Bears

Takeaways from Super Bowl 50: Templates there for Bears

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Takeaways from Super Bowl 50: Templates there for Bears

For anyone doubting that the Bears can win a Super Bowl with Jay Cutler as their quarterback, the Denver Broncos won one with a quarterback (Peyton Manning) taking five sacks, throwing an interception and zero touchdown passes, and a rating of 56.6 while directing an offense to exactly 194 total yards, the lowest output ever by a Super Bowl winner.

Even Rex Grossman managed to throw for a score and a 68.3 rating in the Bears’ losing Super Bowl.

But the mission statement for GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, not that this is anything other than precisely what they were following already, is to develop a defense that may not assure wins on its own (Grossman’s couldn’t), but one that ensures that the Bears are always in positions to have chances at wins.

[MORE: Broncos ride suffocating defense to Super Bowl victory over Panthers]

Eight teams have gone into Super Bowls with the No. 1 defense of their season. Seven of those won rings.

John Elway specifically alluded to the fact that the Broncos drafted defense with their past five No. 1 picks, beginning with Von Miller in Fox’s first year there (2011). It would be no great surprise if the Bears went exactly that route, in free agency and the draft, beginning in 2016 with multiple impact disruptors in the front seven.

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Cam Newton was crushed, myriad ways. He’ll be a long time answering questions about why he didn’t dive in after his fourth-quarter fumble, the strip-sack by Miller that turned into the true coup de grace when the Panthers had the football with four minutes to play and a chance to drive for a potential winning score.

[GALLERY: Broncos crowned Super Bowl 50 champions]

The postgame pouting was bothersome. This was Bill Laimbeer or Marshawn Lynch spitting in the face of the moment. It happens; Walter Payton hid in a broom closet after a WINNING Super Bowl because he was so down about his own performance. The real questions Newton needs to answer are from teammates, why a guy very comfortable with grabbing the flag and saying, “Follow me,” was so leadership-lite at the game’s most critical moments.

But best guess is that Newton, who has exactly the coach he needs in Ron Rivera, won’t behave that way the next time he’s in a Super Bowl postgame situation. Because he’ll be there again.

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Whichever team would have won, the Most Valuable Player was going to come from the defensive side. Miller was the clear choice for the Broncos. Had Carolina prevailed, had the Panthers not bumbled virtually every opportunity, Kony Ealy takes the award.

Ealy had three sacks, two tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble. For what it’s worth, Ealy was there in the second round of the 2014 draft.

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Anybody else love the way the Denver offensive linemen pushed entire piles forward, including on D.J. Anderson’s game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter? Anderson was stopped by linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, but center Matt Paradis and guard Louis Vasquez just caved in the Panthers with second effort after they’d already executed their initial blocks.

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Fox’s straightforward reasoning for preferring the 3-4 scheme to the 4-3 is the built-in disguise options that come with three down linemen and rush-capable linebackers flanking them, a virtual 5-2 (the defensive scheme the Bears ran before Bill George took his hand off the ground, stood up and created the middle linebacker position).

But the foundation, after the obvious universal of every defense needing at least three pass-rush threats, is in those three down linemen. The Bears landed one in the second round of the 2015 draft with nose tackle Eddie Goldman.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Watching Sunday’s game again, the defensive force that jumps out is what Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe and the Denver down-three brought against the Panthers. Jackson recovered a Newton fumble for a touchdown and Wolfe was a silent partner on one of Miller’s sacks with a beautifully choreographed outside loop that took away Newton’s escape route to the right.

Note here: Jackson was a Denver fifth-round draft choice (2012) and is now a free agent. Wolfe was a No. 2 in the same draft. Goldman was a No. 2. So was Ego Ferguson (remember him? The Bears missed him). Meaning: There is gold (and Goldman) beyond that No. 11 pick that the Bears have right now.

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The head-scratcher of Super Bowl 50 was the Broncos winning while converting exactly one of 14 third downs. And that one came on Denver’s first third down on the game’s first possession. And the Broncos won?

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The smackdown of Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 falls way, way, way short of true embarrassment. Elway knows that feeling. His Denver teams scored just 10 points in Super Bowl losses to Washington (1987) and San Francisco (1988), and the Broncos managed just eight in their loss to Seattle in the 2013 finisher.

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.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

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

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

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USA Today Sports Images

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.”