single game (170) as they compiled 14 penalties for 170 yards.

Chicago will look to earn its first victory of the John Fox era when they travel to Seattle take on the defending NFC champion Seahawks in Week 3.

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. 

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

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USA Today

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

The Bears are back in Chicago and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in town! With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Pats matchup: