Bears

Bears tumble to new lows, into an abyss, in loss to Vikings

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Bears tumble to new lows, into an abyss, in loss to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS – About this time a year ago the Bears were leaving TCF Bank Stadium having lost 13-9 to the Minnesota Vikings, failing a final time under Marc Trestman and leaving questions as to whether Trestman, GM Phil Emery or team president Ted Phillips - or some combination thereof - might be relieved of their duties (Phillips was not).

Coach, general manager and president didn’t leave TCF this time in any job jeopardy. But few Bears (5-9) likely could say the same after the embarrassing 38-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings (9-5) that finally extinguished the playoff thoughts the Bears have all but snuffed out the past two Sundays.

In something befitting BizzaroWorld, the team that slunk out of Minneapolis last year played a better football game than the one that left late Sunday afternoon. This one has lost four of its last five, this game by more points (21) than the combined margins (17) of all five losses since seemingly righting themselves after the 0-3 start to the season.

“Other teams are wanting it more than we do, and that’s the end of the story,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee. “When you want something, you go and take it. Right now, everybody’s not trying to take it; everybody’s just trying to fill it out.

“Me and everybody else has just got to look in the mirror and point at ourselves. We can’t point at each other. What can we have done better to help our team win. That’s what it all about.”

[MORE: Bridgewater scores five times as Vikings fly past Bears]

The Bears were in search of an identity for much of the early season. They thought they’d established one as fighters and finishers after the rebound wins over Oakland and Kansas City. Those have become hollow, distant echoes, the exceptions rather than the rules.

The Bears have on an almost weekly basis in John Fox’s first year to be a team few would confuse with fighters or finishers, or even an average football team at this point.

Their identity now?

“We’re going to find out,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, “We're going to find out. We’re going to find out where we’re at with two games left. We’ll find out who in that locker room has character and wants to finish and who doesn’t.”

Sunday's catastrophe may have answered some of those "find outs," and the answers were ominous. Players already had pegged the last four games as a collective test of character; the Washington loss was one, this was another.

This loss was one thing; the Vikings right now are a better football team than the Bears. It was the manner of the loss, the things that a seemingly demoralized team did and didn’t do after the stunning losses to San Francisco and Washington.

In another in a string of these kinds of games, the Bears destroyed themselves, this time taking what was left of their season with it.

Three times the Bears had chances this season to reach .500 and position themselves for a genuine playoff push. All three times they lost. Sunday was a situation in which the Bears could not be eliminated from the playoffs if they won the game; they did not.

For all of the progress shown by Jay Cutler, the game marked the 12th time in 14 games the offense has been unable to score more than 23 points. The defense has been unable to prevent demoralizing long opening touchdowns in six of the last nine games.

The offense had the football at midfield to start the first and third quarters by virtue of exceptional special teams plays: a 49-yard return of the opening kickoff, a recovered surprise onside kick for the second. Both those possessions were undone by sacks, with a holding penalty on center Hroniss Grasu nullifying a 35-yard run by Matt Forte on the Bears’ first snap of the game; somehow fitting.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

That missed chance to wrest momentum from the outset was exceeded in the third quarter when right tackle Kyle Long was beaten on a straight rush by defensive end Brian Robison, whose strip-sack of Jay Cutler cost the Bears the football and yet another platinum opportunity to do more than just play out the string, in a game or this season.

If there were a need to choose two possessions emblematic of the 2015 seasons, start with those.

A familiar and deadly pattern began almost immediately Sunday in what has become something of a defensive template for Bears failures as this season has wound down: the inability to stop numbing, morale-sapping long drives on opponents’ first possessions.

Besides surrendering a touchdown after the lost fumble to start the half – which combined with the squandered field position to put the Bears down 24-7 instead of perhaps standing 17-14 – the defense allowed the Vikings methodically, almost effortlessly, to go 93 yards in 13 plays for their first touchdown.

That made the Vikings the sixth Bears opponent in the last nine to drive at least 68 yards on their first possession for a touchdown. They also became the 11th of the Bears’ 14 opponents to outscore them in the first quarter, with the Bears 3-8 in those games and now very much a team not good enough, or tough enough mentally or physically, to take the game back.

“It doesn’t matter who we were going to play today,” Cutler said. “We weren’t going to win with our offensive football.”

Cutler need not have limited himself only to the offense.

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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USA TODAY

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

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Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.