Kyle Fuller

Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

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Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

One yard. Less than one, really. That’s all that separated the Bears and the New England Patriots on Sunday, after Kevin White’s efforts to tug a Hail Mary into the Patriots end zone came up just that short in a 38-31 loss to the NFL’s greatest team over the better part of the past two decades.

And normally, a team under a first-time head coach (the Bears’ fifth coach since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady started their run in 2001) would feel good about nearly overcoming giving up two special-teams scores and two turnovers of their own, all against one of the NFL’s elites.

But feel-good was hard to find after a second straight loss of a winnable game to a good team.

“’Close’ doesn’t cut it,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who set career highs in pass attempts (50) and rushing yards (81) on his way to two passing touchdowns and one rushing. However, Trubisky had his lowest passer rating (69.8) of the season after throwing two interceptions.

“There’s a new standard here, and coming up one yard short and not tying the game and going to overtime, that’s not good enough anymore.”

Perspective isn’t particularly easy with a young team that dropped to 3-3, still its best scorecard after six games since 2014. The Bears are now back behind Minnesota and idle Green Bay (both at 3-2-1) in the NFC North and are tied with Detroit (3-3). 

Still, with their best individual player (Khalil Mack) hobbled with an injured ankle and a pass rush that got virtually no pressure on Brady, the Bears did find themselves at the Chicago 45 with a chance to tie with two seconds to play.

Maybe the marvel was that they were even that close to the Patriots, after special teams allowed a punt-block return for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“We were right there. I think our offense is growing and I like where we are right now, I really do,” Nagy said.

More than that, as he told the players in the locker room afterwards, “With everything that happened to us and we were a yard away from tying the game. Take that and think about that a little bit.”

The ebbs and flows of the game notwithstanding – the Bears led 17-7 early in the second quarter, and were down 38-24 midway through the fourth – the game was arguably another small indicator that the Bears are the cliché’d “for real.”

Whatever that actually means.

The defense, which failed to protect leads in the fourth quarter in two of the Bears’ first four games, was unable to deliver a stop in the final minutes Sunday, allowing New England to drive 96 yards for score to go up 38-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

They “held” Brady and the New England offense to 24 points without Mack, the linchpin of their defense. But the Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski, the perennial Pro Bowl tight end and favorite target of Brady.

"I think it just comes down to knowing that if you are going against a good team, your room for error is slim, so you have to be on point the whole game," said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who intercepted his third pass in the past two games, “

And after some shaky handlings of in-game situations this season, Nagy was not out-coached by Belichick, who routinely takes an opponent’s strength away and who effectively took leading receiver Taylor Gabriel out of the offense. Nagy and Trubisky turned to tight end Trey Burton for nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Trubisky hurt himself and the offense with a handful of bad misses of open receivers, including Anthony Miller in the end zone in the first half. New England forced him into quick-react decisions with an array of blitzes alternating with eight-man zones, and Trubisky was able to make the Patriots pay with short and mid-range targets of Burton.

Accuracy cost Trubisky when he underthrew wideout Josh Bellamy, who was two steps behind cornerback Stephon Gilmore, in the third quarter for another missed touchdown opportunity. A subsequent sloppy throw on the run to Bellamy was intercepted when the ball was thrown to the defender’s side of Bellamy instead of toward the sideline, costing the Bears a chance at at least a field goal. A misplaced fourth-quarter pass toward Miller later in the fourth quarter was intercepted at the New England four-yard line.

But Trubisky’s 333 yards marked the third straight time he has passed for 300 or more yards, and Nagy cited a number of throws that Trubisky didn’t make as evidence of improved decision-making.

“I came away pleased with how he played,” Nagy said.

Added Gabriel: "He's a playmaker, man. A guy that wanted to win. You can see that out of him. He's the leader of this team and I would go to battle with Mitch any day."

From Bears’ win over Seahawks, 4 takeaways not named “Khalil” or “Mitch”

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From Bears’ win over Seahawks, 4 takeaways not named “Khalil” or “Mitch”

The Bears reaching .500 is in itself news, since the last time it happened (2014) was two Bears head coaches and three Brandon Marshall uniforms ago, and only three current position players (Kyles Fuller and Long, Sherrick McManis) were on the roster back then.

But beyond getting coach Matt Nagy his first win as an NFL head coach, the win over Seattle occasioned a handful of takeaways beyond all of the ones headed up by Khalil Mack and Mitch Trubisky:

Defense in a rush, even at less than full strength

The Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks (which is on pace to fall just short of the NFL team record of 72 for a season, set in 1984 by the Bears, for those who delight in frivolous early-season stat’ing). The production is especially noteworthy because the sacks are spread among eight different players.

Even more significantly, the sacks haven’t just come from eight different players; they’ve come from eight different POSITIONS, including every position in the front seven in the Bears base 3-4: both outside-linebacker spots (Mack, Aaron Lynch) and both insides (Trevathan and Roquan Smith); both defensive-end slots (Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris); and nose tackle (Eddie Goldman).

The rush has contributed to one of the NFL’s worst pass-picking secondaries effectively sealing the Seattle game with one interception (Prince Amukamara) and having the Green Bay game within its grasp on another (Kyle Fuller).

What makes the sack production even more impressive is that none of the stops have come from Leonard Floyd, still playing with one hand encased on a padded cast and whose playing time was cut back from 77 percent of the snaps in Green Bay to 59 percent against Seattle. Floyd has zero quarterback hits in his 85 total snaps but delivered 3 tackles, a pass defense’d and a fumble recovery against the Seahawks despite his limited hand, which is a factor.

“Oh, for sure,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last week. “I mean there’s no way around it. Like trying to type on your computers there with one hand. You’ve got your head in the sand if you don’t think that affects a guy’s play.”

Kevin White’s absence is surprising.

White did not generate the wow factor of rookie Javon Wims in preseason but he revealed an eye-opening ability in the open field with the football in his hands, the kind of yards-after-catch that West Coast offenses treasure. Not insignificantly, with the added reps with the No. 1 offense while Allen Robinson was held out for knee rehab, then working with Robinson in a variety of packages, White had developed a positive relationship with Mitch Trubisky; the two worked out together in California, and quarterbacks have a warm spot for 6-3 receivers with downfield speed.

But White played just two snaps against Seattle, down from 12 at Green Bay, and he has yet to be thrown a pass after consistently earning plaudits from coaches through the off- and preseason.

“I think that’s just how the game goes,” Nagy said. “Sometimes depending on whether it’s a slight injury to a wide receiver, a guy’s out of breath or tired, but there’s nothing either good or bad from that. It’s just the way it kind of played out.”

How White’s NFL future plays out is becoming increasingly problematic, and less and less likely to be in Chicago. Allen Robinson is signed for three years, Taylor Gabriel for four, and Anthony Miller’s rookie contract is for four. White went into this off- and preseason with a clean slate in the form of a new coaching staff. That slate still has 14 games remaining, but White doesn’t play special teams, and the only other players with fewer than 21 game snaps Monday were major special-teams contributors: Josh Bellamy, 2 snaps on offense, 18 on ‘teams; Ben Braunecker, 1 on offense, 19 on ‘teams; and Daniel Brown, 1 and 14.

Fourth-quarter’ing

The Bears can talk about finishing but their two opponents have combined for five fourth-quarter touchdowns, leading to the loss of a 20-point bulge and the game in Green Bay, and turning a 14-point lead over Seattle into a one-TD game. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have posted a combined passer rating of 98.4, up from an 89.9 for 2017. The Bears held the Seahawks to just 2-for-10 on third downs for three quarters, then had Seattle convert all three in the fourth quarter.

Neither the Packers nor Seahawks scored in their first quarters, but of the 41 teams scored against the Bears, 35 of them have been tallied in the fourth quarter.

Probably a jinx here, but special teams have been special

Pat O’Donnell’s job wasn’t all that secure after last season, the fourth in his four NFL seasons with a punting net less than 40 yards. The Bears re-signed him but just to a one-year contract and brought in rookie Ryan Winslow for preseason competition. O’Donnell rose to the challenge with a net of 41.7 yards on 12 punts, five yards longer than Winslow on his seven.

O’Donnell has kept his game on: nine punts with a 41.8-yard average net, and four of the kicks inside the 20. His work has combined to allow the Packers and Seahawks to return just two of eight punts, the inverse of the Bears, who’ve had Tarik Cohen return six of the eight caught.

The NFL has been awash in missed placekicks this year – 15 last weekend – and the Bears have had constant and serious kicker issues in the past few seasons, ever since cutting Robbie Gould, come to think of it. Conor Barth after Gould, then Cairo Santos and Mike Nugent and Cairo Santos brought in last year after Barth missed five of his 23 field-goal attempts.

Cody Parkey has made all five of his PAT’s and his four field-goal tries, although none longer than 33 yards. The results have made the Bears one of only 10 teams to be 100 percent in both field goals and extra points through two games.

NBC's Peter King calls Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller one of the 'Goats of the Week'

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NBC's Peter King calls Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller one of the 'Goats of the Week'

The term “goat” has taken on different connotations over the years. Recently, it’s transformed into an acronym for “Greatest Of All Time,” but traditionally, it’s been a shortening of the word “scapegoat” to reference someone receiving blame.

In Peter King’s Football Morning in America column for NBC, he lists his “Goats of the Week,” referring to the negative definition. This week, Kyle Fuller earned the infamous recognition.

Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Chicago. As the Packers stared down a 23-17 deficit with 2:39 left Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers had first-and-10 from his 25. He had Davante Adams on a short incut, but Adams stumbled … and the pass went right into the chest of Fuller. This was not a particularly difficult ball to catch — not a bullet, but a touch pass. And Fuller, who dropped six picks last season (per Cris Collinsworth), dropped this one. Fuller will never have an easier pick in his life. Had he caught it, the Bears could have — minimum — tried a game-clinching field goal somewhere near the two-minute warning. What a drop.

According to Pro Football Focus, Fuller was targeted a team-high eight times in the game, allowing four catches for 68 yards and a touchdowns. Packers quarterbacks had a 118.8 passer rating when targeting him.

Aside from allowing a perfectly thrown touchdown to Geronimo Allison, Fuller wasn’t all that bad in coverage, and the dropped interception will be tough to live down.

He wasn’t the only reason the Bears lost, though. Cornerbacks drop interceptions all the time, and it was a team failure to collapse that catastrophically in Green Bay.