Chicago Bears: 2013 Week 17 GB at CHI

Hester, Peppers unsure of futures

December, 29, 2013
CHICAGO -- Three-time Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester wants clarity on his future with the Chicago Bears.

Hester, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after earning $2,107,523 in the final year of his contract, hopes to hear in the near future if he fits into the Bears’ plans beyond 2013.

“I really want to know right away,” Hester said following the Bears’ 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers. “I am the type of guy, I don’t want to go through the whole offseason not knowing where I am going to be at. I want to retire as a Bear. I put in too much hard work here and did a lot of things around here. I am pretty sure the fans want me back, so who knows.”

One of the organization’s most popular players since he debuted in the league in 2006 as a second-round pick out of the University of Miami, Hester said he’s currently in the dark regarding the Bears’ offseason intentions.

“To be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hester said. “It really hurts walking off the field knowing that this could be my last time wearing a Chicago Bears uniform. It’s the most hurtful feeling that I have right now. This is where I was born and raised (as an NFL player). It’s not like I played three years somewhere else or six years somewhere else, but I know this is a business.

Everything I had in me I left it all on the field tonight. We just came up short.”

Hester returned a punt 49 yards in Week 17 while also handling five kickoffs for 127 yards. In his first season of being exclusively a return man, Hester finished 2013 with a 27.7 yard average on kickoff returns and 14.2 yard average on punt returns, including an 81-yard touchdown.

He joins a long list of prominent Bears players with expiring contracts. Among the players on the list: quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, defensive lineman Corey Wootton, safety Major Wright, center Roberto Garza, linebacker James Anderson and left guard Matt Slauson.

The future of veteran defensive end Julius Peppers is also in doubt. Although Peppers is under contract through 2015, he is currently projected to count $18,183,333 against the Bears’ salary cap next season. Peppers lead the Bears this year with 7.5 sacks, but he didn’t look nearly as dominant as he had in previous seasons.

“I’m not sure, I don’t know [what’s going to happen],” Peppers said. “I’m in a contract. You’ll need to talk to a decision-maker about that.”

The Bears failed to extend player contracts for almost the entire season until they re-signed kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammatta in the week leading up to the Packers game. General manager Phil Emery is expected to work quickly in the coming weeks to try to re-sign some of his own free agents that he views as long-term parts of the team.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall pulled a Terrell Owens in the aftermath of his team’s 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers when asked about the prospect of Jay Cutler returning in 2014.

“That’s my quarterback,” Marshall said.

Cutler showed why Sunday. After eight previous outings of futility against Green Bay as a Bear, the quarterback finally shined under the bright lights against the Packers, throwing for two touchdowns and racking up a 103.8 passer rating while completing 62.5 percent of his throws, albeit in a losing effort. Cutler did throw one interception, but that came on a desperation heave with 10 seconds to play in the midst of his fight to rally back the Bears.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler played well Sunday against Green Bay, but have Bears fans seen the last of him?
“I thought Jay played very well tonight,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I don’t know what the stats are. I though he threw the long ball well. He gave the guys a chance to make plays, which gave them the long ball. I thought he was efficient throwing the ball inside. I thought he was in total command of what was going on out there.”

Case in point: Cutler’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Marshall with 14:55 remaining. The Bears called a run-pass option, but Cutler was unsure of the coverage the Packers might show. Instead of checking out of the run, Cutler kept the call on but pulled the handoff at the last second and found Marshall for the touchdown.

“They had an all-out blitz,” Cutler said. “I left the run on, then I pulled it last second, just threw one up to [Brandon] and he did what he does best: make a play for us.”

The play was one of many Cutler made on the night despite limited opportunities. The Bears ran just 49 plays on offense, compared with 76 snaps for Green Bay, which dominated time of possession 35:09 to 24:51.

Cutler completed three passes for 30-plus yards, including a 67-yard bomb to a wide-open Alshon Jeffery. He also hit Marshall for a 37-yard gain and completed a pass to Matt Forte for 33 yards.

In eight previous games against the Packers, Cutler completed 127 of 237 for 1,518 yards and eight touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, to go with a passer rating of 54.8. Against the rest of the NFC North over that same span, Cutler had thrown for 33 TDs and 16 INTs.

The matchup against the Packers on Sunday marked just the third time in Cutler’s career he generated a passer rating of 100 or better and his team still lost. Counting the postseason, Cutler is 28-3 when he finishes with a passer rating of 100 or better.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Cutler said. “Right there, knocking on the door.”

Again, the Packers shut it in Cutler’s face. But neither this performance nor Cutler’s 1-8 record as a Bear against Green Bay should have any bearing on whether the team decides to bring him back in 2013, and it won’t. Cutler has just played the final game of a contract that paid him $8.47 million in 2013, and he wouldn’t get into what might take place in the coming weeks or month in terms of negotiations with the front office or the prospect of leaving.

Bears general manager Phil Emery has made it clear on numerous occasions he wants to bring back the quarterback, and Cutler has made it clear he wants to stay, even going as far as saying on ESPN 1000 that he’s optimistic it’ll “get done.”

“You’d love to predict the future,” Cutler said. “I’m not really going to get into what’s going to happen.”

Trestman declined to as well, saying, “That’s something for a later evaluation.”

“I would suspect that the Green Bay game, a rivalry game that’s going to play out for a championship, the speculation is let’s see how he does on this kind of stage,” Trestman added. “I thought Jay played well enough for us to win tonight.”

Marshall agreed, and unlike Cutler he offered a prediction for how the quarterback’s contract situation might play out.

“Jay will be back. So all the stories for the offseason you guys can just put that at the bottom. Write everything you have to say and just say, ‘Brandon said Jay will be back,’” Marshall said. “Just like I said Jay would be back from the groin injury, Jay’s gonna be back in a contract year. I don’t have any inside information. That’s my quarterback.”

Cutler, however, preferred not to ponder the future. Having displayed a tendency to be flippant in the past after a loss like Sunday’s, Cutler displayed genuine disappointment about how the game played out and the finality the defeat to the Packers presents.

Asked about his contract situation, Cutler shook his head.

“I think we’ll deal with that later in the week,” he said. “Right now, I’m kind of living in the moment. I’m a little upset about the game and how it went. This locker room is never going to be the same. [We’ll] miss some guys. Some guys are going to leave. Some guys are going to stay. It’s part of the business.”
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman struggled to explain Sunday how Green Bay's Jarrett Boykin scooped up a loose ball and scored while everybody else on the field stood and watched.

The play was perhaps the most unusual turn of events in a 33-28 Packers victory at Soldier Field which end the Bears' season.

"We didn't pick it up and scoop and score with it. For me to try to explain why that happened, I really can't at this time because we've never allowed the ball to sit on the ground like that at any time in practice," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Green Bay took a 10-7 lead basically as the result of failure by the home team to play heads-up football.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastAaron Rodgers looks for confirmation of Jarrett Boykin's touchdown against the Bears.
With 3:28 left in the opening half, Julius Peppers sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind as Rodgers attempted to throw the ball. The ball came loose and hit the cold, damp turf at Soldier Field. Players from both teams froze, and officials never blew the play dead.

As players from both teams watched, Boykin alertly picked up the ball and romped 15 yards for a touchdown.

"[The whistle] didn't blow, that's why they allowed it to be a touchdown. Twenty-two players basically stopped," Trestman said. "[No.] 11 probably got the word from the sideline to pick the ball up because it was over on their side. But I thought both teams stopped. So that's why it's such an unusual situation. Nobody got on the football."

Officials immediately reviewed the play and determined Rodgers fumbled as opposed to throwing incomplete, and confirmed the original call of a Boykin touchdown.

"We all thought it was a dead ball," said linebacker James Anderson, who watched the ball roll right past him. "That's why everyone kind of stopped. It was a big play. We need to make sure that we hear the whistle. I thought I did [hear a whistle], but I don't even know initially if anyone else knew what it was a live ball."

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take some heat for the club's defense not being more alert and not following the tenet of playing until the whistle is blown, something taught to players at every level. Surely, some will question whether or not a defense coached by Lovie Smith would have let such a play occur.

Given what was on the line -- the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs -- all those criticisms would be legitimate, but it appeared the players should shoulder the blame in this instance.

At Bears' practices, every time the ball hits the ground -- even on an incomplete pass -- typically a defender scoops it up and starts running the other way.

"I guess the one time that you don't, it hurts you," Anderson said. "That's neither here nor there. That was one play in the game, and we still had an opportunity to win."

Trestman echoed those sentiments, but expressed disappointment in the fact the play resulted in points for the Packers. Take away Boykins' score, and the Bears win the game.

"I didn't hear a whistle. So I was just as curious as everybody else why nobody was moving towards the ball; nobody," Trestman said. "Certainly, completely disappointed. As I told our players, no one play is going to make a difference in the game. That was a highly unusual play, no doubt about it."

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 29, 2013

CHICAGO -- Here are a few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

What it means: The Bears missed out on the NFC North title and a playoff berth with the heartbreaking loss to the Packers. So their season is over, and they’ll now set upon the task of evaluating the roster internally, in addition to turning the focus toward improving for 2014. The Bears have several veterans with contracts coming to an end. So they’ll have to make a determination on which players to bring back. The club has already identified some of the veteran free agents they’d like to pursue in the spring, and the personnel staff will also now turn the focus toward the upcoming Senior Bowl and NFL combine in preparation for the draft.

No timely stops: Despite playing a fairly solid game on defense, the Bears failed in clutch situations too many times during the moment of truth. During Green Bay’s final drive, the Packers converted two fourth downs on a run by John Kuhn and a 6-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. In that same drive, Rodgers converted another third down with a 5-yard scramble, but Chicago’s defense held the Packers to minimal gains during that sequence.

Then, on what should have been the final play of the game: a fourth-and-1 with just 46 seconds left to play, Rodgers scrambled around in the pocket before firing a 48-yard bomb to a wide-open Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown. What’s worse, it appeared the Bears busted the coverage on the play as Chris Conte seemed to let Cobb run right by without the safety dropping back to account for him.

More takeaways: The Bears entered Sunday tied for 12th in takeaways, and generated two more against the Packers to run up their total on the season to 28 (nine fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions). Conte and Tim Jennings each picked off Rodgers passes, with the Bears scoring seven points off one of the miscues.

For the most part this season, the Bears have capitalized when they generate takeaways. Entering the contest ranked sixth in the NFL in points scored off takeaways (97), the Bears boosted that to 104 points when Matt Forte scored his first touchdown of the game on the drive that followed a Conte interception in the end zone.

Status of Mills unclear: Right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a foot injury during Chicago’s first possession, and was ruled out for the game. But the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately disclosed.

A rookie fifth-round pick, Mills became the starter at right tackle at the beginning of the season and started 15 games. Veteran Eben Britton filled in for Mills.

Hester tries for record: With the matchup against Green Bay potentially his last as a Chicago Bear, return man Devin Hester made a strong push to break the NFL’s record for career return touchdowns. Hester owns the NFL records for total kick return touchdowns (18) and career punt return TDs (13), but he needed only one more return score to break Deion Sanders' record for total return TDs (19).

Hester took his first kickoff 39 yards, and broke a punt return 49 yards in the third quarter. He’ll eventually break the record, but the chances of doing that as a Chicago Bear remain uncertain. Hester is in the final year of his deal, and there’s a chance either he or the club could elect to go in a different direction in 2014.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to clean out their lockers and likely take care of end-of-the-season physicals as their season comes to an end. The club will also hold final meetings and start the task of performing internal personnel evaluations.
CHICAGO -- The Green Bay Packers took a 10-7 lead over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field under a freakish set of circumstances. But ultimately, the play came as the result of failure by the home team to play heads-up football.

With 3:28 left in the opening half, Julius Peppers sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind as Rodgers attempted to throw the ball. The ball came loose and hit the cold, damp turf at Soldier Field. Players from both teams froze, but officials never blew the play dead.

As the players watched, Rodgers appeared to scream out to Jarrett Boykin to scoop up the ball, which he alertly did, before romping 15 yards for a touchdown.

Officials immediately reviewed the play and determined that Rodgers fumbled as opposed to throwing incomplete, and confirmed the original call of a Boykin touchdown.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take some heat for the club’s defense not being more alert and not following the tenet of playing until the whistle is blown, something that is taught to players at every level, all the way down to the youth leagues. Surely, some will question whether a defense coached by Lovie Smith would have let such a play occur.

Given what’s on the line -- the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs -- all those criticisms would be legitimate, even though I tend toward placing the blame on the players in this instance.

Either way, the Bears need to find a way to bounce back.

At intermission, the Bears trail 13-7, and the Packers get the ball to start the second half.