“Lance didn’t practice today. He was out there running around a little bit,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Jay was limited, you saw that. Anthony Walters was limited, but looks better. Kyle [Long], Major and Brandon all worked. So that was good.”
For Dallas, cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring) and receiver Dwayne Harris (hamstring) were held out of practice.
Receiver Dez Bryant (back), linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring), tight end Gavin Escobar (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (neck) participated full for the Cowboys, along with linebackers DeVonte Holloman (neck) and Sean Lee (hamstring).
But Dallas finds itself in an advantageous position at 7-5 with the NFC East title in its sights. And on Monday night, the Cowboys will face a 6-6 Chicago Bears team with rapidly fleeting postseason aspirations.
ESPN.com Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer break down the matchup.
Michael C. Wright: What’s the real deal with this whole Jeremiah (I know you guys call him Jay) Ratliff situation? Based on Jerry Jones’ remarks from his radio show, there seems to be a little underlying tension there, and Ratliff has been really reluctant to go too far into detail about went wrong out there.
Todd Archer: There’s some inside the organization who feel they were duped by Ratliff when he said that he could not play football this year because of his health. There’s a lot of "he said, he said" stuff going on. When he underwent surgery last year for the sports hernia, the Cowboys did not place him on injured reserve hoping he could return for a playoff run that ultimately never happened. After he was cut, his agent, Mark Slough, said the injury was far more severe than a sports hernia and he would need a year to recover. It seems like a dubious claim because the Cowboys never put him on IR last December, restructured his contract in the offseason in a way that made cutting him more costly, did not draft a defensive lineman or go after anybody in free agency. If the team felt Ratliff needed 12 months to recover, would it have done any of those things? I know Jerry Jones isn’t considered the best general manager, but even he would have done some things differently. Ratliff was always something of a loner here. He always felt trouble lurked around every corner. He was not very trusting of anybody. But the Cowboys and Jerry could have avoided this deal by just cutting him after he got in the owner’s face in the locker room after a game. At that point they could have claimed “conduct detrimental to the team,” and gotten some money back. Now they’re really kind of stuck.
Since you asked about Jeremiah Ratliff, let me repay the favor. What are the Bears' expectations for Ratliff? Seems like a lot of former Cowboys have not had much success up there after leaving here.
Wright: Boy, you’re absolutely correct about the former Cowboys coming to Chicago (I’ll point out however, that Martellus Bennett has been a good addition). But Ratliff’s situation here could turn out to be different. The Bears went into the situation the right way: with no expectations. In fact, when the club first signed Ratliff, the move was such a low-risk acquisition (no picks given up, low salary) the Bears were prepared for the possibility the defensive tackle would have been unable to play this season. The Bears had already lost defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the year, and they’ve had to learn to utilize the little depth they have and switch players to other positions just to survive the majority of this season. So when they signed Ratliff, they weren’t looking for him to come in and be a savior. They also made it a point to exercise extreme patience with Ratliff in his recovery. Ratliff played just 23 snaps last week in his Bears debut, and the only expectation the team has for him moving forward is to be able to handle a slightly increased workload. Ratliff went from being someone the Cowboys depended heavily on to just a guy in Chicago.
The Cowboys haven’t run the ball especially well, and the Bears can’t stop the run. Something has to give here. What does Dallas need to do to get the run game popping against Chicago’s porous run D?
Archer: The running game has been better here the last couple of games. Not great by any stretch but better. Losing Lance Dunbar hurts because he brought a change of pace from DeMarco Murray. But this is Murray’s running game. He is the workhorse and will get even more work now. The Cowboys run better out of three-wide receiver sets when teams go to their nickel defense. They need to spread the Bears out. The Cowboys don’t have an overpowering-type line or scheme. It’s more built on zone schemes and finding creases. Dunbar was good at finding creases. Murray takes a little more time to hit them. The commitment to the run from coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan sometimes wanes, especially on the road if things don’t go well early. With the cold weather and I’m guessing windy conditions, then Murray will have to be a huge factor.
Josh McCown has done a nice job, but what have the Bears missed in not having Jay Cutler and what's the sense you get on Cutler being a long-term answer?
Wright: The Bears miss two things without Cutler in the lineup: that cannon of an arm, and his gunslinger mentality. McCown has been productive and efficient, and has moved Chicago’s offense well. But you can see in games there are throws McCown doesn’t make as well as Cutler, throws he won’t even try. I think that’s part of the reason that although the Bears are averaging more yards with McCown at quarterback than Cutler, the club is also averaging fewer points. McCown simply doesn’t take chances, which has translated into a high quarterback rating (103.6). Cutler, meanwhile, is a lot like Tony Romo in that he’ll gamble on occasion, and a part of that is he’s confident in his arm. But Cutler also possesses uncanny chemistry with his receivers to where he can go off script on occasion and still make big plays.
Now I’m still not sure about whether the team views Cutler as the long-term answer. After eight years in the NFL, you are what you are. That’s not to say Cutler isn’t a good quarterback. He is. But the financial resources the Bears would have to sink into him to keep him around, in my mind, don’t match up with the production. Cutler owns an 84.4 career passer rating, and he’s thrown 149 touchdowns to 108 interceptions. I’m not sure that’s worth $16 million-plus per year. General manager Phil Emery doesn’t seem to be inclined to use the franchise tag on Cutler. So it’ll be interesting to see whether the sides can come to a long-term agreement that’s acceptable to both parties.
With Dallas eyeing a potential division title, Romo seems to be catching a lot of flak about his record during games in December. How much of it is on Romo, and how much does the rest of the team have to do with the quarterback’s struggles during the month of December?
Archer: Some of it is on Romo, but more of it is on the rest of the team. Would you be surprised if I told you Romo has 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 15 December/January regular-season games since 2009? Or that he has seven 300-yard games? Or 10 games with a passer rating of better than 100? He has two four-touchdown games -- with no picks -- and the Cowboys have lost them both. Ultimately, however, the record falls on the quarterback. Overall he is 11-15 in December and 7-8 since 2009. He has put the Cowboys in position to compete for the playoffs the past two seasons and lost in Week 17 both times. Without Romo the Cowboys are not sniffing playoff contention. I can’t say he has to play better because 28 TDs and seven picks are pretty ridiculous, but he has to play better. The defense is something of a mess, even with Sean Lee returning and guys getting healthy. The run game is still hit or miss. If the Cowboys do make it to the playoffs, it will be because of Romo and the passing game.
I can see what kind of a difference Rod Marinelli has made here. How much have the Bears missed their former defensive coordinator?
Wright: Tons. On the same day Marc Trestman was first introduced as the new head coach, all the assistants from the old staff were holed up in their offices at Halas Hall awaiting their fates as Trestman spoke to the media. The new head coach knew it was imperative to bring back Marinelli, which is why he tried to convince him to come back as soon as the news conference was over. But out of loyalty to former coach and close friend Lovie Smith, Marinelli declined the offer. The Bears have struggled ever since. Obviously, the team’s rash of injuries is the most significant factor in the defense’s slide. But Marinelli was revered among Chicago’s players. They’d run through a wall for him. Marinelli is an excellent motivator and nobody knows Chicago’s scheme better. His attention to detail, and the ability to relay the importance of those small details to the players, is what the Bears miss. Marinelli liked to break down players and make them focus on every single nuance from a technical standpoint. Marinelli was also a master of simplifying the most complicated aspects of a scheme or game plan for players. In fact, I think second-year defensive end Shea McClellin would be blossoming right now the way Corey Wootton is had Marinelli stayed.
1. JD, what is your best guess for what the Bears do with Jay Cutler? Franchise tag, long-term deal or let him walk? Thank you for the weekly mailbag posting. Happy Holidays. -- Marcus, Loves Park, Ill.
Dickerson: My best guess is that Cutler signs a new deal with the Bears in the offseason. My sense is the Bears have already decided that Cutler is their guy -- even though Monday he will miss his fifth game due to injury in 2013 -- and will look to finalize a contract with him in next couple of months. The new trend in the NFL is for free-agent players to sign shorter deals for as much guaranteed money as possible. So it wouldn't surprise me if the Bears and Cutler eventually ink a three-, or maybe four-year contract somewhere north of $16 million per season. The franchise tag is always a negotiating tool for a team to use if the negotiations fall apart, but in this case, I think the scenario of Cutler receiving a new multi-year contract is the most likely.
2. DICKERSON, YOUR BUDDY MCNOWN STUNK UP THE PLACE IN MINNESOTA. ARE THEY GOING TO MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT THAT? GO PACK!!! -- Alex, Ashland, Wis.
Dickerson: Alex, I can assure you Cade McNown did not start for the Bears at quarterback last Sunday in the Metrodome. Maybe your television reception is a little fuzzy living that far up north. Now if you're taking about Josh McCown, he struggled at times in the 23-20 loss to the Vikings. Let's just say it wasn't his best performance. But for all the people criticizing McCown for his lack of arm strength or the methodical manner in which he guides the offense down the field, let me ask you this question: how many NFL general managers would love to have a backup quarterback on their roster, who in six appearances is capable of completing 120 of 184 passes for 1,461 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception for a passer-rating of 103.6? Without the benefit of a scientific poll, I'd say most league executives would find McCown's contributions this year to be acceptable. Not to mention the fact that he almost brought the Bears back versus Washington and Detroit, and had the team up 20-10 versus the Vikings in the second half. This is not about McCown being the Bears' quarterback of the future. This is about acknowledging that an incredible job he's done so far in relief of Cutler. McCown is a backup quarterback. But he's a very good one, and the Bears are lucky to have him.
That’s the mentality the Bears take into Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.
“This month of December, that’s when it really starts counting. That’s when teams catch fire,” Jennings said. “We’ve got to continue with an upbeat attitude and realize we just need that one big spark. I think it’s going to start Monday with a prime-time game.”
That could wind up being the case, but the club’s recent history doesn’t inspire much optimism about the last four games of the season. The Bears clearly own the home-field advantage for Monday’s game, but the club hasn’t won a home contest in the month of December since the day after Christmas in 2010, when it defeated the New York Jets.
Let’s not forget the Bears blew a 7-3 start in 2011 and lost five of six down the stretch when quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb that knocked him out for the last month and a half of the season. Then in 2012 the Bears cruised to a 7-1 start before losing five of the final eight.
This time around, perhaps it’s better to be at the bottom looking up than in the advantageous spots the Bears found themselves in the two prior seasons.
“We set our goal that we've got one game to play, and that's on Monday night,” coach Marc Trestman said. “It's a prime-time game. We've done very well in prime time this year. We did it against Pittsburgh. We did it against Green Bay, and we did it against the Giants.”
The truth is the Bears "did it" against three teams with a combined record of 15-20-1.
“I really can’t speak for anyone else’s emotions, and I try not to,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “But for me, I’m super-excited about this week’s challenge, and you never know what’s going to happen. It takes a lot for us to be able to get to where we need to be. But the only thing we can do is take care of what we have to take care of, and that’s win the games that we have to win one game at a time, and see what happens then. Sometimes you have to travel the road and see where you end up.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided a few years ago to schedule more divisional games toward the end of the season to generate excitement.
Divisional games usually are close. This year, for example, 56.9 percent of all divisional games have been decided by eight points or less. As a result, the NFL could have a record season for close games.
But how competitive will the final month of divisional games be? The Seattle Seahawks clinched a playoff berth Monday night and six other teams can clinch playoff spots this weekend, possibly taking away some of the drama during the final month of the season.
In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts can clinch the AFC South with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The New England Patriots can clinch the AFC East if they beat the Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins lose in Pittsburgh. The Denver Broncos can clinch a playoff spot with a victory over the Tennessee Titans, and the Kansas City Chiefs are in if they win in Washington and the Dolphins lose.
Marshall missed time during preparations last week for the game against the Minnesota Vikings, but the injury didn’t keep the receiver from playing. Marshall caught four passes for 45 yards, while teammate Alshon Jeffery went for a Bears single-game record 249 yards receiving.
Marshall needs just 10 yards receiving on Monday for he and Jeffery to become the first pair of Bears receivers since 1995 (Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham) to each record 1,000 yards in a season.
Trestman ruled out quarterback Jay Cutler, who returned to practice on Thursday, and linebacker Lance Briggs, but safeties Anthony Walters (groin) and Major Wright (hamstring) rejoined the team in a limited capacity after missing Sunday’s game at Minnesota. Trestman said “we’re optimistic” regarding Wright’s status for Monday night. Veteran Craig Steltz replaced Wright in the lineup in the loss to the Vikings.
The team listed rookie guard Kyle Long (ankle) on the injury report, but he participated fully in Thursday’s workout with no limitations.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- While complimentary overall of the Dallas Cowboys, three former members of that organization now with the Chicago Bears considered the atmosphere there "Hollywood" compared to their current locale.
Asked about the biggest difference between the Bears and Cowboys, Ratliff didn't hesitate.
"Football, first-class organization," he said of the Bears. "Just to put it bluntly, and it's not a shot -- if they take it like that, so be it. Here, it is all about football. You can really just focus on your craft. Focus on what it is you do. And no matter what's going on, you never forget what you're here for. That's a good thing."
A four-time Pro-Bowler, Ratliff was picked by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, but he was released by the club on Oct. 13 and signed by the Bears on Nov. 2. Ratliff made his Bears debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, participating in 23 snaps, and his workload will increase Monday night against his former team.
Ratliff said earlier in the week that Monday's matchup is "just another game," but that isn't the case for DeCamillis.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say it's like Ratliff and say it's like any other game," DeCamillis said. "Anytime you leave some place you always have a little bit more juice going back against them."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' decision to sit quarterback Jay Cutler for Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys appears to be the smart play, and the perhaps the best way to avoid a repeat of the situation that put him where he is in the first place.
If you remember, Cutler rushed back from tearing a muscle in his groin during an Oct. 20 game against the Washington Redskins when the team faced the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10, only to bang up the ankle on a seemingly random hit in the second quarter. Now, it’s easy to say one injury had nothing to do with the other because that’s absolutely true.
But if you watched Cutler’s movement early on in his return for the Lions game, it was quite apparent the quarterback’s mobility was compromised. That likely didn’t cause Cutler’s ankle injury in the second quarter. But the end result is the end result.
Cutler returned to practice inside the Walter Payton Center on Thursday, but it would be unfair to ask the quarterback to try to overcome nearly a month of inactivity in just four days of prep time in advance of Monday’s game. That’s setting him up for failure.
"We want to be very, very careful," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I was encouraged today just by the work that he got in considering the injury wasn’t that long ago. So we’ll see where he is next week. It was a good first day for him to come and get some work. I thought he threw the ball very, very well."
Trestman said that when Cutler is medically cleared, he’ll "absolutely" play. That clearance could come sometime next week or the week after, and at that time Cutler will receive ample opportunity to prove whether he's worth the long-term deal in Chicago he seeks. But really there’s no reason to rush Cutler back into the lineup, even if the team were in the thick of race for the NFC North crown because backup quarterback Josh McCown has played well enough for this team to win.
McCown is 1-2 in his last three starts, throwing for 1,038 yards and five touchdowns to go with only one interception. In five starts on the season, McCown is 3-2 with an overall passer rating of 103.6.
"I think they both do a great job, different personalities definitely inside the huddle," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "Jay has a stronger arm and can do different things with just his arm strength, rely on his arm strength, and Josh relies on timing and being where we need to be. So Jay could make some throws that Josh may not be able to make in some different situations. But they both do a great job for us, and it shows. Every single week we’ve still been putting up numbers no matter who’s [in] there."
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Using the franchise tag on Jay Cutler would be a mistake because it ties up too much cap space on one player.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The tag is supposed to be used as a placeholder so the two sides, player and team, can hammer out a long-term deal. The tag value, rising north of $15 million, would handicap the Bears next season, especially as they try to restock the aging, flagging defense. As most everyone knows by now, the franchise tag insures that all the money is paid in one season, whereas a long-term contract allows a team to creatively structure the payouts for salary cap purposes. With that in mind, I don’t quite understand the point of tagging Cutler for the purpose of a one-year “tryout” deal. What don’t they know about him? Sure, health is a concern but that’s true of any NFL player. The one question the Bears must have had about Cutler before the season was: How would he relate to Marc Trestman? The answer seems to be: Quite well, actually. Since taking over as general manager, Phil Emery has made it a mission to give Cutler the tools to succeed, from receivers to linemen to coaches. Now it’s time to negotiate a long-term deal.
Fact or Fiction: The emergence of Alshon Jeffery might actually make Brandon Marshall expendable when his deal is up.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. While Marshall has been, arguably, the most productive receiver not named Calvin Johnson since coming to the Bears, Emery has to consider his salary cap situation when Marshall’s deal comes up. Marshall still has another year on his contract, but he turns 30 in March. He’s in great shape, it seems, but that’s the “magic number” for skill position players. So don’t be surprised if the Bears make Jeffery the No. 1 while looking for a complementary receiver. Still, I think it’s likely that they extend Marshall in a cap-friendly way this offseason. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to move on early. That’s just life in the NFL.
Fact or Fiction: Jeremiah Ratliff is in for a big game against his former team on Monday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Not sure this is a real storyline anyone cares about outside of the Chicago and Dallas media, and probably not even then. Sure, some guys play better using slights as fuel, but Ratliff just played his first game in a year last week in Minneapolis. He’s probably more concerned about just existing out there in the trenches than making a statement. But hey, there’s not much time left in the season, so a big game would be nice.
Fact or Fiction: DeMarco Murray will post just his second 100-yard rushing game of the season on Monday.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears rushing defense stinks, and their pass defense isn’t much better lately. Since linebacker Lance Briggs got injured in the Washington game, the Bears are giving up more than 200 rushing yards a game, and they’ve given up at least 100 yards rushing in every game since Oct. 10. So, yeah, start Murray in your fantasy league. I know I am.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returned to the practice field on Thursday and participated in a limited capacity, but he won't suit up for Monday night's clash with the Dallas Cowboys, according to coach Marc Trestman, who announced Josh McCown will start.
Cutler suffered a severe high ankle sprain in a loss to Detroit on Nov. 10 and has missed the club's past three games. The quarterback said during "The Jay Cutler Show" on ESPN 1000 on Monday that he feels "like I'm gonna get back here really soon. I want to play."
Trestman said Cutler "is continuing to progress" but remains week to week in terms of his recovery.
"There's a lot of clarity to Jay's and our communication," Trestman said. "Jay's very clear on where he is medically. We've been very, very clear that he's got to be released by the doctors before he can play. He's come to terms with that. He's a strong-willed, strong-minded guy. He can't control this decision on Monday other than to continue to work at his rehab."
Filling in for Cutler, McCown has produced a 1-2 record, throwing for 1,038 yards and five touchdowns with only one interception. In those starts, McCown generated a passer rating of 103.8, and for the season, he is 3-2 in five starts with an overall passer rating of 103.6, which currently ranks as the second-best in Bears single-season history.
McCown passed for 355 yards and two touchdowns in last week's loss to the Vikings.
"He's taken a lot of snaps and handled himself extremely well," Trestman said.
Chicago (6-6) enters Monday's critical game in second place in the NFC North, one game behind Detroit.
As it stands now, the Bears hold the No. 18 pick. But more than likely, the team’s draft position will drop to a lower spot over the next month of the season if it fights for a spot in the postseason the way we all expect the Bears to do.
It’s obvious the Bears need to add depth to the defensive line, possibly upgrade the safety position, and maybe add some youth at cornerback, in addition to possibly drafting a quarterback to develop over the next few years. But if you’re general manager Phil Emery, what would you do?
Emery hit the road to scout the matchup between Texas A&M and Missouri in Columbia, Mo., last Saturday, and he’s definitely expressed appreciation in the past for the dynamic skill set of Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel, who hasn’t yet declared for the NFL draft. A scout at the core, Emery surely has done his due diligence on several of college football’s top quarterbacks as well as at other positions, judging from his attendance on Sept. 12 at the matchup in Lubbock, Texas between Texas Tech and Texas Christian University.
After all, Chicago’s roster features 30 players with contracts set to expire at the end of the season.
That group includes 11 starters on offense, defense and special teams, in addition to 10 key contributors such as backup quarterback Josh McCown and cornerback Zack Bowman.
So clearly it’s time for Emery and the Bears to reload across the board through the draft and free agency in addition to making huge decisions on some of their own free agents such as Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Roberto Garza, Major Wright, Matt Slauson, D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Robbie Gould and Devin Hester.
While wading through those difficult decisions, Emery will be attending the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25, the NFL Combine in late February, and the regional combine at Halas Hall scheduled for Mar. 15.
So while we’re caught up in Chicago’s push over these next four weeks for a postseason berth, Emery has to deal with all that comes with that, in addition to the upcoming offseason schedule, which is where the general manager makes his money.
ESPN.com’s release of the 2014 NFL draft order only reminds me of Emery’s daunting road ahead, not to mention the fact I’ve got tons of homework to do for what should be one of Chicago’s most challenging offseasons in the last four years.
As I asked before, if you’re Emery, what would you do this offseason?