Bears

Turnovers prove costly as Bears get routed by Buccaneers

Turnovers prove costly as Bears get routed by Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. - Jameis Winston kept retreating toward his own goal line, seemingly in disregard for the best interests of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The second-year quarterback often is at his best when he's improvising, though, and the first overall pick from the 2015 draft kept scrambling into the end zone and back out before heaving a 38-yard completion to Mike Evans.

The play started at his own 23 and ended at the Chicago 38, where Evans made a leaping catch. On the next play, Winston threw his second TD pass in a 36-10 rout of the Bears on Sunday.

"That's Jameis making plays," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said, though that hardly crossed the coach's mind while Winston was heading the wrong way with the Bucs clinging to a seven-point lead early in the third quarter.

"Throw it away. Throw it away. Do anything. Don't take a safety," Koetter recalled himself thinking.

"But, the thing about Jameis, Jameis is going to do some things that we don't plan for and he's going to do some things that sometimes I don't like," the coach added. "But Jameis is going to make some plays. That's who he is. ... You can't coach that out of him. He's a special player in that respect."

Winston finished 23 of 33 for 312 yards with one interception, helping the Bucs (4-5) win at home for the first time this season. The Bears (2-7) are winless in five road games.

"That was a great play by him. ... He retreated. I tried to get him again and he stepped up in the pocket and let it rip," Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd said. "Great play by him."

Winston threw for TDs of 10 yards to Cameron Brate and 43 yards to Freddie Martino, a former practice squad player with two career receptions.

Two weeks after returning from injury and helping the Bears (2-7) beat NFC North leader Minnesota, Jay Cutler threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, one resulting in a third-quarter safety that put the Bucs up 29-10.

The Bucs forced four turnovers overall and sacked Cutler four times. Even though the Bears are last in the league in scoring, it was a confidence-building performance for a defense that yielded 73 points and 1,087 yards - including 857 passing - in home losses to Oakland and Atlanta the previous two weeks.

Cutler missed five games with a sprained right thumb before playing well and not turning the ball over against the Vikings. The Bears had a bye last week, but the momentum they built against Minnesota didn't carry over to the trip to Tampa.

The Bears scored on Cameron Meredith's 50-yard TD reception on the final play of the first half. Cutler finished 16 of 30 for 182 yards, and Tampa Bay's Chris Conte returned a first-quarter interception 20 yards to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead.

"Any given week, you can win, you can lose. It depends on how you execute," Cutler said. "Obviously, we didn't get the job done today."

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

Get used to the Bears being connected to just about all of the top tight end prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft as the mock-draft season kicks into high gear.

The latest mock draft from the Draft Wire is no exception. In this two-rounder, the Bears snag Washington tight end Hunter Bryant at No. 43 overall.

Here's how Bryant's game profiles, via The Draft Network's scouting report:

Hunter Bryant should be a dynamic receiving threat at the NFL level. Bryant brings excellent quickness, run after catch skills and versatility to a flex tight end role. Plugging Bryant into a traditional inline role will water down his receiving skills — he's best working off the LOS or as a flexed slot receiver who can serve as a H/W/S mismatch for opposing defenders. If Bryant it put in such a flex role, look for early production and long-term starter status in the pros. 

Sure sounds like the kind of player the Bears could use in the passing game, where the entire tight end depth chart combined for just 44 catches last season. Trey Burton led the way with 14. It was a brutal year at the position.

Naturally, adding a playmaker who can expand Matt Nagy's playcalling toolbox is a critical 'must' for Ryan Pace this offseason, and a prospect like Bryant could be an ideal fit.

In Round 2 of this mock draft, the Bears add Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison. Like tight end, linebacker will be an area of need depending on what happens with free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. It's likely that one of them will return, but even with Trevathan or Kwiatkoski back in the fold, the Bears have to add depth behind the starters. Will they address that need as early as the second round? Probably not, especially with pressing needs along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

If, however, Harrison does end up being the pick, the Bears would be getting a strong run defender who doesn't project as an every-down player at this point in his evaluation. He's likely to slide into the third round, if not later.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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