Bears

Bengals maul Bears No. 1 defense for 210 yards, 21 points in first half

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Bengals maul Bears No. 1 defense for 210 yards, 21 points in first half

CINCINNATI – The third preseason game is usually the one where starters play into the third quarter. Since most of the defense didn’t play much of the first two quarters while the Cincinnati Bengals were piling up 21 points and 210 yards, Fox pulled most of the No. 1’s to start the third quarter, apparently seeing little reason for making the Bengals feel any better about themselves than they already did.

“I just don’t think we played as tight and as sharp as we did a week ago [beating Indianapolis],” Fox said. “Most of that was on third down, in particular defensively.”

Cincinnati quarterbacks Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron completed all 12 of their first-half passes, the principal reason the Bengals converted 71 percent (five of seven) third downs in the first half when the game was decided.

And for the disturbing second time in three preseason games, the Bears’ defense with injuries continuing to pile up was pushed methodically backwards for a touchdown on an opponent’s opening possession. And it wasn’t just once.

In game one it was the Miami Dolphins running 14 plays to cover 85 yards, and taking 8 minutes to do it, for their one touchdown.

[MORE: 'No turnovers' a rare bright spot in Bears loss to Bengals]

This time it was the Cincinnati Bengals driving 77 yards and taking 16 plays and 9 minutes 11 seconds to do it. But while the second-string defense rallied somewhat in the Miami game, the No. 1 unit had it happen again with a drive covering 71 yards in the second quarter.

“We'll all look at this and think, 'What can we do better?'” said linebacker Jared Allen. “We all expect to play well. We're all going to compete to push each other. I think we have a lot of depth at that position, but I think it's still new to us.

“So we've got to keep on grinding, keep on pushing it. Take coaching. There's always highs, there's always lows. Again, we'll learn from it. It's better it happened now, then let it happen when the games count. It's a learning tool.”

Defensive line

The misfortunes along the defensive front took a devastating turn early against the Bengals when nose tackle Eddie Goldman, a pivotal player already because of the coming suspension of Jeremiah Ratliff, had to be escorted to the sideline with a possible concussion after an unsuccessful goal-line stand in the first quarter. The news worsened when Ratliff was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury, about which coach John Fox said only that “it’s not broken.”

Ratliff has not played 16 games in a season since 2011 and won’t this year because of the three-game suspension for a DWI incident. Ratliff took an inside rush of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the first quarter, lost containment and allowed Dalton to convert a third-and-6 with an eight-yard scramble. His suspension guarantees a month of uninterrupted healing time for his ankle, after which.

[RELATED: The good (and bad) standouts from the Bears' loss to the Bengals]

Will Sutton delivered a much-needed stop on a third-and-1 early in the second quarter when the Bears needed a play by someone after a disappointing start on both sides of the football. “Will was a force,” said linemate Ego Ferguson. Sutton, playing extensively at nose tackle with the Goldman and Ratliff injuries, got excellent pad level vs. the bigger Cincinnati linemen.

Linebackers

The loss of two starting defensive linemen – Goldman and Ratliff – did the linebackers and run defense in general no favors. The group turned in a handful of individual impact plays but was not able to consistently get pressure against the Cincinnati offensive line.

Lamarr Houston had his best day since last year’s New England Patriots game when he tore his ACL on a sack celebration. This time Houston, working at right outside linebacker, collected two sacks and was generally strong at the point closing against the run.

Shea McClellin had his name called for three tackles on the initial Cincinnati drive but all were after gains and two after pass completions. His night continued spiraling when he was called for roughing the passer on a blitz of backup quarterback A.J. McCarron in the second quarter.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Jared Allen made two open-field stops in the first half, making tackles despite being locked up with Bengals blockers.

After a strong showing against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, Pernell McPhee was an overall non-factor throughout.

The defense was without outside linebacker Sam Acho, who practiced all week but was ill and held out of Saturday’s game. Acho was one of the defensive standouts through the first two preseason games, with a sack and quarterback hit in each game plus one tackle for loss, interception and pass broken up.

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

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USA Today

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

The Bears returned to Halas Hall with a flurry of injury updates, most notably involving Kyle Long and Mitch Trubisky

And while the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against New Orleans is still TBD, wide reciever Taylor Gabriel will be back out there. Gabriel technically announced his return via Instagram on Sunday night, but confirmed to reporters on Monday that he's been cleared to play. 

"It’s just good to be back, to be around the guys," he said. "To be on the sideline just watching what’s been going on, I’ve been hungry to get back on the field... I probably practiced the hardest I’ve ever practiced in my life. I just had fun, and am glad I’m back." 

Gabriel suffered a concussion in the second half of the Bears' win in D.C., and dealt with the lingering effects of it up until last week. 

"I just woke up and I felt like myself," he said. "It was just a blessing. You always hear about concussions and all the crazy things. The athletic trainer, they did a great job with the whole process. I’m glad that I’m back."

Gabriel was coming off the best game of his Bears tenure: a six-catch, 75 yard performance that included three first-half touchdowns. The third touchdown – a 36-yarder featuring a highlight-reel catch – showcased the type of wrinkle that the Trubisky-Gabriel connection can bring to the offense. 

"The one thing that Taylor brings is he has that one element of downfield speed that helps out," Matt Nagy said. "So you’re able to take the top off of some defenses with him. And then he’s one of those wide receivers for us, like Allen Robinson, he’s got experience. So there’s a calming in the huddle that you understand that he knows what to do versus certain coverages. He’s coming off a pretty good game in Washington, and unfortunately got hurt, but there’s a calming element to him and then being able to take the top off.”

The Bears also had good news regarding second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols. Nichols returned to practice for the first time since breaking his hand during the Week 2 win in Denver. It's especially good news considering the team expects to be without Akiem Hicks sidelined for the foreseeable future. 

"[I] felt good today," Nichols said. "Just trying to continue to keep moving in the right direction and we'll see where it goes." 

Nichols wouldn't commit to playing on Sunday, and plans to see how he feels after a full week of practice. Nagy indicated that, at this point in his recovery, it's more about getting back into playing shape. 

"He’s been out a couple weeks, so now it’s just the ability for him to show probably more conditioning than anything," he said. "He has that cast on him, but he has the fingers that he’s able to use. Again, if you’re able to be out there and you’re able to suit up and go out there, then to me, let’s go.”

If Nichols is able to play against New Orleans, he'll do so wearing a club for extra protection. This was the first hand injury he's ever suffered, and Nichols admitted that playing with the cast takes some getting used to. Leonard Floyd wore the same type of club during the first half of last season, and has talked with Nichols about how to deal with it. 

"He's giving me a lot of insight and what to expect," Nichols said. "And things that he did that helped him out a lot. You know, we'll see. I'm going to try some things out."

Putting Kyle Long on IR was necessary for the Bears, but that doesn't make it sting any less

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USA Today

Putting Kyle Long on IR was necessary for the Bears, but that doesn't make it sting any less

For the fourth season in a row, Kyle Long’s season ends on injured reserve. 

Matt Nagy opened Monday's daily press conference –– his first since the morning after losing to Oakland –– officially announcing that the right guard’s season is over. 

“Obviously everyone has seen the news [about] Kyle, with putting him on the IR,” he said. “I think it's a tough situation just because of what he's been going through and where he's at … He's always been really good to us and what he's done. We just felt like that was where he's at right now and it's what we wanted to do.” 

Long’s nagging hip injury was clearly affecting his play, and the team felt – given all the run game struggles – that trying to fight through it on a week-by-week basis was no longer a realistic option. And while it’s true that Long came into 2019 camp as healthy as he’d been in years, the wear and tear of three injury-shortened seasons on the 30-year old guard were evident. 

The news was especially tough to swallow for those around Halas Hall given Long’s reputation among teammates and coaches. A first-round pick in 2013 with multiple Pro-Bowls, he was one of the team’s vocal leaders and well-liked throughout all corners of the locker room. 

“Kyle [is] a great dude,” Bilal Nichols said. “My whole rookie year, Kyle helped me out a lot because I lined up against him every day. Guys like him is why I had a pretty good season as a rookie last year.”

“You get a guy like Kyle, who’s poured his heart and soul into this organization and has worked really hard to be dominant in a lot of areas,” Nagy added. “We appreciate that. I’ve only been with him for a year and a half but I appreciate the way that he’s gone about things.”

Now the Bears turn to Rashaad Coward and Ted Larsen – the latter of which returned to practice after missing the Raiders game with a knee injury. Despite his relative inexperience playing on the interior (and frankly, on the offense in general), the team’s eager to see how Coward’s athleticism can help a running game that’s only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. 

He hasn’t been named the starter yet, but was taking first-team reps on Monday afternoon. 

“I just want to play with a dog mentality,” Coward said. “It’s the NFL. Guys come out here and try to kill you every week. So you can’t go out there playing soft. You’re going to get pushed around. And I don’t like that.” 

He also conceded that he was pleasantly surprised by how well he adjusted to having to be an emergency guard in the Bears’ win over Minnesota. Coward hadn’t gotten interior reps during that week of practice, and had to sub in when Larsen hurt his knee. 

“Going into the game, I was like F it,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s either you do it or you don’t.”

“Coaches were like, ‘Hey, this is what you’re supposed to do.’ At the end of the day, just keep it going.” 

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