Bears

Winkler, Robertson lead Lincoln-Way East in win

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Winkler, Robertson lead Lincoln-Way East in win

Friday, Sept. 15, 2011Posted: 11:30 p.m.

By Pat Disabato
YourSeason.com

Big players step up in big games.

Lincoln-Way East quarterback Blake Winkler and receiver J.J. Robertson did just that on Friday night against Homewood-Flossmoor.

Robertson hauled in five passes for 226 yards, including touchdowns of 66 and 67 yards, to lead No. 6 Lincoln-Way East to a 38-21 win over the No. 5 Vikings in a SouthWest Suburban Blue showdown.

Winkler completed 10 of 17 passes for 290 yards. Each time he needed to complete a clutch pass, he targeted Robertson, an Illinois recruit who proved too elusive for the Vikings secondary.

I was jacked, Robertson said. But I was a little nervous. There were like 5,000 people here. It felt a little like a college game.

Robertson dedicated the game to East freshman Patrick Mizwicki, who was struck by a car and killed Thursday while at cross country practice.

My condolences to the Mizwicki family, Robertson said. Thats what fueled me today.

Robertson hauled in a 50-yard bomb for the Griffins (4-0, 2-0) on their first series, setting up Tyler Starkes 1-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead just 1:08 into the game.

H-F (3-1, 1-1) took a 13-7 lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tim Williams to Sheldon Jones at 7:57 of the second quarter. Williams completed 29 of 39 passes for 232 yards.

It was all downhill from there, however, for H-F, which committed five turnovers, including four interceptions.

East scored 24 unanswered points to take a 31-13 lead at 6:32 of the third quarter.

Robertson hauled in touchdown passes of 66 and 67 yards and Nick Colangelo (nine carries, 100 yards) rattled off a 25-yard scoring run. William Will provided a 42-yard field goal right before the first half that gave the Griffins a 17-13 lead.

Their skill guys are phenomenal, H-F coach Craig Buzea said. Theyre the most skilled team Ive seen in the 20 years Ive been coaching.

Defensively, linebacker Kyle Langenderfer led an inspired effort by the Griffins, Joe Tomasik, Nathan Royer, Kevin Duffin and Langenderfer had interceptions for East. Joel Magrum, Adam Hould and Langenderfer recorded sacks.

The Griffins held the Vikings to seven yards rushing.

We had some guys step up, East coach Rob Zvonar said. H-F has an explosive offense, and I think our defense did a pretty good job tonight not allowing them to get the big play.

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

After the final horn sounded on the Bears' signature win of the season so far — a 31-24 trouncing of the Cowboys that wasn't as close as the final score — and all the patented 'Club Dub' celebrations had concluded, a subdued, resolute and focused locker room remained.

These aren't the 2018 Bears — no matter how decisive and dynamic Mitch Trubisky was tonight; no matter the fits the team's depleted front seven gave one of the most talented offensive lines in the league; no matter the balanced plan of attack deployed by Matt Nagy, or that they're now one game closer to an improbable run to the playoffs.

Three weeks ago, this team had been all but dismissed by the greater Chicago faithful. And perhaps that was fair. In year two of the Nagy-Trubisky coach-quarterback pairing, the team was on pace to regress in just about every category you could conjure — most importantly wins. Now, they're 7-6, above .500, and only 1.5 games behind the Vikings for the No. 6 seed in the NFC (with a matchup against them looming in Week 17). 

Tonight, the process may have been even more encouraging than the result, especially looking forward to a challenging three-game close to the season.

"When you win, your confidence goes up. Players, they play different in regard to when you're winning," Matt Nagy said postgame. "You play looser. You don't press as much. I think right now the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn't feel like one of those deals where if we don't hold them to under 14 points, we don't have a chance to win."

Trubisky was as sharp as he's ever been in one of the bigger games of his career, tossing for 244 yards and amassing four total touchdowns — three through the air, one on the ground. And talk about loose: He also put together his most impressive rushing performance in over a calendar year, breaking out for 63 yards on 10 attempts, including a late-game 23-yard touchdown (to put the Bears ahead 31-14) that ignited Soldier Field around him.

His resurgence has come in lockstep with the Bears' season turning. Perhaps that's no coincidence.

"I think it says we're resilient, stick together, believe in each other even when nobody else believes in us," Trubisky said. "That's a special group in that locker room. We want to keep this feeling going, focusing on the little things, focusing hard, sticking together, doing our jobs."

Allen Robinson said that the team's confidence has "never wavered." Charles Leno said the offense is firing on all cylinders. The defense, missing four starters, didn't miss a beat until the Cowboys tacked on some garbage-time fluff late in the game.

A crucial, yet challenging, stretch looms. First, the Bears travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers for the second time this season. Then, back home for Kansas City — though mortal, still one of the more potent offensive attacks in football. And finally, to Minnesota for a potential postseason play-in game. The Bears probably need all three of those games to be wins, save for late-season collapses from the Rams and Vikings (not impossible), to pull off a playoff berth. As it stands currently, they project as underdogs in both those road contests, and possibly even against the Chiefs (though a win in Green Bay would go a long way, there). 

As far as Nagy is concerned... Good. 

"I'm okay with that. For our guys, it's different," Nagy said of assuming the underdog role for the stretch run. "Last year, there was a different type of mentality because we didn't know, there were no expectations. This year, a lot of expectations. So now here we are at 7-6. Who knows really what we're going to be at. We know we have some really good teams coming up. Our guys, as you can see, they're just focused on winning each week. That's what they're doing."

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

If you wanted to throw water on the Bears’ playoff chances, the hardest part would be deciding what well to draw it from. The data overwhelmingly agrees: the Bears, even after a reassuring 31-24 win over Dallas, are longshots to make the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives them a 5% chance. The Cowboys, with their 6-7 record and three-game losing streak, have a 59% chance. 

“If we don't win, none of those percentages matter,” Matt Nagy said after the game. “The percentages part, [I don’t know]. I know we’ve got to win.” 

And not only that, but the Bears will have to win while playing the hardest remaining schedule of any team in football. Next Sunday they go to Green Bay, where they haven’t won since 2015. Then all that stands between them and a potential play-in Week 17 game in Minnesota is Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s brutal, but it doesn’t seem as impossible as it did this time yesterday. 

“I think we said that a few weeks back,” Allen Robinson said. “We’ve been saying one game at a time, and I think for us, we’re definitely on the verge of going up right now. So we just want to keep it that way. We’ve been saying it now for the past few weeks. We just want to keep stringing good practices together, good weeks together, and some good runs together.” 

Games like Thursday night’s show you what the Matt Nagy Bears are capable of when things click. It starts with Nagy, who’s finally come around on running the offense that works, even if it is the diluted version. Against Dallas the Bears ran the ball 34 times and threw 31 passes; they’re now 7-2 when running 20 times or more. 

“It’s being able to create chemistry with my O-line,” David Montgomery said. “Those guys have been doing good. I credit them with the little bit of success I’ve had towards the end of the season.”

The passing game has been opened up, ironically enough, with the emergence of three different undrafted tight ends. Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, and JP Holtz have become legitimate cogs in the offense, which is again a testament to how critical the position is to Nagy and the Bears’ success.

“That's nice to have that,” Nagy said, grinning. “It definitely helps out.” 

“I mean, there were a few things we had in this game plan that were going to give more opportunities. He happened to be that guy on some of the plays. Those guys have stepped up. They've helped us out in that role. You can see when you have that tight end, that presence there, it helps out.”

Holtz joked after the game about being caught off guard by how much open field was in front of him on his 30-yard screen play. It was a well drawn-up and executed play – a good example of a more rigorous attention to detail that Bears coaches and players were finally happy with. 

“Guys are stepping up,” Anthony Miller said. “We’ve got some guys hurt, but we don’t miss a beat. Everybody knows what’s at stake. Everybody knows that we have to win. It’s like every game we’re playing with our backs against the wall. So, every game is a must-win, and we’ve got to get (the Green Bay Packers) in Lambeau next week.”

The injuries are a real concern. Getting Akiem Hicks is taking a step forward but losing Roquan Smith is taking two back. Playoff talk is probably still premature, but like Nagy said, all the Bears can do is win the games in front of them. They’ll play a second straight week of meaningful December football, which is two more than anybody would have guessed before Thanksgiving. 

“We are clicking on all cylinders, with all three phases,” Charles Leno added.  “Even four phases, thanks to the fans out there in Chicago that are always bringing it. 

“It was a really good performance by everybody.”