Bears

Bears trying to avoid being road kill for all of 2016

Bears trying to avoid being road kill for all of 2016

One last time the 2016 Bears go into a game faced with a challenge, not to achieve something, but to avoid ignominy, in this case to stave off what would be the worst individual season in terms of wins and losses since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978.

It is not exactly the kind of goal teams set for themselves before a season. This year has been reduced to a final attempt to accomplish a feat that has generally eluded the Bears all season.

The 2015 Bears mysteriously struggled at home, with just one victory at Soldier Field while inexplicably playing to a 5-3 mark on the road – a success rate achieved only by playoff teams last year.

Only the Browns share the Bears’ level of being road kill at 0-7.

And yet the real point of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings matters less in the standings or even in any divisional rivalry, and more with how players are looked at beginning later in the week when personnel evaluations begin in earnest.

“I think these [Halas Hall] rooms don't look the same year to year,” said coach John Fox, himself subject to evaluation but expected to be given a third season to effect a turnaround for a franchise now missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season and ninth time in the last 10. “You know it's not a threat, it's not negative, it's just the reality.

“You know these guys have been doing this long enough even though we're pretty young. But regardless, they understand every one of these [games] is a resume and you know whether it's here or somewhere else. You know it's competitive, it doesn't stay the same, things change, there's drafts, there's free agency, there's just a lot of things that change. So you know they take every one of these about the same, it's another opportunity to perform and show what they’re capable of doing.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

And the winner is…

After the rout at the hands of Washington last week, a game marked by a perceived lack of fire for the first time in quite some time, envisioning a victory over a better team in the opponent’s home arena, during a season in which the Bears haven’t won on the road, is too much of a longshot. The late-game scrappiness that marked Matt Barkley performances in his brief tenure was missing, and even when that has been present, the Bears still weren’t good enough to close the deal in the comebacks vs. Tennessee, Detroit and Green Bay.

Neither team is playing for anything beyond affirming their own professional pride and one last chance to impress the evaluators, or at least the ones still undecided about individual futures.

But the Vikings are simply better than the Bears, with a defense marked with more impact players than Washington’s, and Barkley was flummoxed by that group. The Bears were able to shut down Minnesota in the teams’ first meeting, but that was with Jay Cutler playing his best game of the few he did play in ’16, and Barkley does not threaten the Vikings with what Good Jay brought to bear on them.

The Bears’ season-long futility at generating takeaways has shown no signs of improving. Without that help from the defense, and quarterback Sam Bradford is among the NFL leaders in ball security this season, Bears are simply overmatched.

Bears 10, Vikings 21

View from the Moon ’16 record: 8-7

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

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USA TODAY

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.