Lessons from Bears loss to Bengals, good or bad, impossible to sort out


Lessons from Bears loss to Bengals, good or bad, impossible to sort out

Upon reviews, bad games and performances are rarely as bad as they seemed at the time. And the good ones are likewise seldom as good as they were on first impression. 

That may be the case with the Bears’ 21-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But how does anyone know? The 2015 preseason has become one of the most useless previews in recent recollection, regardless of wins and losses.

Apart from isolated individual good plays, it is difficult to envision mitigating details showing up on film that didn’t show up on the field of Paul Brown Stadium Saturday night.

But the real problem with assessing the state of the Bears (2-1) is the continuing flood of injuries, which have served to illustrate that some members of the depth charts are not starter-grade NFL material should they be called upon. (Special teams not so much, with that unit piling up five penalties of its own.)

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But if you thought the Bears were a bad team, Saturday confirmed it. If you believe they’ll be better than people think, you have injuries as a rationale for what you saw and didn’t see in Cincinnati.

The offense? Besides the projected top four wide receivers all out with injuries, what positive there was for a No. 1 offense that failed to score a touchdown in its third and longest appearance on the field lay in Jay Cutler remaining turnover-free even with a complement of wide receivers, all of which will not be in the NFL when someone starts keeping score for real.

In fact the Bears have turned the ball over just once (an interception of Jimmy Clausen at Indianapolis) in 171 plays. After Cutler led the NFL with a personal total of 24 and the Bears averaged one turnover every 34.7 plays last season, this is at least something. The fact that the Bears haven’t done much with the ball except hang onto it is another question entirely and one that won’t get a major test in game situations until the Green Bay Packers are at Soldier Field on Sept. 13.

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“I don’t want to take anything away from the [receiver] group out there [Saturday],” Cutler said. “What we asked them to do, they did well. Those guys went out there and played hard, they made some catches when I put the ball on them. We had a little bit of rhythm in that two-minute drive, and they did well. If we get guys back, great, and if not, I think all the guys we have right now did well.”

“Well” being a relative term considering the circumstances, in which Cutler clearly is grading on a curve.

The defense? The Bears lost two of their top three defensive linemen before Cincinnati had finished even one possession. The play of the secondary, which saw Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron go 12-for-12 and convert 71 percent of third downs, traces to what is or isn’t happening up in front of them. 

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The defensive line, which opened with arguably its "hoped-for starters" for Week 1 – Eddie Goldman, Jarvis Jenkins, Jeremiah Ratliff – was without Goldman (concussion) and Ratliff (foot) even before the end of the first Cincinnati drive. Given that the line is the bedrock of either side of the football, critiquing the overall is an exercise in futility. 

Defensive backs and linebackers didn’t tackle well; easy evaluation. But until the Bears have something close to their best front, good luck finding meaningful conclusions, good or bad, in what’s played out so far.

Rob Gronkowski "highly unlikely" to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski "highly unlikely" to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday after despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”