Mullin: NFC North makes a statement in Week 1


Mullin: NFC North makes a statement in Week 1

Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011
Posted: 2:25 p.m.

By John Mullin Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Around the NFC North

The first game weekend was an NFC North statement, if there are really such things. The Bears, Lions and Packers all hung losses on the best of the NFC South, and the Lions win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was on the road. Add the Vikings near-upset of the AFC West favorite Chargers (San Diego trailed until 5 minutes to play) and the North acquitted itself very, very well....

Matthew Stafford was exactly as expected in the win over Tampa Bay, with 305 passing yards. What was even more impressive was the passer rating of 118.9, meaning efficiency with not many turnovers (1 INT), and he had a 9.24-yd. average per attempt....Coach Jim Schwartz was incensed at some of his players for stupid plays, but a key here is that the Lions of the last decade always made stupid plays. They just werent good enough to overcome them....

Minnesota will be better, not necessarily good since adding quarterback Donovan McNabb. But the Vikings wont get much better unless McNabb can give them more than 39 passing yards, as he did at San Diego. Probably a blip, but theres a reason why Andy Reid and Mike Shanahan werent concerned about letting him go....

Around the schedule

The Bears had the good fortune last season of facing some teams missing key players and that will be the case Sunday with the Saints. Wide receiver Marques Colston will be out for at least the next month with a broken collarbone suffered in the Green Bay game....

Lovie Smith has never lost to the New Orleans Saints in four meetings, all from 2005-2008. The Dick Jauron Bears teams lost three straight to New Orleans (2000-2003, with the 2002 game being played at the University of Ilinois while Soldier Field was being built onto. The contest was moved over to LSUs Tiger Stadium because of the damage wrought by Katrina....

Cam Newton made the Carolina Panthers headlines with his 422 passing yards, a rookie record. But the Panthers also lost the game and, worse, lost Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason from a defense that already was among the NFLs worst....

Around the NFL

Hot starts, anyone? Exactly four quarterbacks finished 2010 with passer ratings of 100 or better Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick. The first weeks games produced 12, and neither Rivers nor Vick were among em.

Usual stuff

Brian Urlacher had 10 tackles, an interception, recovered fumble taken in for a touchdown, a tackle for loss and a pass deflection. For some linebackers playing against that Atlanta Falcons offense, that would be a career game.

Not for Urlacher. Not even his best game against the Falcons.

Urlacher was named NFC defensive player of the week after the Oct. 7, 2001 game in Atlanta in which he had 8 tackles, a sack, an interception of Vick, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble and a 90-yard TD return of a fumble (Vick didnt catch him). Urlacher wasnt interested in numbers or history after Sundays game.

"We won the game, thats all I care about, Urlacher said. Stats, this and that, you can have all that. There were a lot of questions about our team coming into the season. We are starting 1-0. We just need to keep going.

Important stuff

The annual coat drive run by Bears head equipment manager Tony Medlin is getting underway and will run through Dec. 4 with various drop-off points at Jewel-Oscos in the Chicago area. More than 25,000 coats were distributed last year but the goal is higher for 2011 and has a special target.

Sometimes you look around and see kids without a coat and we definitely want to stress that, for kids, Medlin said.

The drive is a joint effort by the Bears with Jewel-Osco, the Salvation Army and William Meyer Movers. For more information, including if you need a coat, check the teams website Chicagobears.comcommunity or call 773-205-3636.

Its a great thing that Tony does, said Urlacher.

John "Moon" Mullin is'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.

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only a few at that level (Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.