Has it really been eight years already?
The last time the Chicago Bears visited the New England Patriots, on Nov. 26, 2006, quarterback Tom Brady was juking linebacker Brian Urlacher on an unforgettable 11-yard run en route to a hard-fought, 17-13 win.
The Patriots had ripped up their natural-grass field the week before and installed FieldTurf on a permanent basis.
"It goes fast," Brady said of the eight years. "Before that game, we played the Jets in a rainstorm, and the field really started off crappy that year. The start of the year, it was like a sandpit."
The Bears' return to New England for the first time since that game, and ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Michael C. Wright (Bears) break down the matchup:
Reiss: Give us a feel for the state of the Bears team from a locker room solidarity standpoint. Any sense of how receiver Brandon Marshall's remarks were received?
Wright: Well, you're talking about a locker room with 53 players, meaning 53 individuals who all view things differently. On one hand, you've got players who saw Marshall's remarks as something that needed to be said. On the other, you've got guys who believe he needed to keep those sharp criticisms in house. Ultimately, all of these guys have to continue to play together and unite to reach the goal, which obviously is to defeat the Patriots. Bears general manager Phil Emery recently took part in a chat on the team's official website and likened the situation to a family. There will be disagreements and different points of view, but ultimately, it's all love. So I think the Bears will quickly forget about Sunday's drama once they get into the thick of preparation for the Patriots.
The Patriots looked like a tired team during their 27-25 win over the New York Jets, especially on defense. How much of a change can we expect from this team with plenty of rest and 10 days to prepare for the Bears?
Reiss: If it doesn't change, Mike, then I think they are in trouble. I probably gave them a little more leeway on that performance than others because it was their fourth game in 18 days (three in prime time), and they had no full-speed practices to adjust to the season-ending loss of signal-caller Jerod Mayo five days earlier. I thought they looked tired, and some players said as much after the game. The tackling was sloppy, and there was just no snap in their performance. Looking ahead, the concerns are in the front seven, where they are thin and still banged up. They are pretty deep in the secondary, especially at cornerback. I'd expect a better performance Sunday than we saw Oct. 16.
Patriots followers had been hoping the team might make a run at defensive end Jared Allen in the offseason. How would you characterize his impact on the Bears defense?
Wright: Very minimal at this point, Mike, and I don't quite understand exactly why. I think a combination of factors have limited Allen's ability to make a real impact on the defense. During the preseason, Allen missed time to attend the birth of his daughter. Then, the team held him out of the third preseason game due to a bruised shoulder. Two days after the team's Sept. 22 win over the Jets, Allen was diagnosed with pneumonia, which caused him to lose 15 pounds and forced him to break a streak of 113 consecutive starts.
Meanwhile, Allen's backup, Willie Young, is putting together a career year (seven sacks). The Bears originally brought in Young to be a starter at defensive end, but when Allen became available in free agency, the club pounced and made Young the backup. But while Allen was missing time dealing with injuries and illness, Young stepped up and earned significant snaps. Now, it appears Allen has been relegated to a lesser role. Allen contributed half a sack in last week's win over the Miami Dolphins but didn't receive much playing time. Reporters asked Allen about that after the game, and all he could say was we'd have to ask the coach.
What I find a little odd is the Patriots rank fairly high in terms of points allowed, and they're also doing pretty well in terms of takeaways (tied for most in the NFL), yet there's the perception that New England's defense isn't very good. I know they've struggled against the run, but why is that the case, and where -- in terms of the defense's strengths -- do you think New England matches up best against Chicago's struggling offensive attack?
Reiss: They've had three really bad games against the run, giving up 191 to the Dolphins in the season opener, 207 to the Kansas City Chiefs and then 218 to the Jets. Like most things in football, it's never really one thing. I thought the game plan against Miami was a bit flawed because they played Chandler Jones as a 5-technique defensive end in the 3-4 and, overall, they were hurt by the inside zone runs. Against Kansas City, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis are no slouches, and that was just a beatdown in a frenzied environment in which the Patriots didn't enter the boxing ring with the emotion needed to win. Then, the Jets game had those dynamics in play where they were without Mayo for the first time, had others banged up and were fatigued quickly. As for where the Patriots match up best with the Bears, I'd relay what Darrelle Revis said Wednesday -- the unit is at its best producing turnovers. What Revis didn't say, but you can probably confirm best, is that Chicago has been generous in that area.
With Matt Forte, Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Jay Cutler, that's a pretty high-powered offensive package of five key players. What are some of the reasons they haven't been more explosive?
Wright: The No. 1 reason is turnovers, and Cutler has committed more of them than anyone else (10) on the team, with opponents scoring 37 points off the quarterback's generosity. In each of the four losses, Cutler turned the ball over multiple times, yet in each of the victories, the quarterback didn't commit a single turnover. Headed into the game against the Dolphins, Bears coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and even Cutler himself pointed to turnovers being the common denominator in each of the losses. Yet for whatever reason, the Bears haven't been able to fix the problem. I think Trestman, as a play-caller, shares in some of the responsibility because he probably needs to lean more on the rushing attack. Forte is averaging 4 yards per carry this season, yet in the first half last week, the Bears handed off to him just twice. Yes, the Bears ran just 18 plays in the first half. But the team needs to make Forte a more focal part of the game plan, which would enable Cutler to utilize play-action more effectively. Also, I believe there might be a problem brewing at right tackle with Jordan Mills. In each of the past two games, the Bears have had to give Mills help in protection, which obviously reduces the number of targets you can send out on routes.
Let's look at the other side of the ball. It's sort of rare to hold possession for 19:06, be outgained by 100 yards and have 12 fewer first downs than the Jets, yet still come out victorious. I know the offensive line has struggled, but can you give me an overview of some of the issues on offense?
Reiss: It starts on the offensive line. Our good friends at ESPN's Stats & Information passed along these numbers that reflect some of the instability: The Patriots have had nine different offensive linemen play at least 100 snaps, tied for the most in the league. Furthermore, New England is the only team to play six different players for at least 100 snaps at the three interior offensive line positions. Part of that has been injury-based, while part of it has been performance-based. They opened the season with tackle Marcus Cannon at left guard despite never playing him there in the preseason. He lost the job after three weeks, as did first-year right guard Jordan Devey. Things have stabilized a bit in recent weeks, and, not surprisingly, the offense has looked better in the process. It has helped that tight end Rob Gronkowski is just about back to 100 percent after being eased back into the mix coming off his torn right ACL. What a difference-maker.
Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher pretty much told everyone what they already knew Wednesday, when he said former teammate Jay Cutler fits the category of “elite" in salary only.
Don't take that as a dig at Cutler or sour grapes on the part of Urlacher, who departed the organization unceremoniously prior to the 2013 season. Even Cutler didn't seem to take offense to Urlacher's comments.
"No," Cutler said when asked if he took issue with Urlacher saying he hasn't produced like an elite quarterback.
"No," Cutler responded when asked if such commentary bothered him coming from an ex-teammate.
Cutler certainly possesses "elite" tools: toughness, a cannon for an arm, underrated mobility, and the intelligence to diagnose quickly and make the necessary adjustments. But when it comes to producing at an elite level on the field, Cutler falls short of the truly elite signal-callers around the NFL, players such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
"Financially, he is one of the elite guys in the NFL," Urlacher said during an interview with 87.7 FM The Game in Chicago. "He just hasn't produced like an elite quarterback."
That's an absolutely fair assessment, and came in response to Bears general manager Phil Emery remarking during an online chat on the team's official website that Cutler's winning record as a starting quarterback (59-52) makes him elite. Having covered Emery since he first set foot through the doors at Halas Hall, the general manager -- who absolutely should show support for his starting quarterback on the team's official website -- probably exaggerated a tad and used flawed logic in calling Cutler elite.
If merely a winning record makes for an elite quarterback, the league seemed to be teeming with them at the start of the season. Coming into this season, 25 active quarterbacks possessed winning records as starters.
Currently, players such as former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman (.532), Mark Sanchez (.532), Michael Vick (.547) and Alex Smith (.550) win at a higher clip as starters than Cutler, yet none are cashing in at his level.
Smith signed a four-year deal worth $68 million in August, while Vick, now a backup, signed a one-year deal in March worth $5 million to join the New York Jets.
Cutler, meanwhile, receives a base salary of $22.5 million this season ($5 million was converted into a signing bonus in March) as part of a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension signed earlier this year, which places him atop the list for quarterback salaries in 2014, ahead of the New York Giants' Eli Manning ($15.15 million) and the other Manning in Denver ($15 million).
Rodgers, who signed a five-year, $110 million contract last year, has the highest average annual salary among quarterbacks at $22 million, but his base salary for 2014 is $900,000 (he received $16.2 million more in bonuses). By the way, he's winning games, too.
"You look at the Bradys, the Mannings, the Rodgers, the [Drew] Brees, those guys win every year, even with no one around them," Urlacher said. "Rodgers has no offensive line. He wins. Brady has no receivers. He wins.
"And you look at Jay. He's got Brandon [Marshall], Alshon [Jeffery], Matt [Forte], this great offensive line, Martellus Bennett, and they can't seem to put it together, for some reason. I'm not sure if that's his fault, but for some reason, they just can't figure it out."
What we can deduce though is Cutler, who has had a direct hand in each of Chicago's losses this season, falls short of elite.
Cutler tossed an interception and was credited for two fumbles in the team's loss to the Miami Dolphins. Cutler has thrown 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season, and, interestingly, all the picks came in the club's four losses. Yet the quarterback turned the ball over only once (a fumble in a Week 3 win over the Jets) during the team's three victories.
And while the organization continues to stand behind Cutler, the quarterback stressed it is not doing so blindly.
"Everything I do is critiqued," Cutler said. "Every step I take, every read I make, ball location [it's all critiqued]. I think that's the farthest from the truth when we are in the meeting room. Anytime you lose a bunch of games, you're going to be under scrutiny. It's going to be tough. It's going to look not how you wanted it to look going into the season. So coaches and quarterbacks are judged on their records, on wins and losses, and right now we're behind the eight ball in that category."
In this week's episode of "Lake Forest 60045," there's trouble at home as Jay Cutler commits two costly turnovers and skips his paid radio show. Brandon Marshall emotes, Lance Briggs shrugs and Papa Marc Trestman tries to keep it all together with his placid, detail-oriented approach. With a special appearance by Brian Urlacher as "Disgruntled ex-Bear!"
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- To no one's surprise, in the weekly soap opera that is the Chicago Bears, the star-crossed lead is again in the spotlight.
Oh, that Jay Cutler, always up to something.
A new contract and an improved coaching staff and supporting cast have done little to dissuade persistent shots at Cutler's character and ability. In fact, they've only served to amplify his critics.
Hold on, I got Brian Urlacher on Line 1. He's got something to add and we need the dump button.
After a two-turnover game in a loss to the Miami Dolphins, Cutler can't seem to escape the one constant in his career: criticism. Seven interceptions and three lost fumbles, not to mention an 0-3 record at home, will do that to a guy.
Just a week after throwing for 381 yards in a win at Atlanta, Cutler's a bum again.
With the season on the line this week as the Bears head to New England, everyone is looking to Cutler to either get the team to the bye week at 4-4 or flame out in spectacular fashion. And you know what? I bet he'll be a conquering hero and lead the Bears to another surprising road victory.
And then he'll throw two picks during the bye. If anyone can do that, it's No. 6.
The official injury report listed Fuller as having limited participation.
“Our decision with Kyle is day-to-day in terms of how he’s working. He practiced today to the full extent of practice. We’ll see how that is tomorrow and we’ll continue to evaluate it daily. We certainly want him to feel comfortable playing and not to have the concerns that he can hurt himself more with what he has. We certainly wouldn’t put him out there if we thought that was the case.”
Linebackers Lance Briggs (ribs) and Jon Bostic (back), tight end Martellus Bennett (hamstring) and right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) were also limited.
Three players were held out of practice: defensive end Jared Allen (rest), safety Danny McCray (knee) and KR/WR Chris Williams (illness).
Safety Chris Conte (shoulder) practiced without restrictions for the second consecutive day and is expected to be available Sunday when the Bears travel to New England. Conte was inactive in Week 7 after failing to finish four of the Bears' first six regular-season games.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Brandon Marshall's postgame rant Sunday after a 27-14 home loss to the Miami Dolphins didn't cross the line, and it didn't include the wide receiver personally attacking teammates.
"He didn't come near me," Cutler said. "He didn't say my name. I don't think he attacked anybody personally with what he was saying.
"He's an emotional guy. Whenever he gets frustrated, he's going to get emotional most of the time. He's going to speak from the heart and make sure everyone around him hears him. It wasn't anything that caught us off guard, or was off-putting. ... It was frustration coming out and him letting us know it was important to him."
A source inside the locker room told ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright that some of Marshall's remarks were pointed at the quarterback. Cutler said he spoke to the Pro Bowl wide receiver about the incident.
"I talked to him on Monday," Cutler said. "He was good Monday. Brandon wants to win. He wants to see this team do as well as possible. I understand his frustration. We all go about it different ways when we're frustrated, and that's how Brandon handled it that moment. We moved past it.
"I think some people are indifferent. I think some people are responding well to it. Like I said, I don't think anybody is taking it negatively. It was a frustrating loss for all of us. I think once guys left the locker room, that's where it died. We moved on Monday and Tuesday, and practiced on Wednesday. It's just one of those things."
“Of course,” Pouncey said candidly. “I was so good at it.”
The Dolphins (3-3) are fourth in the NFL in rushing at 136.3 yards per game and have allowed only 14 sacks this season.
Pouncey is the only returning starter on Miami's offensive line this year -- and even Pouncey switched positions.
Pouncey missed the first four games due to offseason hip surgery, and replacement Samson Satele did a nice job at center. Instead of moving Satele, the Dolphins thought it was best to plug Pouncey in at right guard, which was an area of concern.
“But it doesn’t bother me at all,” Pouncey said of the move. “I like the way our five guys jell together and the rotation we have now. Whatever's best for the team, and we're going to keep it that way until they say different.”
Pouncey is still getting his legs under him. He missed all of training camp, the preseason and the first four games of the regular season.
Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor praised Pouncey for the progress he's making just two games in.
“Mike Pouncey was definitely better,” Lazor said from his first to second game. “I thought in every way we would have expected, balance, finish, drive, pass protection, run blocking. It’s probably what we expected. I thought the guy played a really good game. I’m excited for Mike.”
This wasn’t an easy decision for the Dolphins. Pouncey arguably is a top-five center in the NFL. He’s not a top-five guard.
Pouncey also has shown some early rust. He allowed 1.5 sacks last Sunday to defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff in a win over the Chicago Bears.
But overall Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is getting the best pass protection of his career, and it’s showing in his career-best 87.8 passer rating. Running back Lamar Miller also is getting bigger holes and on his way to his best individual season.
“I can say that we're much improved obviously, because of the way the statistics are,” Pouncey said. “But we go out there and come in and work every day, trying to work as hard as we can. We've gotten better as an O-line.”
Jay Cutler is the highest-paid quarterback this season, and Brian Urlacher says that's the only thing elite about his former teammate.
On Tuesday, Bears general manager Phil Emery said in an online chat with Bears fans that he believed Cutler was elite because of his winning record as a starting quarterback (59-52). On Wednesday, Urlacher disagreed, making his point in an interview with 87.7 FM The Game in Chicago.
"Financially, he is one of the elite guys in the NFL. ... He just hasn't produced like an elite quarterback," Urlacher said.
Cutler has a base salary of $22.5 million this season ($5 million was converted into a signing bonus in March) as part of a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension he signed earlier this year, putting him at the top of the list of quarterback salaries in 2014, ahead of the New York Giants' Eli Manning ($15.15 million) and Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning ($15 million).
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who signed a five-year, $110 million contract last year, has the highest average annual salary among quarterbacks at $22 million, but his base salary in 2014 is just $900,000, although he received $16.2 million more in bonuses.
"You look at the Bradys, the Mannings, the Rodgers, the Brees, those guys win every year, even with no one around them," Urlacher said. "Rodgers has no offensive line. He wins. [Tom] Brady
Fact or Fiction: The Bears rotate captains because there are no leaders in the locker room.
Roberto Garza, Jermon Bushrod, Kyle Long, Matt Slauson and Matt Forte have displayed leadership qualities over the course of their respective NFL careers. On defense/special teams: Ryan Mundy, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Robbie Gould and Jared Allen (just to name a few) can be accurately classified as leaders. However, it's difficult for newer or younger players to ascend to the top of the leadership pyramid. That spot is often reserved for tenured players in the building, such as Garza and Gould: strong leaders by example and excellent face-to-face communicators. What the Bears lack is a superstar leader, such as Brian Urlacher. Urlacher was not just a great player; he was a great teammate. From the active roster down to the practice squad, Urlacher made time for everybody. It's easy to enjoy the perks of being handed the title of "team leader." It's another matter entirely to earn it. Urlacher earned it. His departure left a leadership void the Bears have been unable to fill. So maybe Marc Trestman made the correct decision to rotate captains. The team has its share of leaders, but probably not enough of them to warrant anybody wearing the "C" patch on game day, outside of Garza and Gould.
Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: Fiction. The Bears have guys to look up to, players who can set the tone on the field and are magnetic figures for younger players. Sure, Brian Urlacher types don't grow on trees. But I think it’s more of a team-empowerment thing by Marc Trestman, a “we’re all in this together” sort of thing. They’re not the only team to do this, anyway. The 1992 Harding Middle School seventh-eighth grade reserve football team had rotating captains and yours truly was one in my last-ever game. True story. In all seriousness, the players would’ve been perfectly happy with regular captains. One fewer thing to think about. This team-building exercise was meaningless. But it hasn’t affected the team negatively either. Just something for ex-Bears to whine about on the radio.
Fact or Fiction: Brandon Marshall is the most important player on offense; the Bears must find a way to keep him happy.
Greenberg: Fiction. Jay Cutler is the most important player. As he goes, the Bears go. More on that later. As for Marshall, the Bears just need to figure out ways to stretch the field with him. Maybe I’m alone, but I didn’t think Marshall’s postgame fireworks were that big of a deal. He’s an emotional guy and I’m glad he emoted. When he started his postgame venting to the media, I gave a thumbs-up to a media relations guy behind me, because I knew I’d have some good material. Marshall didn’t say anything wrong. If saying the Bears need to erase turnovers is calling out Cutler, then fine by me. Marshall wants his production, we know this, but he shows he’s not a selfish player through his blocking. Sometimes I think Marshall is a little full of it, but hey, so am I.
Fact or Fiction: Jay Cutler is an elite quarterback.
Greenberg: Fiction. If I ran the NFL, or ESPN, anyone who put the word “elite” before “quarterback” would be punished by forced viewing of bottom-tier Big Ten football games. It’s become a trite and meaningless term used only to incite boring arguments. But, since I'm not running anything, I'll say: No, he’s not. Cutler is a very talented quarterback with some easily noticeable, nagging flaws. He’s a tier below the best of the best. That’s fine. If everyone could be as good as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, they wouldn’t be as special. Look around the NFL, nearly half the league is littered with mediocre quarterbacks. Given how many athletic kids play the position in this country, from the teens taking four-figure lessons from quarterback gurus to college guys majoring in high-powered offenses, it’s telling how difficult it is to play the position in the NFL. Cutler’s never going to be the best quarterback in the league, but as Tom Thibodeau likes to say, he’s got more than enough to win. Now he's just got to, y'know, win.
Fact or Fiction: Marc Trestman will be fired if the Bears fail to reach the postseason.
Greenberg: Fiction. For one, you don’t give a coach two years in this situation. Three minimum and four would be truly fair. Also, general manager Phil Emery is as stubborn as a mule. He’s not going to show weakness and say, “Yeah, I was wrong on my biggest decision.” Have you met starting linebacker Shea McClellin? Again, that’s not a bad trait in this instance. Firing a coach after two seasons, with Cutler guaranteed two more years essentially, would be idiotic. No, the Bears will fire some of the assistant coaches -- likely defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis -- make a big show of accountability and let Trestman have another year to work his so-called magic. He deserves that much.
Allen played in 46 of the club's 70 snaps against the Dolphins, while Young participated in 54 snaps.
In the third quarter, Miami marched 83 yards in 13 plays with Lamar Miller capping the drive with on a 2-yard touchdown run. The Bears didn't utilize Allen during the drive, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker pointed out the Dolphins weren't faced with many third-and-long situations. On that possession, Miami faced third down just twice with 2 yards to convert. The Dolphins also converted a fourth-and-1.
"Going forward, obviously we want him in the game," Tucker said. "He's been a highly-productive player for us. It was an unusual series. We had a lot of short-yardage situations. We didn't really get into third-and-long. We visited with him about it, and we're ready to move on. We'll be fine. We just tell him that we're going to make sure that we get him on the field as much as possible."
Allen wasn't concerned about a lack of playing time, but immediately after the game referred questions regarding the situation to the coaching staff.
"We haven't really talked about it," Allen said. "The rotation happened that way I guess. We'll move on to New England."
The Bears held out Allen when the team faced Green Bay on Sept. 28, but he's played in six games this season, contributing 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman said Wednesday his team has moved past the loss to the Miami Dolphins and Brandon Marshall's subsequent locker room rant, and placed the focus where it matters most: preparing for Sunday's road matchup against the New England Patriots.
"When you watched our practice today, when you watch the demeanor of our players, and the focus that they have, it's clear that what we know as coaches and players that things don't linger and we move forward," Trestman said. "That's what happened today."
In the aftermath of a the club's 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a game in which Jay Cutler threw an interception and was credited for two fumbles, frustration boiled over and yelling by Marshall could be heard outside the locker room. A source inside the locker room said some of Marshall's remarks were pointed at the quarterback.
Later, Marshall vented his disappointment with the team's performance and penchant for committing turnovers, and noticeably left out Cutler when pointing out that he and several other players on the offense remained confident.
Asked whether Marshall's postgame comments could galvanize the team in its quest to avoid losing four out of its last five outings, Trestman called Marshall's "showing of emotion" "a good thing as long as it's not directed at any one person or any one side of the ball."