Bears

Distractions = disaster; Have Bears handled Hurd affair?

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Distractions = disaster; Have Bears handled Hurd affair?

A team that cannot afford distractions was hit with a massive one last week when the Bears were informed that wide receiver Sam Hurd had been arrested on drug charges. The immediate impact was players being peppered with questions relative to absolutely nothing connected to the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The Bears will be focused on Sunday; game days are not when distractions do their real damage. That was late in the week when the events were swirling around the players at a time when their days are typically spent solely in preparation for a football game.

Its stuff we have to deal with with you media but football-wise its not going to be an issue, linebacker Brian Urlacher insisted. Well go out and practice like we do every day and put it behind us when Sunday gets here and the games over and we get asked more questions about it.

Coach Lovie Smith has generally done a strong job of keeping his teams on mission. That has been no small task this year: lockout, training-camp problems with practice disruptions due to lightning and power loss, a game in London, a trip to Soldier Field for an aborted practice in front of fans not including injuries to a starting quarterback and running back, plus monster mistakes by Marion Barber and Roy Williams in addition to non-winning play from quarterback Caleb Hanie.

Of course a lot has happenedI guess you could say, Smith said. But for us, I look at what the team is doing. They come to work both Thursday and Friday. We've talked to them about what's going on. But that's on the outside. It's still about Seattle for us. All of our focus we're trying to keep on that.
Simple mission
No team in franchise history has lost four straight games and reached the postseason. With Atlanta refusing to lose, Detroit ahead of them in the wild-card race, and Seattle just a game back at this point, not a lot of analysis is required.

From here on out, every game is big for us, said center Roberto Garza. To stay in the mix, we have to win. Thats one of our main goals is obviously getting to the playoffs, so we have to start out with a victory to get going. We have to learn from the things that were doing well and obviously correct the things that were not.

Detroit has Oakland away, San Diego in Detroit and the Packers in Green Bay remaining. They could well lose all three. The Bears need to have put themselves in leapfrog position if they do.
Duly noted

Seattle quarterbacks have been sacked 41 times this season, 33 of them suffered by Tavaris Jackson. Only Arizona, Miami, Minnesota and St. Louis, all with losing records, have given up as many or more. The Bears have allowed 38 and nearly one-fifth (7) of those came in the Kansas City debacle.

Few teams have been consistently as good as the bears against the run. But cracks are beginning to show. The defense allowed 100 rushing yards in just one of the five wins that pushed them to 7-3 but has given up 73, 113 and 124 in the last three games, and the three losses were to teams (Oakland, Kansas City, Denver) that were willing to stick to the run even without dramatic success. Oakland ran 27 times, Kansas City 37 and Denver 34.

The Bears controlled Willis McGahee in Denver (17 carries, 34 yards), held off Dexter McCluster of Kansas City (9 carries, 61 yards) and shut down Michael Bush in Oakland (24 carries, 69 yards).

But no back in the NFL has been more effective over the last six games than Seattles Marshawn Lynch, who has 706 rushing yards and has scored seven touchdowns (six rushing) over those six games.

Rivalry game? Or just a must-win? Either way, it's the biggest game of the year for the Bears

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USA Today

Rivalry game? Or just a must-win? Either way, it's the biggest game of the year for the Bears

Akiem Hicks couldn’t help but laugh when he heard the question. 

When holding his media session on Monday afternoon, the star defensive tackle – who’s returned to practice and will be eligible to play on Sunday – was pressed on whether he’d circled December 15th on the calendar. 

“It's a pretty specific date, so, yeah,” he admitted. “I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly. One of the things I really focused on was just making sure my elbow was in the strongest place possible. We still have some finishing up to do and there's all these dates to make gains and get a little bit better. Just working on that.” 

He’s certainly not the only one in Chicagoland, or even Lake Forest, who’s had this Sunday circled for a while now. It’s Packers Week, and an important one at that; while a loss in Green Bay (10-3) alone isn’t technically season-ending (a combination of other results would also have to happen), it would sink the Bears’ playoff odds below 1%. The best-case scenario (Bears win, Rams/Vikings loss) would raise that to 17% with two games left. 

“The help stuff, yeah, we've created that,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “We're in a position now where we've gotta have help. But none of that matters if we don't win. It means nothing. Let's just control what we can control. Let's win, do everything we can to win this week, see what happens, let it play out. Every week is so different.” 

They’re not short on motivation, but there’s never a lack of energy during Packers Week. It helps that the Matt Nagy chapter has almost always featured important and/or exciting editions: Week 1 of 2018 was his first game as a head coach and featured Rodgers’ one-legged comeback; Eddie Jackson clinched the NFC North for the Bears with an interception off Rodgers in Soldier Field’s south end zone 14 weeks later. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last year and the league offices still chose this rivalry to open its 100th season, and while the game wasn’t what you’d call *good*, it was what’d you’d call *close*. 

“I think we had some adversity, but I also think we stayed in it,” said Allen Robinson of the Bears’ 10-3 loss. “We got close to making some plays that we needed to – we just didn’t finish. Looking back it, with it being Week 1, I didn’t think we played perfectly, but I don’t think we played that bad.”

The Bears haven’t won in Green Bay since 2015, one of the two times they’ve won at Lambeau Field in the last decade. Aaron Rodgers seems to have taken a particular delight in putting up gaudy numbers against the Bears over that stretch: he has more touchdown passes (46) against Chicago than he does against any other team. Recent history isn’t on their side, but for whatever it’s worth, the Bears will go into Sunday’s game with about as much confidence as they’ve had all year – mostly because, as Nagy said with a smile equal parts amusement and relief, “winning helps. Winning helps for sure.” 

When asked about the significance of another chapter in Bears-Packers history playing out during this last three week run, some players were more animated about the rivalry than others. They realistically need to beat everyone to even have a chance at the Wild Card, and given how much the players have talked about a greater attention to detail and execution over this win streak, their focus has felt exceedingly internal. With that said, it’s still Bears-Packers, and Akiem Hicks is coming back. 

“No, nothing’s like Green Bay-Chicago, man. It’s just different,” he said. 

“One of the first things that I was told when I signed here was, ‘If you don't win any game this year, beat the Packers.” 

Roquan Smith's 2019 had ups-and-downs, but it ends with more optimism than ever

Roquan Smith's 2019 had ups-and-downs, but it ends with more optimism than ever

Roquan Smith’s season is over. 

During his Monday morning press conference, Matt Nagy announced that Smith did in fact tear a pectoral muscle and will be placed on injured reserve. 

“[It’s] unfortunate for him,” Nagy added. “He’s really putting together a good year. But he’ll bounce back and that’s that.” 

Not only did Smith’s injury come at the worst possible time for the Bears – two of their last three games are against NFC North rivals on the road – but the injury ends what was the best extended run of play in the second-year linebacker’s career. He'll undergo surgery to fix the muscle, and the timeline for his return is still unclear. 

“I really thought you felt him – especially here in the last several games – really turning it on, really playing fast,” Nagy said. “He’s always had that – every play that he gets, every game that he plays, for the rest of his career, he’s only gonna get better and better in my opinion.”

Comparing his two seasons on paper would suggest that Smith regressed after a Pro Bowl-caliber rookie season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's remarkable that he may still finish the season as the team leader in tackles, not to mention the fact that he was on pace to eclipse last season's stats. He would have needed a few more big games, but going into Thursday night, Smith had logged double-digit tackles in four of his last five starts, including a career-high (16) in their Thanksgiving win just a week before. He finishes 2019 with 100 tackles, two sacks and one interception in 12 games played.

“One thing you can say about Roquan is he will run sideline to sideline,” Akiem Hicks added. “I mean, he just has a pair of wheels on him that just won't stop. That's one of the things that separates him is he can get anywhere you need him to be, whether it's coverage or chasing a running back in the flats. It's pretty impressive.”

Nagy and the Bears talked at length on Monday about the ‘ebb and flow’ of an NFL season, especially as it pertains to younger players. He was quick to dismiss the idea that the mysterious-now-bordering-on-infamous personal absence, which caused Smith to miss Week 4’s win over Minnesota, in any way negatively affected how the organization views Smith’s year-to-year progress. His toughness has never been questioned – Prince Amukamara admitted that he was pretty confident Smith tore the muscle several plays before he came out – and coaches have been pleased with how he stepped up as a leader, especially in Danny Trevathan’s absence. 

“Well last year, coming in missing training camp and then being a rookie with an experienced defense – that can be challenging and he did a good job,” Nagy said. “Then coming into this year, you could sense his personality – you could see it extend a little bit more. You could see the relationships he had with those guys. You could see Danny Trevathan really take him under his wing and that was very important. So he's a guy that's really been growing …” 

And now the Bears head into the three straight weeks of playoff games that aren’t playoff games with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis as their starting inside linebacker duo. It’s a far cry from what the envisioned in Bourbonnais, but Kwiatkoski has earned himself more money every week, and as his top-grade performance against the Cowboys showed, KPL is no slouch either. Pierre-Louis is in line to make only the second start of his six-year career when the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday. 

“Once again, it’s just going back to knowing your ‘Why,’” Pierre-Louis said. “Why you grind each week, why you do the drills, why you go through the reps in practice. It’s times like this when you lean on your brothers. Ro’s down right now, and he’s going to need us for moral support…

“We have the right pieces. I just have to make sure that I do my job, and the rest of the team is going to have my back.”