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.

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

USA Today

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

Chicago Bears left tackle Charle Leno, Jr. has outplayed expectations after joining the team as a seventh-round pick in 2014. General manager Ryan Pace rewarded Leno for his play with a four-year, $38 million extension last offseason, committing to the former Boise State product as the Bears' blindside protector for the immediate future.

Leno joined his teammates at the team's annual Bears Care Gala on Saturday and said new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is going to make him and his linemates better.

"We love Harry, let's just get that out of the way," Leno told 670 the Score's Mark Grote. "Harry is a great coach. I saw what he did for guys that he coached in college and the guys that were before us here in Chicago. He's getting us better."

Hiestand's efforts at Notre Dame produced four first-round picks: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style back to Chicago, where he last served under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. 

STANKEVITZ: In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Leno enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. His 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the best of all Bears linemen and his highest overall mark over the last four years. He finished 15th among all tackles graded by PFF last season.

Regardless, Leno still has to impress his new coach just like every other offensive lineman on the roster. The Bears haven't added any competition for Leno, but his fate as the team's long-term answer at left tackle could be decided by Hiestand.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”