Chicago Bears: Matt Forte
Following a promising 2013 campaign when the offense ranked No. 2 in scoring during Marc Trestman's first year at the helm, the Chicago Bears entered 2014 with sky-high expectations, only to experience a colossal letdown with five consecutive losses to close the season. Ownership had no other choice but to clean house.
The Bears signed Jay Cutler last January to a monster seven-year contract worth $126.7 million only to bench him 14 games into the new deal in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen. The club's top acquisition in free agency, Lamarr Houston, finished 2014 on the injured reserve after tearing his right ACL celebrating a sack when the Bears were behind significantly in an Oct. 26 beatdown at New England. Brandon Marshall, who signed a three-year, $30 million extension last offseason, also finished on injured reserve because of rib and lung injuries; he failed to gain 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since his rookie season (2006), as did surprising free-agent acquisition Willie Young, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in a loss to the Detroit Lions.
Chicago finished the 2014 season as arguably the most underachieving club in the NFL, given all the talent on offense.
MVP: Matt Forte missed earning the nod for his second consecutive Pro Bowl, and it's worth pondering whether play calling prevented that from happening. Going into the season finale, Forte ranked No. 3 in the NFL in all-purpose yards (1,772). And although Forte caught a team-high 94 passes through the first 15 games, running backs prove their mettle running the ball. Too bad the Bears too often refused to do so. Forte hit 100-plus yards on just three occasions, but the running back was by far this team's most consistent skill-position player on offense. Arguably the league's best all-around running back, Forte carried the ball just five times in a Thanksgiving loss at Detroit. It's a shame this coaching staff didn't properly utilize him.
Best moment: Chicago's 28-20 win in Week 2 over the San Francisco 49ers registers as this team's top moment because at the time, the 49ers were still considered a Super Bowl contender. Receivers Alshon Jeffery and Marshall suffered injuries in the season opener, and in the minutes before the first regular-season game at Levi's Stadium, there was quite a bit of uncertainty about whether the duo would be healthy enough to play. Just before kickoff, the club announced Marshall and Jeffery would play, and Marshall sparked a 21-point fourth quarter in the team's comeback win. The Bears trailed 20-7 to start the fourth quarter, but the Bears took advantage of a couple of interceptions by rookie corner Kyle Fuller to take the victory. Marshall caught three touchdown passes in that game.
Worst moment: Aaron Kromer's anonymous criticism of Cutler for an NFL Network report and subsequent admission could go in this place. But Trestman's benching of Cutler in favor of Clausen after a Dec. 15 loss to the New Orleans Saints represented the low point of the coach's tenure. Trestman undoubtedly fractured the relationship with the quarterback, but the move called into question general manager Phil Emery's skills as a personnel evaluator, considering he was the driving force in signing Cutler to his big contract last January. Trestman's decision to bench Cutler casts doubt on the quarterback's future, and the huge financial commitment makes trading him this offseason a difficult proposition.
2015 outlook: Decisions regarding the new general manager and coaching staff seem like just the beginning. The Bears need to upgrade the talent on both sides of the ball. The only encouraging sign regarding personnel is that the Bears played 2014 with an NFL-high 17 rookies on the roster. Still, the Bears need to overhaul virtually the entire secondary and add at linebacker. But most important, the Bears need to figure out what to do with Cutler, whose $15.5 million salary for 2015 is fully guaranteed and who is set to earn another $10 million in guarantees for 2016 if he's on the roster on the third day of the new league year. So if the plan is to move Cutler, the Bears need to set upon that task quickly, and there's sure to be a market for the quarterback. If the plan is to keep Cutler, the organization needs to repair the relationship, which was damaged after the club's decision to bench him due to a horrid showing in a Week 15 loss to New Orleans.
With 94 receptions through 15 games, Forte needs just eight more to break the NFL single-season record for receptions by a running back, set in 1995 by Larry Centers (101 receptions). In addition, if Forte gains 13 yards rushing against the Vikings and catches six passes, he’ll join LaDainian Tomlinson as just the second player in NFL history to finish a season with 1,000 rushing yards and 100 catches.
Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long, however, wants to make the record reality for Forte.
“I was gonna butt in there when he was talking about how it’s not important to him,” Long joked. “We’re in the National Football League, and I’m sitting next to a guy who has an opportunity to catch the single most passes in NFL history for a running back in a season. I know I’m gonna be yelling at our quarterback to throw him the ball. Are you kidding me? What a tremendous honor to get to play with a guy like Matt and have an opportunity to be a part of something like that that will stand for a really long time.”
Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t plan to alter the game plan to make sure Forte reaches his milestones. With nothing left to play for, it would be easy for the team to turn its attention to such matters.
“Last games, oftentimes there’s those types of things that are up on the table,” Trestman said. “But I think the primary focus is to do what we have to do on each and every play to win the game, and those things will usually take care of themselves.”
That’s fine by Forte.
“I’m just looking forward to this weekend. I’ve got a chance to do something special this week,” Forte said. “Obviously I’m focused on winning the game first. But on this offense, we’ve obviously this year underachieved, but there’s still room to go out there and improve and finish strong in the last game. It’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s the last game of the season.’ You’ve got to go out there and prove that you deserve to be in the league. We’ve got another chance to go out and play well.”
Kyle Long, OG, Second Pro Bowl selection: Long earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection and became the first Chicago Bears offensive lineman to receive the honor in each of his first two seasons with the franchise. Long became the first Bear since Devin Hester (2006-07) to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. According to STATS, LLC, Long hasn’t allowed a sack in 2014, and he anchors a Chicago offense that ranks first in franchise history in completion percentage (65.1), second in passing touchdowns (30), tied for second in completions (373), fourth in net passing yards (3,627) and sixth in passer rating (88.1). Long is part of an offensive line that has helped running back Matt Forte rank No. 3 in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,772).
Who he beat out: Orlando Franklin, Louis Vasquez, T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, David DeCastro, Mike Pouncey, Dan Connolly
Matt Forte, RB: Forte racked up 1,772 yards from scrimmage through the first 15 games, which ties for third in the NFL. But the problem is the Bears refuse to commit to the rushing attack, which significantly affected Forte’s numbers. Arguably the league’s best all-around back, Forte leads the Bears with 94 catches for 785 yards, and he’s just 13 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the fifth time in his seven-year career.
Who he should have beaten out: LeSean McCoy.
Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery generated a team-high 1,099 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 83 receptions, despite playing the majority of the year hampered by nagging injuries. Jeffery has gained 2,887 yards over his first three seasons. Jeffery has already gained the second-most receiving yards by a Bears player in his first three seasons, and he ranks No. 5 in the NFL in receiving yardage since 2013.
Who he should have beaten out: A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton.
Offensively, the Bears need to stop paying lip service to establishing the run and actually commit to it. Matt Forte has carried the ball a total of 18 times over the last two games, which isn’t enough, especially with the weather conditions finally turning. Besides, the Saints rank last against the run since Week 10, and the defense as a whole ranks last in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information’s efficiency rating (minus-9.96 expected points added per game).
So Chicago’s struggling offense should be able to feast against the Saints.
But the lone game-changing caveat is the fact the Saints come into this matchup still fighting for a postseason berth. Besides that, Sean Payton has put this team on notice with recent roster changes and a benching. Chicago, meanwhile, seems to be simply going through the motions trying merely to get the season finished.
My prediction: Saints 24, Bears 23
-- With all the talk lately about buyer’s remorse, Mike Mulligan takes it a tad deeper here.
Mulligan writes: But even the most fervently invested decision-makers at Halas Hall would be hard-pressed to argue Cutler's season has been any kind of a success. No anesthetic can reduce the swelling civic pain misdirected expectations have left for Bears fans.
Buyer's remorse is stronger with Cutler than Marshall, but it extends throughout the team's offseason spending spree. You can find only a handful of contracts the team shouldn't regret: those of Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Willie Young.
-- Here are some key numbers to keep an eye on as the Bears limp to the finish, from Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune.
-- Hub Arkush compares here the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons. It’s an interesting comparison, showing two teams that appear to be headed in different directions.
-- This feature on offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer by Kevin Fishbain isn’t new but is definitely worth reading. He’s taken a long path to get to where he is today, and there’s the belief Kromer is a head coach in waiting.
-- It’s Matt Forte’s 29th birthday Wednesday, and the team’s official website put together this slideshow to take a look back at the running back’s career.
"You could see it last night," Bears coach Marc Trestman said of Marshall's impact. "He lifted our football team. He's certainly one of the best communicators and charismatic guys we have on our football team. He brings life to everything we do."
It's sorely needed for this Bears team fast on the way to flatline.
Just after halftime of a 41-28 thumping, an ambulance drove away from Soldier Field with Marshall sitting in the back, the result of the receiver taking a knee into the lower right side of his back and midsection, after hauling in a 15-yard reception on fourth down to move the chains and breathe life back into the offense.
Two plays later, Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7 after the extra-point kick.
"It's a big loss. Guys have got to step up in his place and play," running back Matt Forte said. "You can't replace a guy like Brandon. He was having a good game, too; had a big fourth-down catch and got hit in the ribs. Tough break."
Officially, the Bears ruled out Marshall for next Monday night's game against the New Orleans Saints and plan to make a determination on the best course of action for the receiver once more information is obtained regarding his condition. But sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Marshall is out for the remainder of the season. That certainly makes sense with the team sitting at 5-8 with nothing left to play for other than pride, especially when also considering broken bones typically take several weeks to heal.
Marshall caught three passes for 61 yards prior to suffering the injury, and the case could be made that Chicago's offense never recovered from the receiver leaving the game.
On the team's first drive coming out of the half, Forte fumbled after making a 21-yard reception and Dallas converted the turnover into a touchdown three plays later.
The Bears didn't put points on the board again until the first play of the fourth quarter. By then, they trailed 35-7.
Instead of the Michael Jackson "Thriller" season Marshall often discussed producing in 2014, it's been a year in which he's fought through multiple injuries. The rib and lung injuries marked the third time this season Marshall suffered an injury that would force him to miss time. A high right ankle sprain in the season-opening loss to Buffalo slowed Marshall earlier on. Then in a Nov. 9 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Marshall sprained his left ankle.
"It's been a tough year for everybody," center Roberto Garza said. "Him especially, and he's been battling through it week in and week out. It shows what kind of character he has."
Let’s take a quick spin around the Chicago Bears beat:
-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jon Greenberg captures a scene of disappointment in the locker room after Chicago’s loss to the Detroit Lions. The Bears simply aren’t receiving return on their investment on the offensive side of the ball.
Greenberg writes: The future is going to be a hot debate over the next month, as the 5-7 Bears face three playoff contenders at home, including the Lions again, before finishing the season in what should be a frigid, unwatchable game at Minnesota.
Changes will be made for 2015, that's for sure. What they will be might depend on how the team comes down the stretch.
But the present is clear: The highly touted individual talent on offense doesn't equal team success. It sure doesn't add up to points. The Bears are averaging 21 points per game. That's truly embarrassing, considering the money allocated to that side of the ball and the hire of Marc Trestman.
"The talent we have on the team, we're definitely underachieving right now," Matt Forte said. "Some guys got to do some soul-searching for the rest of the season to plan on how they're going to play the rest of these games."
-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson runs down the five things we learned in Chicago’s loss to the Lions.
--Matt Forte wasn’t happy about his role in the offense, and understandably so considering he carried just five times in the loss to the Lions.
-- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune takes a look at the team’s continued ineptitude on offense.
Biggs writes: That gets us back to what has troubled the Bears most all season. Sure, Matthew Stafford sliced apart the secondary for 390 yards — 146 to Calvin Johnson — and the Lions rolled up 474 yards of offense but the most confounding and problematic aspect of the Bears remains rooted on the offensive side.
The Bears were supposed to win games with offense, not defense. Before you say the defense isn't keeping them in games, realize blowout losses have been just as much the result of offensive incompetence.
-- Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times might be on to something here.
Morrissey writes: A fiction has risen up around the Bears. It says they are too talented to be flailing the way they have flailed most of this season. Subscribing to that fiction allows you to believe they should be better than they are. And once you believe that, you’re free to think they’re not that far from being competitive.
So why make changes, the thinking goes. Stay the course. Trust me, the Bears will, heading nowhere.
There’s no point anymore in calling for heads that aren’t going to roll. Not Phil Emery’s. Not Marc Trestman’s. Not Jay Cutler’s. The Bears have anesthetized everyone into surrender. Their fans might as well sleep the sleep of the dead, like their team. Ownership is not going to make significant changes.
“We were challenged, offensively,” Cutler said. “Defensively, they were playing really good football. They just had to sustain that. Offensively, Marc [Trestman] challenged us. The players, we challenged each other. We knew if we continued down this road, we were going to lose this game. We didn’t want that to happen.”
Asked to elaborate on how the team was challenged, Cutler said, “Verbally, we questioned guys. Made sure everyone was in this for the right reasons. Made sure when we left that locker room, everyone’s mind was right on what we wanted to accomplish.”
The Bears obviously responded well to the halftime challenges.
The offense marched 58 yards on six plays in the team’s first possession of the second half, with Cutler finding Alshon Jeffery for a 2-yard touchdown to cap the drive and put the club’s first points on the board.
Still, the Bears finished with a season-low 204 yards on offense and converted on just 25 percent of third downs. Matt Forte scored a pair of touchdowns late off turnovers forced by the defense to lift the Bears.
“To me, it was very easy,” Trestman said of his first-half assessment of the team. “Dropped balls, penalties, tipped balls, all of that. As I said to the guys at halftime, there was no one guy. We passed it around to everybody. You can’t be efficient playing football that way, especially when you are dropping footballs and you have penalties. When we get over that, we’ll move the ball effectively and efficiently, but we have to get over that. And we did.”
@mikecwright: Good question. It made me have to go through my salary files, which is always a good thing. With the way Matt Forte is performing, I'd say it would be a good idea to try to lock him up for the next three years or so with a new deal that will somehow represent a cap savings in 2015. He certainly hasn't shown any drop-off in play. As it stands, Forte is to make $6.65 million in base salary in 2015, which would count $8.8 million against that year's cap. We have all heard about the decline running backs hit when they turn 30, and next month, Forte turns 29, which is something the organization surely would weigh in any decision it makes. It's cheaper to keep a player when a team locks him up before he actually hits free agency (assuming there is a market for said player). I personally think the Bears would try to get something done with Forte early in the offseason, but the problem I see is the team will probably look into to redoing other contracts such as Alshon Jeffery, whose rookie deal also wraps up in 2015.
@mikecwright: I agree with you, Pierce. I think Josh McCown was a major loss for the offense, because in many ways he was somewhat of a coach on the field during his time with the Bears. McCown also set a positive example with his work habits, which was instrumental in teaching some of the younger players how to be pros. But I also see Jimmy Clausen taking on a similar role now with the Bears. I've been in the locker room when Clausen is on the field after practice, watching him work with some of the younger players, especially rookie quarterback David Fales. I even saw Clausen in the locker room the other day showing rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller how particular offenses are trying to attack him on a down-to-down basis. So, though the loss of McCown was major, I do see Clausen transitioning into that role very quickly.
@mikecwright: That would be a major knee-jerk reaction, and that's not the way the Bears roll. Go through this team's recent history, and see for yourself. There will probably be some firings at the conclusion of the season, but nobody will receive pink slips if the Bears lose Sunday to the Buccaneers.
@mikecwright: Vincent, just walked in from practice, actually, and that's my expectation based on what I saw. Besides that, Chris Williams hasn't practiced all week, and the club declared him out for Sunday's game. That means Marc Mariani gets the call, which should be interesting, considering he made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2010 coming off his rookie season.
@mikecwright: Malcolm, I can't think of any other way to look at it. Phil Emery's first draft consisted of Shea McClellin, Jeffery, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy. Only McClellin and Jeffery remain on the team, and it's safe to say at this point that McClellin has been inconsistent at best as a linebacker. Emery followed up his first draft with a 2013 class featuring defenders Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Cornelius Washington. Only Bostic has been a major contributor. Emery has said he wants to build the team through the draft, but to do that, you have to hit on your draft picks. I think Emery did a better job selecting defenders in his latest draft by adding Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Brock Vereen. But I'm sure Emery would even say he has to do a better job with the draft. He also has to do better in free agency.
Thanks everyone for participating. Let's get started:
@mikecwright: Just because I believe Christian Jones is the future at strongside linebacker for this team doesn't mean I think Shea McClellin doesn't belong on the team or the NFL. Jones is just better suited to play the position than McClellin. But I still think there is a place for McClellin on this team as a reserve and as a designated pass-rush specialist.
@mikecwright: They sure make it seem that way, don't they? I personally don't believe that Marquess Wilson is going to add significantly to the offense upon his return. I know Wilson and Jay Cutler developed a rapport during the offseason, but from what we've seen thus far, the quarterback rarely throws to anyone not named Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte. So I don't see Wilson making a huge impact once he's back out on the field. Also, I don't consider Wilson a player capable of taking the top off the coverage. I think he will fare well in the slot, but he's not a speed-burner by any means. And I think when you have got a speed receiver in the slot, you force teams to play you more honestly. When Wilson returns, I anticipate teams continuing to devote the extra coverage on the outside to Jeffery and Marshall. Now if Cutler hits Wilson down the seam a few times when he comes back for big gains, it will make defenses respect the threat of a slot receiver.
@mikecwright: That is a great question that unfortunately I don't have a good answer for. Ted Phillips played a key role in the Bears hiring Phil Emery, and obviously, you know what the general manager did in terms of firing Lovie Smith and bringing in Marc Trestman. The thing about Chicago's ownership is the group doesn't meddle, which can be both a positive and a negative. I think the best course of action for ownership is to hire football people to run the football side of things. Obviously, you know that Phillips isn't a football person. I certainly think Phillips should be held just as accountable by ownership as he and George McCaskey hold Emery and Trestman.
@mikecwright: With the Bears being what I'd consider a mom-and-pops organization, I don't think ownership would be interested in eating another contract with Trestman the way they did when the club parted ways with Smith and Jerry Angelo prior to that. Besides that, I think you would have to consider what a new coach would mean for Cutler. Emery wanted to give Cutler stability with the coaching staff when he brought in Trestman. Now that the team has invested so much financially in Cutler, do you want that stability Emery has built around the quarterback to be disrupted? So if Jim Harbaugh does become available, I don't think the Bears will be interested unless ownership decides to get rid of Trestman. I seriously doubt Emery would want to fire Trestman regardless of what transpires over the last half of the season. Then again, ownership could take that decision out of Emery's hands. I don't see that happening.
@mikecwright: You're not going to like my answer here, and although I never played in the NFL, I did play from the age of 6 through four years of college. From my own playing experience, all the talk about leadership is way overblown. No player needs another player for motivation. At the NFL level, even on the college level, if a player isn't self-motivated, the truth is he shouldn't be on the team. He shouldn't be in the sport. Honestly, it used to irk me to have those teammates who used to yell all the time, give the rah-rah speeches, and scream out, "Let's go guys." That's all unneeded hot air. Leaders do their thing by example. In Brian Urlacher's case, he produced on the field, worked hard in practices and in the weight room, and the other players saw that and figured if they conducted themselves in a similar fashion, they would achieve success, too. That is leadership. So do I see a lack of leadership in the locker room? Not really. When a team is 3-5 like the Bears, "leadership" or lack of becomes one of those low-hanging fruit types of storylines. Leadership truly starts with the coach and his staff. If the coaching staff consistently puts players in the position to succeed, they gain the trust of the players, who will run through a brick wall for their coaches. Lovie Smith built that type of trust from players during his tenure in Chicago, which in turn led to the players self-policing in the locker room to make sure the team took the lead of its coach. That is not what's currently going on with the Bears. But it's not a locker room leadership thing. I think it's more an issue of the coach not getting through to the players..
“His 21-day clock will start today, and it’ll be day to day with him to see how he progresses,” the coach added. “It’ll be up to trainers and doctors to assess him on a daily basis.”
Wilson became eligible to return to practice back in Week 7, but once a player on short-term injured reserve hits the field, the club has 21 days to activate him or shut him down for the remainder of the season.
“It felt good getting back in the swing of things, getting around the guys and actually practicing a little,” Wilson said. “I feel my wind was pretty good for the most part, and [I’m] just looking to improve each day I’m out there.”
Wilson spent several minutes after Wednesday’s workout catching passes from backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen. After Wilson finished catching balls, he spent time running extra sprints to improve his cardiovascular conditioning.
Wilson came into the season with high expectations after catching two passes last season as a rookie. Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall spoke highly of Wilson’s prospects for 2014 throughout the offseason and at training camp. But the fractured clavicle derailed any plans for featuring Wilson more prominently in the offense.
With Wilson out of the picture, the team has utilized Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan in the slot, and the duo has combined for 92 yards on 12 receptions and one touchdown. Wilson developed a rapport with Cutler during the offseason, but it’s unclear what impact he’ll have in the slot as the team hasn’t thrown much to the inside receivers in the first eight games.
During Wilson’s time away, the most he could do was simply learn the game.
“Basically, I got to watch football in a whole different perspective, and really understand coverages, defenses and everything, and simple routes, different ways you can run a route, or getting off press coverage or messing with the DB,” Wilson explained.
Asked whether he could provide a spark for Chicago’s inconsistent offense, Wilson said, “I hope so.”
“We’re still a great offense. We still have special weapons on that side of the ball. We have all the confidence in the world to pull it back together,” Wilson said. “You’ve got everything you need with Brandon [Marshall], Alshon [Jeffery], Marty [Martellus Bennett] and Matt [Forte]. It wouldn’t hurt to have another person. You’ve got Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan. Those two are fully capable of coming through and making plays when needed. You just have a lot of offensive weapons on this team that are just waiting to have their turn.”
Fresh off a 51-23 throttling at the hands of the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery conducted a dual press conference at Halas Hall, where they expressed disappointment over the team’s inconsistent performances through the first half of the season, while stressing the need to remain unified.
“We’re a 3-5 football team, and that’s what our record states,” Emery said. “The NFL’s about winning games, and we deserve the criticism we have and should have from that record. I’m extremely disappointed in where we’re at as a football team right now, and that disappointment starts with being extremely disappointed for our fans. They, like us, held high optimism for the start of our season and where we would be at that midpoint, and we’ve let them down in that regard. We understand and share their frustrations and clearly understand our failures at this point.”
But what will the Bears do to turn things around for the second half? Trestman believes a long, hard critical self-evaluation is in order.
“We’ve got a chance to look back and really take a systematic look at the issues that we’ve had and come up with some bona fide solutions at this present time because that’s the best we can do,” he said. “We weren’t able to get it done the way we wanted to get it done over the first eight weeks of the season. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no consistency there. There’s moments of very good play, of solid play across the board, and there’s moments of very, very poor play, like we’ve seen over the last couple weeks.”
Midseason MVP: Running back Matt Forte is certainly worthy, given his consistency over the first eight games (1,052 all-purpose yards). But defensive end Willie Young receives the nod here. A reserve behind high-priced free-agent acquisitions Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, Young outperformed his counterparts at the position through the first half of the season and is tied for eighth in the NFL with a team-high seven sacks. Young ranks third on the team in tackles (32), a testament to his high-motor style which allows the fifth-year veteran to make plays from sideline to sideline on a consistent basis.
Biggest disappointment: After a surprisingly productive 2013 campaign which seemed to quiet many doubters, quarterback Jay Cutler received a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million and the high expectations that accompany such an investment. Cutler produced respectable numbers (67.2 completion percentage, 95.8 passer rating) through the first half of the season, but continues to display his penchant for making game-changing mistakes. Cutler turned the ball over on multiple occasions in each of the team’s five losses, leading to 44 points by opponents despite the expectation he would finally soar in Year 2 playing in Trestman’s offense. The staff and front office continue to show unwavering support for Cutler. If Emery is second-guessing the team’s investment in Cutler, he certainly hasn’t shown it.
Best moment: Uncertainty permeated the atmosphere in the 90 minutes prior to the Week 2 opening of Levi’s Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers with questions regarding the availability of receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as both were questionable due to ankle and hamstring injuries. After putting the receivers through strenuous pregame workouts, the Bears made the late decision to start Jeffery and Marshall. The move paid huge dividends as Marshall caught three touchdown passes to lead the Bears -- who trailed 20-7 going into the fourth quarter -- to a 28-20 upset of the 49ers. Rookie Kyle Fuller helped in Chicago outscoring the 49ers 21-0 in the final 15 minutes as he picked off a pair of passes to provide the Bears' offense with short fields.
Worst moment: Marshall’s impassioned speech -- which could be heard by reporters outside the locker room prior to team officials opening the doors -- and scathing postgame comments following Chicago’s 27-14 loss at home to the Miami Dolphins caused mixed reactions among the team. Marshall called the team’s performances and 3-4 record at the time “unacceptable.” And while some players agreed with the receiver’s comments, others reacted indifferently. Ultimately, Marshall’s locker room speech and comments could have galvanized the Bears, but appear to have done more harm than good considering the beatdown the club took the following game at New England.
Key to the second half: Offensively, the problems run deep as Cutler needs to significantly reduce the turnovers while the staff needs to help out as much as possible on the play-calling end. Trestman talked about the offense’s need to strike a better balance with the pass/run ratio, which obviously would expose Cutler to fewer chances to commit turnovers, while keeping teams guessing. In the passing game, the Bears need to incorporate more weapons instead of relying so heavily on Marshall and Jeffery. Given Martellus Bennett's skill set, there’s no doubt the Bears could use him similar to the way the Patriots attacked the club’s defense with Rob Gronkowski. Defensively, the Bears need to find a way to maintain a level of consistency despite utilizing inexperienced players due to injuries. Injuries were a legitimate excuse for the defense last year, but won’t fly any more given all the depth the team obtained in the offseason, not to mention its stated goal prior to the season of developing every defender on the roster, regardless of stature.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice, along with safety Chris Conte (shoulder), running back Matt Forte (coach’s decision), right tackle Jordan Mills (foot), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (coach’s decision) and linebacker D.J. Williams (neck).
The Bears held out Briggs and Williams from the club’s win last week over the Atlanta Falcons, and Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t anticipate Briggs will practice Thursday.
Mills, meanwhile, is hobbled with by the same left foot that forced him the miss the entire preseason after undergoing surgery in the offseason to repair a fractured metatarsal. In the win over the Falcons, Mills was flagged for three pre-snap penalties, and struggled in pass protection.
“We gave him some time off today,” Trestman said. “He was at practice, did some limited things. But we kept him out. We’ll see where he is tomorrow.”
Bushrod and Bostic participated in a limited capacity. Bushrod has missed the last two games after suffering ankle and knee injuries during practice leading into the club’s Oct. 5 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Bostic missed the club’s last outing at Atlanta as the Bears’ entire starting linebacking corps was forced to miss due to injuries.
Other limited participants included safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerback Sherrick McManis.
Second-year receiver Marquess Wilson (fractured clavicle) is eligible to return to practice this week after being placed on short-term injured reserve on Sept. 2, but he didn’t participate in Wednesday’s workout at Halas Hall. Trestman said the Bears plan to bring along the No. 3 receiver slowly. Wilson will be eligible to return in Week 10 when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers.
“There’s a whole plan involved to when he can start to work, when we want him to start work,” Trestman said. “That will all take place, really get started in the next two to three weeks in terms of his protocol so to speak [for getting] back into the swing of things. He’s obviously getting a lot of work with the trainers and working out with [strength and conditioning coordinator] Mike [Clark] and so forth. But it’s all part of the timing issue of when he can come back as much as anything.”
In a near-empty Chicago locker room after the game, tight end Martellus Bennett suggested the team should maybe enlist actor Vince Vaughn to do something similar for Bears fans.
“I like Samuel L.,” Bennett said. “Some people say we look alike. I look like a young Samuel L. That’s pretty cool. We need to get somebody to do one for the Bears. Probably Vince Vaughn. Vince Vaughn would be funny. He’d be good. But Samuel L. has that voice. I need him to do a voice in one of my cartoons for free.”
Forte explains TD: Matt Forte scored a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 80 yards on 17 attempts. Forte explained that his 9-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter came on a play that featured a run-pass option, with quarterback Jay Cutler opting to call the run. Smart move by Cutler because the play seemed to catch the Falcons off guard.
Jones emotional: Rookie linebacker Christian Jones made his first NFL start against the Falcons and called the situation “emotional,” as it made him think back to how it felt to go undrafted after a highly productive college career at Florida State.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jay Cutler stuffed a hand in one pocket at the podium and readied for the storm of questions about to rain down in the visitors’ locker room at Bank of America Field in the aftermath of the Chicago Bears giving one away.
Leading 24-21 in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Chicago watched its advantage disintegrate as a result of committing turnovers on back-to-back possessions over a span of 1 minute, 39 seconds. Carolina converted those turnovers into 10 points en route to a 31-24 triumph. The giveaways serve as a small snapshot for what appear to be larger issues for Chicago’s supposedly vaunted offense, which has been outscored 34-3 in the second half of its past two outings -- both losses.
“Pretty frustrating,” Cutler said. “There were many opportunities for us to close this out offensively. We put our defense in a bad spot. I thought they played really well given the circumstances and some of the field position we put them in. Offensively, a lot of that is on me. We’ve just got to play better.”
Chicago stormed to a 21-7 lead with 10:51 left in the second quarter when Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for a 25-yard touchdown, and at that point it looked as though the Bears might run away with the game.
Then halftime hit, which for the Bears these past two weeks is akin to disaster.
The Bears ripped Carolina for 235 yards in the first half, but managed just 112 yards in the second half with two turnovers and a third-down conversion rate of 16.7 percent. Going into Sunday, the Bears had turned over the ball only once in the fourth quarter through the first four outings, yet managed to do that on back-to-back possessions to throw away this contest.
“I think that we’ve struggled at times, and that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on. We’ve had a lot of very consistent moments, and then we’ve gone inconsistent,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We have the last two weeks, certainly in the second half. So it’s something that we’ve got to continue to work on and get better at. We still haven’t put four quarters together. We’ve put some good quarters together, but we haven’t put four quarters together yet.”
Cutler has led nine second-half drives over the past two weeks with three drives ending with interceptions. One drive concluded with a turnover on downs, while three more ended with punts. Two other drives finished with fumbles, including Matt Forte’s with 4:29 left to play which set up Cam Newton’s game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen.
Forte said the offense needs to develop “a mindset” that will help it to finish games, and admitted “we’ve got to stop” turning over the ball.
“It’s not like we’re out there being careless with the football,” he said. “Sometimes balls get tipped and guys make good plays out there. They get paid to play football, too. In my case, especially in a crucial situation like that, I can’t let go of the ball.”
You can’t throw interceptions, either. Forte’s fumble came after Cutler was intercepted by Thomas DeCoud on an attempt down the middle of the field intended for Santonio Holmes.
Cutler said the ball “just got away from me,” adding that “high and over the middle of the field is never good. It happened twice today.”
For Chicago to reverse what’s becoming a disturbing trend of futility in the second halves of games, that needs to stop, and the team needs to find a way to adjust offensively to the opponent’s halftime adjustments.