Cutler injured as turnovers doom Bears in home-opening loss

Cutler injured as turnovers doom Bears in home-opening loss

It didn't take long for the boos to rain down from Soldier Field.

The Bears went into halftime trailing by just two points, but wound up turning the ball over three times in a 14-minute span, handing the Philadelphia Eagles a 29-14 win in the Chicago home opener.

Jay Cutler was responsible for two of those turnovers, losing a fumble on a sack on the Bears' first drive of the second half and then throwing an interception in the shadow of his own endzone.

The pick was Cutler's last play of the night as he entered the locker room with a hand injury.

The Eagles, meanwhile, shot themselves in the foot with a couple of ill-timed penalities and drops early as rookie quarterback Carson Wentz looked impressive, but Philadelphia had to settle for field goals early.

Once the Bears offense started getting sloppy with the ball, the Eagles took advantage, scoring touchdowns on each of the three ensuing possessions.

The Bears defense looked as if they provided a spark, stuffing the Eagles at the goal line on a fourth-down attempt in the fourth quarter, but Leonard Floyd was lined up offside, giving the Eagles another chance, which they promptly converted to put the game well out of reach.

John Fox and the Bears coaching staff said they were going to commit to the running game this week, but the offense came out with only 10 yards on the ground on seven first-half carries.

The tide turned briefly in the second half with 51 rushing yards in the third quarter, including a couple of nice runs from Jeremy Langford and rookie Jordan Howard before Cutler's fumble.

The Bears suffered a slew of injures beyond Cutler, with Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan, Lamarr Houston and Ka'Deem Carey all leaving the game with ailments and not returning.

Before he left the game, Cutler was 12-of-17 for 157 yards and one interception.

In Cutler's place, Brian Hoyer completed 9 passes on 12 attempts for 78 yards.

Langford finished with the Bears' only offensive touchdown - a one-yard scamper in the second quarter. He tallied just 2.5 yards per carry (28 yards on 11 carries) on the evening and also lost a fumble.

Eddie Royal provided the second Bears score when he took a punt 65 yards to the house late in the fourth quarter when the game was already well in hand.

The Bears defense held the Eagles to less than 300 yards of offense (280) and did tally seven deflected passes coupled with a pair of sacks.

But the turnovers gave the Eagles short fields to work with and they capitalized to push their record to 2-0 while the Bears fall to 0-2 to begin the 2016 campaign.

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

USA Today

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

The Bears battle for the 53-man roster doesn’t have many contentious positions entering training camp.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy brought back largely the same roster from their breakout 2018 season, finding replacements for the few players gone in free agency.

Outside of kicker, the entire starting lineup is pretty much set for Week 1, and the main competitions to stick with the team are at the bottom of the depth chart.

It leaves the roster with no notable veterans that stand out as candidates to be cut. ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson was asked to name one for an article, and he couldn’t come up with any.

He mentioned Taquan Mizzell, who made the move from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but as Dickerson pointed out “Mizzell is hardly a well-known commodity around the league.”

Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but the Bears have seemed comfortable keeping him around in a backup role.

The Bears roster has very little fat to trim. The only other player who could potentially qualify is cornerback Sherrick McManis, since the team has so many young players at his position, but he’s been working at safety to increase his value, and he’s one of the team’s best special teams contributors.

The trim down from the 90-man roster shouldn’t have too many significant surprises, which is why so much of the attention this offseason continues to go to the kicker position.

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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