Bears

Must-win games ahead on Bears' schedule

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Must-win games ahead on Bears' schedule

Three straight losses have left the Bears decidedly on the outside of the playoffs looking in. They are not playing well enough of offense to offset bonehead mistakes and have gone from 7-3 and in control of a wild-card to a longshot. Only the 1979 team lost three in a row and still reached the postseason. This team will need a lot of losing help in Atlanta and Detroit.

Sept. 11, Atlanta Falcons (8-5) -- W 30-12

Jay Cutler puts up 107.8 passer rating to go with Matt Fortes 158 total yards. Defense holds Matt Ryan and Falcons O without a TD.
Sept. 18, @ New Orleans Saints (10-3) -- L 13-30

Forte nets 166 total yards but Mike Martz eschews the run, Cutler is sacked six times, five in the fourth quarter.
Sept. 25, Green Bay Packers (13-0) -- L 17-27

More Martz mystery: nine run calls for Forte net two yards, Aaron Rodgers controls the game and the ball for 37 minutes 29 seconds.
Oct. 2, Carolina Panthers (4-9) -- W 34-29
Forte runs for 205 yards, Cam Newton passes for 374 yards and Panthers rush for 169. Devin Hester punt return and D.J. Moore INT provide winning points.

Mon. Oct. 10, @ Detroit Lions (8-5) -- L 24-13

Big plays and poor plays get safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather benched. Defensive collapses overshadow dismal OL play.
Sun., Oct. 16, Minnesota Vikings (2-11) -- W 39-10

Cutler throws 48 yards for TD to Hester on third play from scrimmage and Hester goes 98 yards with a KOR while defense sacks Donovan McNabb five times, once for a safety.

Sun., Oct. 23, noon @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) -- W 24-18 (London)

Bears intercept four passes, get out to a 21-5 but then fade in the fourth quarter on both offense and defense, the latter against an offense missing both top RBs and others. But a W is a W.

Oct. 30, Off week

Mon., Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. @ Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) -- W 30-24

A halftime lead, then a fall in the third quarter before 13 unanswered points in a statement win. Forte uncharacteristically loses 2 fumbles but rushes for 133 yards, Cutler throws two TD passes and defense makes stops to finish.

Sun., Nov. 13, 3:15 p.m. Detroit Lions (8-5) -- W 37-13

The offense scored seven, the defense 14 and special teams 16 and all three stood up to occasional thuggishness from assorted Lions. Pulls the Bears even with Detroit in the standings as Lions lose three of four and Bears now have four straight Ws.
Sun., Nov. 20, 3:15 p.m. San Diego Chargers (6-7) -- W 31-20

Cutler breaks the thumb on his throwing hand and long snapper Pat Mannelly lost for the season with torn ACL. Philip Rivers hands away fifth straight game as defense produces three turnovers in the second half and Bears win their fifth straight.
Sun., Nov. 27, 3:05 p.m. @ Oakland Raiders (7-6) -- L 25-20

Caleb Hanies first NFL start begins badly, with three first-half INTs and poor decisions. But 175 passing yards in the fourth quarter bring the Bears to within an onsides kickoff recovery of going for the win.

Sun., Dec., 4, noon Kansas City Chiefs (5-8) -- L 10-3

The loss of Forte to a knee injury lowlights one of the more dismal overall games of 2011 for a Bears team that had the playoffs within reach but has played its way into jeopardy.

Sun., Dec. 11, 3:05 p.m. @ Denver Broncos (8-5) -- L 13-10 OT

Marion Barber goes out of bounds to give Broncos time to tie at the end of regulation, then fumbles to cost Bears a chance at a winning FG, which Denver makes of his gift. Tim Tebow fourth-quarter passing stuns the defense.

Sun., Dec. 18, noon Seattle Seahawks (6-7) Next: BEARS

Seahawks have won four of their last five and are very much a threat, particularly with Marshawn Lynch one of the top rushers in the NFL over the last six games.

Sun., Dec. 25, 7:20 p.m. @ Green Bay Packers (13-0) Next: at Kansas City

Not even a knee injury to Greg Jennings saves the Raiders from a 30-point annihilation. Packers havent lost a game since Dec. 19 last year. Aaron Rodgers has offense in overdrive and if defense is even just slightly above average, perfection is within reach.

Sun., Jan. 1, noon @ Minnesota Vikings (2-11) Next: vs. New Orleans

Getting 28 points on Detroit without Adrian Peterson was impressive but Vikings have nothing left except start planning for next years draft. New Orleans coming in wont make life any easier.

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.”

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 31 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.