Chicago Bears: Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 15, 2013

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

What it means: Jay Cutler shook off a horrid beginning with three touchdown passes to go with a passer rating of 102.2 to keep the Bears in the mix in the NFC North title race. What’s more, there’s a chance the Detroit Lions could help out the Bears on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Lions defeat the Ravens, they’ll remain ahead of the Bears by a half-game in the NFC North standings with just two contests left to play. But if Detroit falls, the Bears will lead the division, with a realistic shot at winning it.

Almost a statistical anomaly: Typically the Bears win games when they score defensive touchdowns. But the club nearly bucked that trend in Cleveland.

Coming into the game, the Bears had won 11 consecutive games when they scored a defensive touchdown. So when Zack Bowman helped the Bears score 14 points in just 1 minute, 41 seconds to turn a 10-3 halftime deficit into 17-10 lead with his 43-yard interception return at the 13:48 mark of the third quarter, it appeared the visitors were well on the way to yet another victory by way of a defensive score. After all, since 2005, the Bears had racked up a 25-2 record in games they scored a defensive TD. The record is now 26-2, but an offense that allowed the Browns to score two defensive touchdowns almost ruined that.

Score TDs, don’t give them up: Chicago’s offense is supposed to score touchdowns, not surrender them. But the Bears nearly negated a decent performance by the struggling defense when they granted Cleveland’s defense a couple of freebie touchdowns. Cutler started the giveaway party in the second quarter by throwing an interception that was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Tashaun Gipson that put the Browns up 10-3.

Then, in the third quarter, Martellus Bennett caught a 5-yard pass from Cutler, only to cough it up on a hit from Billy Winn. T.J. Ward scooped up that loose ball and returned it 51 yards for a score to help Cleveland end the third quarter with a 24-17 lead.

Blown opportunity: Bowman intercepted Jason Campbell in the second quarter to give Chicago possession at its own 40, and although the Bears moved quickly into Browns territory, they blew an opportunity to score. On fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 24, receiver Alshon Jeffery was flagged for false start as the Bears attempted to convert for a first down. That penalty moved back the Bears and forced Robbie Gould to kick a 46-yard field goal. Gould connected on the kick, but Corey Wootton was called for holding.

That quick sequence of plays forced the Bears to punt when they were in prime position to put points on the board.

What’s next: The Bears face Philadelphia, which fell at Minnesota, on the road Sunday in a game flexed to a prime-time kickoff. Given where the Bears and the Eagles sit in their respective divisions and the fact that only two games remain, this contest is shaping up as a crucial one for both clubs.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 1, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: The Bears fell farther behind the Detroit Lions in contention for the NFC North title with the loss to the Vikings. Based on the way the season is shaping up, and Chicago’s NFC record (3-6), the Bears need to win the division for a chance to advance to the postseason. Chicago’s prospects for a wild-card spot look dim.

Jeffery on fire: Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery produced his second 200-plus-yard outing of the season against the Vikings, hauling in 12 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Jeffery’s 80-yard touchdown 52 seconds into the third quarter made him the club’s first 1,000-yard receiver of the season and marked the first 1,000-yard season in his NFL career.

Mixed reviews for revamped front: Jeremiah Ratliff made his Chicago debut and Stephen Paea rejoined the lineup coming off a turf-toe injury. Their presence in the lineup allowed the Bears to utilize some creativity that yielded results in the pass-rushing department, but much of the same against the run.

Paea and Corey Wootton lined up inside at tackle with Shea McClellin and Julius Peppers playing the defensive end spots. Ratliff entered with 10:57 left in the first quarter and nearly sacked Christian Ponder on his first snap. That extra inside presence allowed the Bears to move Wootton outside to play opposite Peppers. At times, the Bears even used Peppers inside next to Ratliff with Wootton and McClellin at the end positions. The diversity helped the Bears snuff out Minnesota’s first three drives with sacks, two from Peppers and one other sack split between Paea and nickel corner Isaiah Frey.

Against the run, however, Chicago continued to struggle. The Bears experienced success early against Adrian Peterson. But the running back broke the century mark early in the third quarter and finished with a season-high 211 yards.

Milestone: Matt Forte took a handoff in the first quarter and reeled off a 16-yard gain to move into second place in franchise history in yards from scrimmage. Forte passed Neal Anderson to take second place behind Walter Payton, who gained 21,264 yards from scrimmage from 1975 to '87. Forte rushed for 120 yards and caught two passes for 31 yards.

What’s next: The Bears take the day off from practice on Monday and Tuesday before beginning preparations Wednesday to host the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field for a Dec. 9 matchup on "Monday Night Football." With the Cowboys having played on Thanksgiving, the Bears will be facing a well-rested team.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

November, 17, 2013

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 23-20 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens at Soldier Field:

What it means: Only the tiebreaker from Detroit sweeping Chicago keeps the Bears from leading the division. So Chicago's win over the Ravens coupled with Detroit's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers puts the Bears back in serious contention for a legitimate shot at winning the NFC North.

Second-guessing Marc Trestman: With possession at the Baltimore 2-yard line thanks to a defensive holding penalty on Jimmy Smith in the second quarter, Chicago called three consecutive passes that fell incomplete, leading to the Bears settling for a 20-yard field goal that made the score 10-3 in favor of the visitors. The calls seemed a little questionable given where the Bears were on the field. After throwing incomplete to Brandon Marshall and Tony Fiammetta on first and second down, Josh McCown tossed another incompletion to Marshall. On the play, it appeared McCown could have taken advantage of a mismatch on the outside with tight end Martellus Bennett lined up against a Baltimore cornerback.

In the fourth quarter, the Bears elected to punt instead of trying to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 44 that would've allowed them to run more time off the clock to preserve a win in regulation. With a little more than a minute to play and the Ravens in the red zone, Trestman also elected not to burn any of his timeouts. Had he called a couple, the Bears may have had time to mount a potentially game-winning drive after Justin Tucker's tying 21-yard field goal.

Bass bailout: Despite the squandered opportunity from the 2 in the second quarter, Bears reserve defensive end David Bass bailed out the offense on the first play of Baltimore's ensuing possession just 12 seconds later. Midway through his rush, Bass tipped a Joe Flacco pass intended for Vonta Leach back into his own hands and romped 24 yards for the touchdown to tie the score at 10.

Coming into the game, the Bears held a 24-2 record since 2005 when they've scored a defensive touchdown, including 10 consecutive wins under those circumstances. Now they're 25-2 with 11 in a row.

Defensive letdown: Even after Bass' potentially game-defining play, the defense slumped on Baltimore's next possession, allowing Flacco to go 5-for-5 for 47 yards on a drive capped by a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. Defensive end Julius Peppers added to the letdown with a 15-yard penalty for hitting Flacco as the quarterback attempted to slide on a play during the drive. Peppers appeared to slip on the play, which led to the contact.

Season high in a half: The Bears committed seven penalties for 61 yards in the first half alone, which was enough to set a season high for penalties and penalty yardage. The most the Bears had been penalized before Sunday was six times for 43 yards in an Oct. 6 loss to New Orleans.

The Bears only topped that by finishing with 13 penalties for 111 yards. Normally, that gets you beat.

What's next: The Bears review film of Sunday's game on Monday before taking the day off Tuesday and beginning preparations Wednesday for the first of back-to-back road games starting with the St. Louis Rams.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

October, 20, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field:

What it means: A 4-3 record with an injured quarterback in Jay Cutler going into the bye isn’t ideal, but the Bears are in decent shape with a much needed week off on the horizon. The Bears need this time off to heal.

Stock watch: Josh McCown’s stock shot through the roof with his outing (119.6 passer rating), which should give the staff and his teammates confidence in him should Cutler be forced to miss extended time.

D on field too long: Chicago’s offense put the defense in a difficult bind in the first half by missing on all four of its conversions on third down. That resulted in Washington leading in time of possession 22:01 to 7:59, which means the defense was on the field way too long. The statistics indicated as much.

In taking a 24-17 lead at the half, the Redskins converted 4 of 8 third downs and racked up 14 first downs on 42 snaps. Chicago, meanwhile, generated just two first downs and 46 yards on 17 plays.

Record-tying Hester: Devin Hester finally produced the breakout game the team anticipated with his first touchdown this season on a return. Hester broke an 81-yard punt return for a TD with 5:52 left in the first half, and that score tied him with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for most combined return TDs (19) in NFL history.

Hester reached 19 total return TDs in 114 games, while it took Sanders 188 games.

The Hester outing wasn’t unexpected. Washington gave up a touchdown on an 86-yard punt return last week, in addition to a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another Dallas Cowboys touchdown.

First miss: The seemingly automatic Robbie Gould missed his first field goal of the season with 9:30 left in the third quarter and his team down 24-17. Gould pushed the 34-yard attempt wide right.

Gould connected on a 47-yard attempt in the first quarter for his 11th-consecutive field goal without a miss this season. Gould hit a 49-yarder in the fourth quarter.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday for a 9:30 a.m. film review before an 11:30 team meeting. After that, the Bears receive the rest of the week off for their bye. The club won’t return to practice until 7:30 a.m. Oct. 28.

Rapid Reaction: Lions 40, Bears 32

September, 29, 2013

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions:

What it means: Chicago tried to downplay the significance of this game, calling it just another outing. But internally, several within the organization called this an important indicator of just how far the team had advanced. The Bears failed their most significant test to date in spectacular fashion, but the division title remains in reach. What’s important now is how the team reacts to the setback.

Too much too early: The Bears allowed 27 points in the second quarter alone, marking the first time they’d given up that many in the second quarter since Dec. 21, 1985. Chicago gave up 26 in the second quarter to New England in 2010.

The 27 points in the first half were the most they surrendered in a half since Dec. 18, 2011, when Seattle scored 31 points in the second half.

Rush defense sinks Bears: Reggie Bush rushed for 112 yards on 11 attempts in the first half, including a 37-yard highlight-reel touchdown that gave Detroit a 30-13 lead.

Bush’s production opened up Detroit’s offense and exposed vulnerabilities in Chicago’s defense. The Bears allowed Bush to gain too much yardage up the middle, and once he reached the second and third levels, he made defenders miss too easily. The absence of Henry Melton might be more significant than expected.

Points off Cutler: The Lions scored 17 points off Jay Cutler turnovers in seizing a 37-16 advantage as the third quarter expired.

Nick Fairley returned a Cutler fumble four yards for a touchdown, while an underthrown pass intended for Brandon Marshall resulted in a Glover Quin interception that set up a Calvin Johnson touchdown. In the first quarter, Louis Delmas snagged one of his two interceptions on a pass intended for Alshon Jeffery. That interception, which didn’t appear to be Cutler’s fault, set up a David Akers field goal.

Tillman ailing: Playing with an injured knee and groin, cornerback Charles Tillman held Johnson to three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown in the first half but appeared to be in discomfort. Tillman left in the second quarter, was replaced by Zack Bowman and returned after halftime, only to be pulled again. Tillman’s health remains an issue.

What’s next: With a few players banged up after Sunday’s game, it’s likely coach Marc Trestman gives the Bears a day off before bringing them back Wednesday as the club prepares to host the New Orleans Saints.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 24, Bengals 21

September, 8, 2013

CHICAGO -- Here are a few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: With the Bears behind 21-17, Jay Cutler engineered an eight-play, 81-yard drive and hit Brandon Marshall for the go-ahead 19-yard touchdown. Cutler completed 3 of 4 passes for 63 yards, and scrambled for an 18-yard gain. That drive should give Cutler’s teammates confidence in his ability to lead in crunch time, while giving the quarterback belief in Marc Trestman’s offense.

Record-setting Gould: Robbie Gould blasted a team-record 58-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining in the first half, which is precisely what a kicker should be doing in a contract year. Gould’s previous best kick was a 57-yarder hit in 2011.

Dating back to 2010, Gould has made 11 consecutive field-goal attempts from 50-plus yards. Gould is now 14-of-18 on field goals of 50-plus yards.

In the final year of his contract, Gould expressed disappointment at training camp about the team’s decision to not sign players to extensions during the season.

Pressure please? The Bengals converted 70 percent of third downs through the first three quarters, as Andy Dalton tossed a pair of touchdown passes. The one missing stat came from Chicago’s side, and it showed exactly why the Bengals experienced so much success on offense.

The Bears simply failed to pressure Dalton, who despite throwing two interceptions, finished the first three quarters with a passer rating of 97.2. Chicago didn’t register a single hit on the quarterback in the first three quarters, as Dalton carved up the secondary for 257 yards on 23-of-29 passing.

But the Bears delivered with the game on the line, holding on to a 24-21 lead over the final eight minutes.

Shea McClellin dropped Dalton for a 5-yard loss, which basically short-circuited Cincinnati’s potential comeback drive in the fourth quarter.

Gutsy effort by Tillman: Cornerback Charles Tillman picked off two passes, but he had an up-and-down day against A.J. Green, who finished the game with a pair of touchdown receptions. Not only did Tillman struggle at times against Green; the cornerback also suffered from dehydration.

Tillman vomited at least twice on the sideline prior to leaving the game late in the second quarter. Tillman re-entered after halftime, and played the rest of the way.

What’s next: The Bears will take a couple of days off before returning to Halas Hall to begin preparations Wednesday for the matchup against NFC North foe Minnesota.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 34, Raiders 26

August, 24, 2013

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Maybe Jay Cutler, at least for the time being, put an end to the notion that he’s overly reliant on receiver Brandon Marshall.

Cutler completed 12 of 21 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in the Chicago Bears' 34-26 win over the Oakland Raiders on Friday night, with none of those falling into the hands of Marshall, who dropped two balls and had another one knocked away by D.J. Hayden. In a little more than two quarters of action, Cutler produced a passer rating of 93.8, which would have been higher had his targets not dropped a total of five passes over the first two quarters.

But enough of all that. Let’s take a deeper look:

What it means: Even though the Week 3 game goes down as the most important game of the preseason, the Bears can’t put too much stock in their strong performance against what was clearly an overmatched Raiders team. The Bears operated efficiently in the passing game (3-of-6 on third down), and the rushing attack tore chunks (110 yards in the first half) out of Oakland. The offensive line protected Cutler well, allowing no sacks. Most importantly, the Bears finished the game without any starters going down to injury.

The Bears can walk away encouraged because of the way they executed what up to that point was the most extensive game plan of the exhibition season. Defensively, the Bears shut down the Raiders, holding them to 0-of-6 on third down in the first half, with Isaiah Frey and Tim Jennings picking off passes.

So Chicago’s starters ended the exhibition season on a high note, considering they won’t see any action in the preseason finale at Soldier Field against Cleveland.

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Rapid Reaction: Bears 33, Chargers 28

August, 15, 2013

CHICAGO -- Chicago's starters dominated San Diego's No. 1's in the first quarter, scoring 14 points while limiting the Chargers to none as the Bears walked away with a 33-28 victory.

Here are a few quick thoughts on the game:

What it means: Progress that the Bears will be ecstatic about taking into their third preseason game, which is typically considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season. After a so-so performance in the exhibition opener against the Carolina Panthers, the Bears put on somewhat of a show offensively for the home crowd by scoring 14 points against San Diego's starters in the first quarter.

In rolling up 100 yards in the quarter, the Bears gained six first downs, converted two of three third downs and finished the quarter with a 100 percent efficiency rating in the red zone. Jay Cutler was 4-of-5 for 38 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but it is somewhat concerning that he fired every one of those passes to Brandon Marshall.

Defensively, the Bears sacked Philip Rivers twice and forced two turnovers in the first quarter, while limiting the Chargers to three first downs and a 33 percent conversion rate on third downs.

OL picture clearer? Not really. Or maybe now it's crystal clear. Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills ratcheted up the difficulty for veterans James Brown and J'Marcus Webb to retain their starting jobs. Running with the starters for the first time this preseason, Long and Mills held down the right side of Chicago's line against San Diego's starters, and kept Cutler's jersey sparkling clean all night. Although Cutler suffered two sacks in the first quarter, neither of them came from pressure off the right side of the line.

The telling moment for the rookies came near the end of the first quarter. Holding possession at the San Diego 11 with 1:32 remaining in the first quarter, the Bears handed off to Matt Forte three times in a row behind Mills and Long. With the rookies leading the way -- not to mention laying fierce blocks -- Forte gained 11 yards on those three carries, and capped a four-play scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown that put the Bears up 14-0 after Robbie Gould's extra-point kick.

Going into last week, Bears coach Marc Trestman said it was part of the plan to play Long and Mills with the starters against the Chargers. It appears those rookies might stick in the starting lineup, while Webb's roster spot could be in jeopardy given the fact the club has other alternatives at right tackle in veterans Eben Britton and Jonathan Scott.

Speaking of the O-line: The group played fairly well for the limited amount of snaps the offense played in the first quarter. Sure, Cutler absorbed two sacks. The first came due to a missed block by tight end Martellus Bennett. Technically, Bennett is a member of the offensive line, but he wasn't considered among the team's concerns about pass protection coming into the game. The second sack Cutler absorbed came partially as a result of the quarterback holding the ball too long, but he also shuffled into his own linemen and San Diego's rush. On the play, both the right side and left side provided adequate protection.


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Forte gets going early: Forte chipped away at the notion he can't get it done on the goal line by running three times in a row from the 11 for gains of 6 and 2 yards before scoring on a 3-yard touchdown. The old regime seemed to believe Forte couldn't grind it out in short-yardage situations. So it was refreshing to see the new staff show confidence in the running back, who ultimately might wind up having to carry this team.

Forte finished with 74 yards on eight attempts, including a 58-yard burst on a toss toward the visitor's sideline in which he made a defender miss in space to gain extra yardage. The run set up the club's first touchdown.

Locked on Marshall: Cutler completed four of five passes with a touchdown and an interception in limited action with a passer rating of 98.3. On the surface, those numbers look respectable. But it seems a tad concerning that every one of Cutler's throws against the Chargers traveled Marshall's direction.

Cutler hit Marshall on a pinpoint back-shoulder throw for the club's first touchdown of the night from 5 yards out to cap a seven-play drive spanning 84 yards in 3 minutes, 45 seconds. Cutler never looked at any other receiver on the play, but that might be of little consequence due to play design (maybe the pass was designed to come out quickly) and the fact it was a touchdown.

Cutler's interception with 5:31 left in the first quarter seemed more telling. Cutler threw the ball down the deep middle of the field with Marshall bracketed in coverage with one defender over the top of him and one underneath.

Hester still has it: Maybe specializing exclusively on returns was the right move for the Bears and Devin Hester. Hester caught the game's opening kickoff 8-yards deep in Chicago's end zone, and busted it 45 yards to set up the Bears at the 37.

Coming into the season, there seemed to be questions about whether Hester had lost a step. It certainly didn't look like it Thursday night.

D-line is deep: The Bears sat starting defensive linemen Julius Peppers (hamstring) and Henry Melton (concussion), but the defense suffered no ill effects. Young defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin each notched first-quarter sacks of Rivers, with one of the sacks resulting in a turnover.

Wootton dropped Rivers for a 9-yard loss with 6:15 left in the first quarter. McClellin, a first-round pick in 2012, sacked Rivers and knocked the ball loose with safety Major Wright scooping up the fumble. That turnover led to Forte's 3-yard TD run.

Early in the second quarter, reserve defensive tackle Nate Collins joined the sack party when he stuffed Rivers for a 6-yard loss on third down to end a San Diego drive.

Same ol' D: The Bears forced four turnovers in the exhibition opener at Carolina, and the starting defense basically picked up where it left off against the Chargers. Safety Chris Conte picked off a Rivers pass intended for Keenan Allen in the first quarter, and Wright recovered a fumble forced by McClellin.

What's next: With training camp now over, the Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday where they will begin preparation for an Aug. 23 road matchup against the Oakland Raiders.

Rapid Reaction: Panthers 24, Bears 17

August, 9, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here are a few quick thoughts from Chicago's 24-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Friday in the preseason opener:

What it means: There's still work to do on both sides of the ball. What's most important is the team came out of the game relatively injury free while still managing to get in some much-needed work.
On offense, the protection was somewhat inconsistent, which led to a sack of Jay Cutler, who also tossed an interception on the group's first play of the game.

"It was an unfortunate start," Cutler said. "I have to put the ball on Alshon’s [Jeffery] other shoulder. We had some good stuff after that; we had some bad stuff. Typical preseason game. We just have to take a look at it and get better next week."

The first team managed to gain just three first downs in three series, but there's no denying that outside of the interception, Cutler was pretty much on target with his throws.

Cutler completed 6 of 8 passes for 56 yards and finished with a passer rating of 54.2.

"Well, other than the pick we had, we moved the ball a little bit," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We got a few throws in. Jay made some great throws. We caught some slants in contested throwing areas. We got a few runs in. Matt [Forte], got a couple of catches, moved the ball around. Certainly didn't do what we wanted or up to our expectations. But other than the first play and the one sack -- we've got work to do."

Defensively, the bad news was the group gave up one touchdown trying to defend a short field created by Cutler's interception, combined with a pass-interference penalty on James Anderson on the next play as he tried to cover former Bears tight end Greg Olsen. The Anderson penalty put the Panthers at the Chicago 4. Three plays later, Cam Newton hit Brandon LaFell for a 3-yard touchdown at the 10:14 mark to give the home team an early lead.

The good news is the defense put points on the board with Jon Bostic's 51-yard interception return at the 6:09 mark of the first quarter. Bostic filled in for injured starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams (calf) and while it's too soon to definitively gauge his performance (that comes after film study), the showing appeared promising.

"There were a lot of things we could do better," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "There were some things we did well. When we put on the tape, we'll all evaluate the things to improve on. All in all, when you are getting turnovers in the game that is very big."

Injury update: Long-snapper Pat Mannelly suffered injured ribs when he was blindsided on a punt in the first half. The severity of that injury wasn’t immediately known. Team officials took defensive tackle Henry Melton back into the locker room in the first quarter, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. He’ll have to follow the NFL's new concussion protocol before he's allowed to practice again. It is possible Melton could be back on the field for Chicago's next practice at training camp, but unlikely given his importance to the defense. There's no need to rush him back into action.

Webb of inconsistency: J'Marcus Webb performed inconsistently in 2012 at left tackle, and his move to the right side for 2013 wasn't promising in the first preseason game.

During Chicago's third series of the night, Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson blew past Webb on the outside. In his attempt to recover, Webb overstepped outside, and Johnson cut back inside to sack Cutler along with Kawann Short.

Don't count out Webb just yet though. It's only the first preseason game.


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Second-team sloppiness: Josh McCown zipped a near perfectly thrown ball to tight end Fendi Onobun in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown in the second quarter, but he dropped the pass. On the next play, running back Armando Allen fumbled after catching a pass from McCown, with Anderson Russell recovering for Carolina at the Panthers' 12.

Onobun has struggled to catch the ball throughout the preseason, but seemed to come on in recent practices after the team had brought in Leonard Pope to compete for the job. The Bears rave about his consistency, but the truth is Onobun needs to be more consistent at catching the ball if he expects to make the 53-man roster at the end of camp.

Lopsided time of possession: Both teams played the majority of the first quarter with starters on the field on both sides of the ball, and the Panthers dominated time of possession. Carolina was 2-of-5 on third-down conversions, while the Bears finished 0-for-2 in that category. The Panthers held the ball for 9 minutes, 31 seconds in the first quarter, and the Bears held possession for 5 minutes, 29 seconds.

Bostic time? Not yet, but the rookie definitely showed why the Bears made him their second-round pick in the draft. In addition to the 51-yard interception return for a touchdown, Bostic was credited for two tackles and a pass breakup. He's probably not ready to take over D.J. Williams' starting job in the middle, but his play should definitely raise the comfort level of the coaching staff if the rookie is forced to play in a pinch.

Bostic wasn't the only rookie to show promise. Fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene came into the game during the team's third defensive series and contributed two tackles, including one for lost yardage.

Frey maintains: Second-year veteran Isaiah Frey maintained the momentum he's been riding throughout training camp practices with a solid outing in his first preseason game. Frey took over at the starting nickel corner when Kelvin Hayden suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. The youngster hasn't disappointed.

Virtually every day of practice at training camp, Frey has made a head-turning play, whether it's an interception or a pass breakup. Against the Panthers, Frey nearly picked off a Derek Anderson pass in the second quarter.

Briggs makes calls: With Brian Urlacher now out of the picture, Briggs has taken on the responsibility of making the club's defensive calls. Briggs said it went well.

"It went smooth. I got the call, called it out to teammates, they heard it, they received it, and they played the play," Briggs said.

What’s next: The Bears receive a day off on Saturday, before hitting the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University on Sunday for the final week of training camp. Chicago hosts the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night at Soldier Field for the second game of the preseason.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 26, Lions 24

December, 30, 2012

DETROIT -- Despite a fast start, the Chicago Bears wound up escaping Ford Field with a 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday to keep alive their hopes for salvaging the club's second consecutive late-season collapse.

The Bears scored 16 points off four turnovers, but the performance on offense didn't inspire much confidence about the club's prospects in the postseason, should it advance.

Let's look closer.

What it means: The Bears finish the season 10-6, but it's still unknown whether they did enough to advance to the playoffs. Chicago certainly took care of its part, but now it needs the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Minnesota Vikings. If the Packers defeat the Vikings later on Sunday, the Bears advance to the postseason as the sixth seed, and will face the San Francisco 49ers on the road to open the playoffs.

Diversity pays off: Jay Cutler completed passes to six receivers in the first half, which is the most he's hit in a game since the club's 21-14 loss on Dec. 9 to the Vikings. With the Lions geared up to shut down Brandon Marshall, Cutler fired a 55-yard strike to Alshon Jeffery on Chicago's first play from scrimmage before hitting Evan Rodriguez on the next play. By spreading the ball around early, Cutler opened up things for the entire team.

It's almost a given that on most passes, Cutler looks solely for Marshall. But against the Lions, Cutler gave his other receivers opportunities to make plays and they delivered. Earl Bennett caught a 60-yard touchdown from Cutler with 4:33 left in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-3 lead after Olindo Mare's extra-point kick.

With 13:37 left to play, Bennett and Jeffery had already combined for 185 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. The Bears certainly needed the contributions. With 6:50 left to play, Marshall caught a 19-yard pass, his fifth of the game. The Lions for the most part neutralized Marshall, holding him to just 42 yards receiving.

Turnover tally: The Bears scored 13 points off turnovers, but blew an opportunity to turn those giveaways into more; 28 points, potentially. Julius Peppers, Major Wright, and Eric Weems each scooped up fumbles, while Tim Jennings increased his league-leading interception total to nine with his pick in the second quarter.

Peppers' fumble recovery off a Israel Idonije sack and strip of Stafford marked the only takeaway the Bears turned into a touchdown (a 1-yard run by Matt Forte). Chicago settled for field goals on the rest. The Bears came into the game with a record of 50-12 in games in which they finished with a positive turnover margin.

Decision-making costly: During the week of preparation for Sunday's game, special teams coordinator Dave Toub talked extensively about the need for Devin Hester to make better decisions when fielding punts. Toub should've discussed decision-making on kickoffs with Hester as well. Hester fielded a kickoff 5 yards deep in his end zone and attempted to bring it out. Lions special teams ace Kassim Osgood dropped Hester on the Chicago 5, forcing the Bears to start in bad field position on their first drive of the second half.

The offense managed to move the ball 41 yards before punting after eight plays. But Hester would have given the offense a better chance to succeed by downing the kickoff for a touchback that would've given the group possession at the 20 instead of its own 5.

What's next: The waiting game as the Bears fly on a charter home that isn't even equipped with Wi-Fi to keep them connected to what's going on in some of the other games. With the Green Bay-Minnesota matchup kicking off at 4:25 p.m. ET, the Bears won't immediately know their postseason fate. But if the Packers win, the Bears will face the 49ers in the opening round of the NFC playoffs. If the Vikings win, Chicago's season ends and an offseason of uncertainty begins.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 28, Cardinals 13

December, 23, 2012

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Bears exorcised discussions of doom-and-gloom for at least another week Sunday by destroying the Arizona Cardinals 28-13 on the strength of a pair of defensive touchdowns from Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman to snap a three-game slide, while keeping alive flimsy playoff hopes.

Quarterback Jay Cutler tossed a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall in the second quarter, and running back Matt Forte rushed for his fourth TD of the season, in addition to averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

But it wasn't all smooth. The club lost Forte (ankle) and safety Chris Conte (hamstring) in the third quarter with injuries. The team didn't immediately disclose the severity of the injuries, and it's unknown whether they'll affect the availability of Forte and Conte for the Dec. 30 season finale at Detroit.

Still looking to snag one of the remaining playoff seeds, the Bears need their full arsenal of weaponry on hand next week against a Lions team that will look to play the spoiler role.

Let's take a closer look:

What it means: The Bears remain in contention for a spot in the playoffs, but the Minnesota Vikings made the road difficult by defeating the Houston Texans 23-6. With the New York Giants losing to the Baltimore Ravens 33-14, the Bears get into the playoffs next week if they defeat the Lions and the Vikings fall at Green Bay.

The only other way Bears can advance to the postseason is if the Seattle Seahawks fall Sunday night to the San Francisco 49ers, and then lose again in their season finale on Dec. 30 against the St. Louis Rams.

Scoring D: Bowman's recovery of a Beanie Wells in the end zone gave Chicago its eighth touchdown of the season, and Tillman tacked on No. 9 when he picked off a Ryan Lindley pass intended for Andre Roberts and skipped in for a 10-yard TD that made the score 28-10 after Olindo Mare's extra point.

Tillman's INT return helped the Bears tie the record for interception touchdowns set in 1998 by the Seattle Seahawks (9). In all, the Bears have scored nine touchdowns on defense this season and the club is one shy of the 10 total return TDs generated by the '98 Seahawks (eight INT return scores, two fumble recovery return TDs).

The nine TDs surpasses the team record set in 1992 (three interception return TDs and four fumble returns).

The Bears now own a 21-2 record in games they scored a TD on defense, including 6-0 under those circumstances this season. The defense now has 40 takeaways on the season.

Peppers performs: Julius Peppers generated three sacks in a game for the first time since 2010 on Sunday by dropping Lindley twice and Brian Hoyer once in Sunday's victory. Peppers contributed 1.5 sacks against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 28, but finished with two more sacks in a game just once all season.

The performance by Peppers on Sunday marked just the third time since 2008 the veteran finished a game with three sacks.

Peppers sacked Hoyer for a 6-yard loss in the fourth quarter, and swatted the ball loose before the quarterback recovered at the Chicago 40 to set up an Arizona punt.

Closing in on 1,000: Forte delayed reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the third time in his career when he suffered a third-quarter right ankle injury. He needs just 9 yards Sunday at Detroit to accomplish the milestone. Forte rushed for 88 yards in a little more than two quarters of action against the Cardinals, and averaged 7.3 yards on 12 attempts.

Forte last reached 1,000 yards rushing in 2010, and fell 3 yards short in 2011 when he reached 997 yard before suffering a knee injury that knocked him out of the final four games.

Not named Marshall: Yes, Cutler completed a few balls to receivers not named Marshall against the Cardinals. Coming off a loss to the Packers in which he didn't complete a pass to any other receiver outside of Marshall, Cutler made connections with rookie Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett. The quarterback also completed passes to tight end Kellen Davis, Forte and Armando Allen.

What's next: Given the team's mounting injuries, the Bears likely will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to the practice field Wednesday to start preparing for Sunday's season finale against the Lions.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 21, Bears 13

December, 16, 2012
CHICAGO -- Chicago talked all week about controlling its own destiny, but now it's time for a new motivational method for head coach Lovie Smith after the club dropped its fifth in six outings with a 21-13 defeat Sunday at home to the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears no longer control their own playoff fate, and if they win out, there's still a chance they could miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

Let's look closer:

What it means: The Bears put their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy with the loss to the Packers, and they no longer control their own destiny. The best record Chicago can hope for now is 10-6, and that might not be good enough for it to advance to the postseason because there are several teams, including the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys in the mix to finish with the same record. We already know for sure that Seattle holds a tiebreaker over the Bears by virtue of its 23-17 win at Soldier Field on Dec. 2.

According to the ESPN NFL Playoff machine, if Chicago and Minnesota finish with the same record, the Vikings receive the sixth seed. What's worse for the Bears is that since Green Bay has already clinched the NFC North, there's a good chance it will rest key players when it faces Minnesota in the regular-season finale, which would give the Vikings a better shot at winning.

Rough outing for rookie WR: Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery might need to first establish himself in the NFL before referees start to give him favorable calls. Against the Packers, officials called flags on Jeffery three times for pushing off defenders, with the last coming with 2:58 left to play. It negated what would have been a 36-yard reception.

Interestingly, veteran Brandon Marshall typically gets favorable rulings in similar situations.

Jeffery's performance seemed typical of the season he's endured, a rough one. After getting off to a strong start, Jeffery fractured his hand and missed four weeks. Then when Jeffery returned to the lineup on Nov. 19 at San Francisco, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery and two more weeks of rehabilitation.

Big special teams play: Despite Chicago fielding a beat-up special teams unit against the Packers, the group made plays to keep the Bears in contention.

With 8:11 left to play, Adam Podlesh punted to the Green Bay 30 with Randall Cobb fielding the ball. Cobb attempted to lateral to Jeremy Ross, who dropped the pass thrown across the field. Anthony Walters scooped up the loose ball to give the Bears possession at the Green Bay 16.

After three fruitless downs, Olindo Mare turned Walters' recovery into a 34-yard field goal that made the score 21-13.

Bright spots on D: Cornerback Charles Tillman stripped running back Ryan Grant in the third quarter, which registers as his 10th forced fumble of the season and the 39th of his career.

In all, Tillman has played a role in 71 takeaways (39 forced fumbles, 32 interceptions) and is one of just two players since 1991 to force 30 fumbles over his career, in addition to picking off at least 30 passes.

Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers each registered 1.5 sacks. Wootton now has seven sacks on the season, while Peppers has 8.5.

What's next: Given the injury situation, there's a good chance the Bears could treat this week similar to how they handled preparation for the game against the Packers. Normally the week of practice starts on Wednesday, but the Bears didn't work out on that day, and elected to rest several players. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Bears use a similar plan this week as they prepare to face the Arizona Cardinals for the first of consecutive road trips to close out the season.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 21, Bears 14

December, 9, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS -- Two more wins likely gets them in, but the Chicago Bears fell again Sunday, for the fourth time in their past five outings, this time to the Minnesota Vikings, who used a dominating performance by Adrian Peterson to capture a 21-14 victory at the Metrodome.

The Bears suffered a slew of injuries in the game with varying degrees of severity, which aren't yet known.

What we do know is that after reeling off a 7-1 start to the season, the Bears have now lost four of their past five, and host the Green Bay Packers before hitting the road for their final two contests. The Bears are inching dangerously close to another late-season collapse that could sabotage the club's playoff prospects for the second year in a row.

It's getting that serious. Let's look closer:

What it means: In addition to falling a full game behind the Packers, the Bears seem to be trending the wrong way at the wrong time of the year. Bears coach Lovie Smith constantly talks about the need for the Bears to be playing their best football in December, but that's not what's taking place right now. Chicago has lost four of its past five outings, and that once seemingly secure spot in the postseason now doesn't look like such a lock.

Shorthanded: The Bears started the game Sunday without defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who had been hampered all week with a foot injury and was placed on the list of inactives. So the team played with Nate Collins and Henry Melton at the defensive tackle spots. That combination didn't last, however, as Melton left the game with a shoulder injury in the first half that forced Israel Idonije at times to move inside next to Collins.

Although Melton played sporadically throughout the contest, all the shuffling up front likely played a role in Peterson gashing the defense for 154 yards on 31 carries, which allowed the Vikings to siphon precious time off the clock to limit Chicago's possessions on offense.

Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin also suffered a knee injury in the first half that knocked him out of the game.

Record-setting Marshall: Brandon Marshall tied Jeff Graham and Harlon Hill for the most 100-yard receiving games (7) in a single season with his second consecutive 100-yard receiving performance. His 5-yard reception with 6:02 left to play gave Marshall his 100th reception of the season, which ties the team record set in 2001 by Marty Booker.

Marshall has now caught 100 balls or more in four seasons, which ties him at No. 1 in NFL history in that category with Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Wes Welker.

Jeffery return big: Alshon Jeffery returned to the lineup Sunday after missing six of the past seven games with injuries to his hand and knee, and made a near-immediate impact. Jay Cutler didn't look Jeffery's direction much early, throwing him the ball just once in the first quarter.

Cutler hit Jeffery for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 1:52 left in the first half to pull the Bears to within seven at 14-7 after Robbie Gould's extra-point kick. Jeffery entered the game averaging 33.2 yards per game, which ranks No. 9 among NFL rookies.

Jeffery finished the game with three catches for 57 yards, which came off as refreshing considering Cutler looks Marshall's way the majority of the time.

What's next: With heavy snowfall causing several flight cancellations around the Minneapolis area, it's unknown at this point whether the Bears' flight back to Chicago would be cancelled. Given the injury situation, look for the Bears to take Monday and Tuesday off before returning to the practice field Wednesday to prepare to host the Packers, who defeated the Bears 23-10 in Week 2.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 23, Bears 17 (OT)

December, 2, 2012
CHICAGO -- Seattle ran up its regular-season run of success at Soldier Field to three games Sunday when Russell Wilson directed a 12-play, 80-yard drive in overtime capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice in leading the Seahawks to a 23-17 triumph over the Chicago Bears.

The loss brings about major concern for the Bears' defense, which gave up TDs -- not once, but twice -- in key moments Sunday when the club absolutely needed stops to win the game.

Let's look deeper.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Bears 28, Vikings 10

November, 25, 2012

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears rebounded from back-to-back losses Sunday by scoring 25 first-half points to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 28-10.

But the euphoria of the victory might be tempered as a result of losing five starters to injuries.

Already playing behind a patchwork offensive line after demoting guard Chilo Rachal and tackle Gabe Carimi, the Bears lost starting guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer to knee injuries against the Vikings. The injury forced Carimi back into the starting lineup at guard because he was the club's only offensive lineman remaining on the active roster.

The Bears also lost receiver Devin Hester (concussion), running back Matt Forte (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle).

The injuries marred an otherwise solid performance by the offensive line, which allowed only one sack. Not to mention the return of quarterback Jay Cutler, who missed the team's last game because of a concussion and came back to put together an efficient outing (23-of-31 for 188 yards and a touchdown to go with a passer rating of 86.5), and Brandon Marshall becoming the franchise's first receiver since 2002 to reach 1,000 yards.

Let's look closer:

What it means: The Bears remain in contention for their second NFC North crown in three years with the win over the Vikings. The victory also snapped a two-game losing streak, which is important with the Bears playing three of their last four games against division foes after hosting the Seattle Seahawks next week.

Marshall hits 1,000: Marshall became the first Bears receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 to reach 1,000 yards receiving, and five games still remain in the season. Marshall came into the game with 925 yards receiving, and reached 1,000 in the third quarter.

Through the first three quarters, Marshall had already racked up 11 grabs for 79 yards. A fourth-quarter catch moved Marshall past Mike Ditka and put him in a tie with Curtis Conway for the seventh-most receptions (81) in a single season by a Bears receiver.

He finished the game with 12 catches for 92 yards.

Carimi benching doesn't last: The Bears benched second-year offensive tackle Carimi prior to Sunday's game because of a horrid performance in the loss Monday to the San Francisco 49ers. Carimi took the demotion in stride, and as it turned out, and it didn't last long; an injury to Louis forced the tackle out of his natural position and inside to guard.

With Spencer suffering a knee injury that forced Edwin Williams into action, and the club placing Rachal on the reserve/non-football injury list last week, Carimi was the club's only remaining lineman on the active roster once Louis suffered his knee injury.

Even before that, however, the Bears used Carimi extensively in the first half when they executed out of unbalanced formations.

“I'll come back from this,” Carimi said on Thursday.

But nobody expected it to happen this fast.

Takeaways return: After failing to generate a takeaway for the first time all season in the loss on Monday to the 49ers, the Bears bounced back to net three takeaways against the Vikings.

Nick Roach poked a ball out of Adrian Peterson's arms in the first quarter with Tillman recovering to give Chicago possession at the Minnesota 22. That takeaway led to a 1-yard Michael Bush touchdown run. Safety Chris Conte picked off a Christian Ponder pass intended for former Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu in the second quarter to set up Chicago at the Minnesota 13. Cutler zipped a 13-yard scoring strike to tight end Matt Spaeth on the next play to give the Bears a 25-3 lead at halftime after Robbie Gould's extra-point kick.

Major Wright scooped up a Ponder fumble in the fourth quarter.

Turnovers also stay: The Bears have turned the ball over eight times over their past eight games, which is a concern with the team needing to perform at its best down the stretch with the division title on the line.

Forte fumbled on his first attempt of the game with the Vikings recovering and turning it into a 3-0 lead on a Blair Walsh field goal. Cutler threw an interception to Antoine Winfield.

The Bears proved in their loss to the 49ers how costly turnovers can be if the defense doesn't take away the ball. So eliminating turnovers moving forward will definitely be a point of emphasis for the Bears.

Peppers scores another block: Bears defensive end Julius Peppers blocked his 12th career field goal attempt Sunday when he knocked down a 30-yard attempt by Blair Walsh with 12:00 left in the second quarter.

Having entered the game with just six sacks on the season, Peppers hasn't been extremely productive on defense. But there's nothing wrong with contributing elsewhere. Peppers last blocked a field goal in 2011.

What's next: The Bears take off Monday and Tuesday before beginning preparation Wednesday to host the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field next Sunday. The Bears play three of their last four on the road to end the season. That and the fact it's now crunch time in the NFL season makes a victory over the Seahawks extremely important for the Bears.