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Moon: Monster final four awaits on Bears schedule

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Moon: Monster final four awaits on Bears schedule

Monday, Nov. 29, 2010
8:27 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears finished an impressive November with a 4-0 record that included strong wins against NFC rivals Minnesota and Philadelphia. The play of the defense and Jay Cutler make them capable of beating anyone on any given Sunday and they finish the third quarter of the season with the Detroit rematch before a monster final four of teams quite capable of beating them as well.
W 19-14 Sept. 12 vs. Detroit Lions (2-9)
Bears survive four turnovers and red-zone failures to escape with a W after officials rule Calvin Johnson did not complete a potential winning TD catch. Cutler passes for 372 yards, Matt Forte nets 201 yards on 24 touches.

W 27-20 Sept. 19 At Dallas Cowboys (3-8)

Cutlers zero INTs plus in-game adjustments to Dallas pressure produced TD passes to Devin Hester, Greg Olsen and Forte. Physical defense forced three Cowboys turnovers, all involving nickel back D.J. Moore who gets his first two career picks.

W 20-17 Sept. 27 (Mon.) Green Bay Packers (7-4)
Nothing like a truly pivotal game just three weeks into a season. The winner gets the first tiebreak edge and the Bears have a chance to go 3-0 in the NFC. All games are statement games this one comes with an exclamation point.

L 3-17 Oct. 3 At New York Giants (7-4)

The missing pass rush returned to get Cutler and vault the Giants squarely back in the midst of a very tight NFC East race among non-exceptional teams. Cutler was sacked nine times and left at halftime with a concussion that ruled out realistic chances for a comeback.
W 23-6 Oct. 10 At Carolina Panthers (1-10)

A horrendous, 4-interception performance by Todd Collins was offset by 218 rushing yards, 166 by Forte who scored twice, and the defense shutting down the Panthers with 147 yards. Bears finally exploded in a first quarter and stayed with a run commitment with changes in the OL.

L 23-20 Oct. 17 Seattle Seahawks (5-6)

Seattle bumbled to three points in a loss to St. Louis, then came in from the week off to handle the Bears everywhere but special teams. Bears play calling (12 runs, 47 pass plays) becoming an issue as Cutler was sacked six times and Bears rarely got close to laying a hand on Matt Hasselbeck.
L 17-14 Oct. 24 Washington Redskins (5-6)

Cutler throws four INTs to DeAngelo Hall and fumbles at the goal line in another game in which Mike Martz refuses to run the football. Bears lose at home for the second straight week, first time since Lovie Smiths rookie year (2004). Questions now are whether Bears can change course on offense after three miserable performances in last four games.

Oct. 31 Off week

W 22-19 Nov.7 At Buffalo BillsToronto (2-9)

Tim Jennings interception led to a game-winning touchdown in a game that the Bears nearly let get away and gave up three TDs on defense for just the second time this season (Seattle). Cutler managed the offense with some control and the offensive line allowed just one sack while coaches committed to the run enough to call 26 plays on the ground.
W 27-13 Nov. 14 Minnesota Vikings (4-7)
In a best game of the season with all three phases playing well, the Bears all but bury the season for a dysfunctional Vikings team that has a quarterback done after the season and head coach possibly sooner. Cutler throws three TD passes and backs carry 32 times; defense gets four takeaways; and Hester shows he hasnt forgotten how to return kickoffs as well as punts.

W 16-0 Nov. 18 At Miami Dolphins (6-5)

The defense recorded the first shutout since 06 and the offense, while not punching in red-zone opportunities the way it needs to, was efficient. A third straight game with 30 or more rushes was a first for a Mike Martz offense and has helped the offensive line settle in and taken pressure off Cutler. The result is another solid game of third-down conversions against a respectable defense.
W 31-26 Nov. 28 Philadelphia Eagles (7-4)

The building continues with a new high for Cutler passing as he throws four TDs on just 21 attempts and Forte runs for 117 yards in 14 carries. The defense stays basic to deal with Michael Vick, who gets some passing yards but into the end zone only twice.
Dec. 5 at Detroit Lions (2-9) Next: vs. BEARS

The Lions were toe-to-toe with New England at 24-all after three quarters on Thanksgiving, then were blown away in the perfect passing game of Tom Brady that produced 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points. Detroit has lost four straight, cant run the ball and has been reduced to the dreaded role of spoiler, which they would like to be for the Bears.

Dec. 12 New England Patriots (9-2) Next: vs. NY Jets (MNF)

The Pats trailed Detroit at halftime and could not pull away until late against a team with nothing to play for. The impression is growing that the Pats play as well as they need to, which will be pushed to the limit in a showdown with the Jets, a game that features two of the Bears next three opponents after Detroit.

Dec. 20 At Minnesota Vikings (4-7) Next: vs. Buffalo

Winning the first game of Leslie Fraziers NFL coaching career was solid motivation and beating the Redskins in Washington was a respectable victory. Brett Favre not throwing an interception for just the second time this season is not good news for the Bears, who would like to count on his help when they see him on MNF in a few weeks.
Dec. 26 New York Jets (9-2) Next: at New England (MNF)
The woeful Cincinnati Bengals were no challenge (26-10) for the Jets, who are off to the second-best start in franchise history. The Jets have beaten Cincinnati three times in less than a year but this Bengals team (2-9) is not going to the wild-card round the way last years did.

Jan. 2 at Green Bay Packers (7-4) Next: vs. San Francisco

QB Aaron Rodgers was able to throw the Packers into a late tie vs. Atlanta but the Falcons issued a statement of sorts by defending home field against a potential playoff opponent. QB Matt Ryan was Rodgers equal in a matchup of two of the NFCs true elite quarterbacks. Packers need to firm up their run defense after Michael Turner ripped off 110 yards on 23 carries.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.