NFC North: 2012 Regular Season
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.
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.
October, 28, 2012
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' defense bailed out Jay Cutler and the offense, who had a horrid showing Sunday. Tim Jennings' 25-yard interception return touchdown with 6:44 left and Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Bears to a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Gould atoned for missing a 33-yard field goal with 12:14 remaining.
Let’s look closer:
What it means: Not much in terms of the NFC North standings. The Bears extended their lead in the division, which is a positive moving forward because the Bears face stiff competition in the coming weeks, facing Houston at home on Nov. 11 before traveling to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Nov. 19.
The second-place Minnesota Vikings helped the Bears by losing Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Green Bay Packers moved into a tie for second in the division Sunday by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Record-breaking performance: Jennings’ return TD gave Chicago its sixth interception return TD of the season, which breaks the franchise record of five set in 2004. Since 2004, the Bears have now scored 24 touchdowns on INT returns, which is good for third in the NFL over the past eight years.
The Bears are now 19-5 over the past seven years when they score a touchdown on defense. Since 2004, the Bears have scored 31 defensive touchdowns (24 INT returns, and seven fumble return TDs).
Third-down inefficiency: The Bears failed to convert a third down in five tries through the first three quarters, while their opponents converted 53 percent, which allowed the Panthers to mount several long drives.
What’s worse is the Bears didn’t convert their first third down until there was 9:27 left to play. By then the club had converted 1-of-7.
O-line issues again: Having given up six sacks on Sunday, Chicago’s offensive line has now allowed Cutler to suffer 11 sacks over the past two weeks after limiting opponents to just 12 sacks over the previous four games. It would difficult to pin all of the sacks on the offensive line, because Cutler seemed to be responsible for at least two of them.
But the fact the quarterback has absorbed so many sacks over the past two weeks is alarming and definitely an issue the Bears will have to re-address in their preparation for next week’s game at Tennessee.
In addition to the sacks, the pressure the offensive line allowed resulted in two Cutler fumbles.
Bennett missing: With rookie Alshon Jeffery missing his second consecutive game because of a fracture in his hand, the Bears expected Devin Hester or Earl Bennett to step up and fill the void. So far, neither has picked up the slack but Bennett simply hasn’t been used.
Cutler didn’t throw the ball in Bennett’s direction until the last two plays of the third quarter, and the receiver hauled in both passes for 35 yards.
What’s next: The Bears travel to Tennessee next week to take on their third AFC South opponent of the season. Interestingly, Chicago scored 41 points in winning each of its first two meetings against AFC South foes this season, so maybe the club can duplicate that scoring production against the Titans.
October, 7, 2012
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears scored 38 second-half points to turn a competitive 3-3 affair at the half into a 41-3 slaughter on the strength of two Jay Cutler touchdown passes and a pair of defensive touchdowns from Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.
Over the past six days, the Bears have racked up four defensive touchdowns, with Tillman and Briggs chipping in two apiece dating back to the club's Monday night victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Four of the club's TDs against the Jaguars came in the fourth quarter alone.
Let's look at this thing a little closer.
What it means: The Bears accomplished their goal of going into their week off with a 4-1 record, and will be tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the division lead. In addition, the Bears extended their NFC North lead over the Green Bay Packers to two games. Such a lead could come in handy down the stretch.
Slow start for Cutler: Cutler completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards and an interception to go with a passer rating of 45.8 in the first half as the Bears sputtered on offense, converting just 2 of 7 on third down.
But the quarterback rebounded to throw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
As Cutler caught fire, his passer rating improved to 88.8 as he hit Jeffery for a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a slant route defended by Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, and later a 24-yard scoring strike to Marshall. By the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Bears had improved their third-down conversion rate to 50 percent.
Cutler finished the game having completed 23-of-39 for 292 yards.
Carimi's struggles continue: Gabe Carimi played a major role in the club's squandering what should have been a touchdown drive in the third quarter with a couple of false-start penalties that moved the team from the Jacksonville 3 to the 13, and forced it to settle for Robbie Gould's second field goal of the day.
The Carimi false starts came during a drive in which he also gave up a sack to Austen Lane for a 5-yard loss.
Deja vu: In what looked like a repeat of Chicago's win over the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Tillman and linebacker Briggs returned their second interceptions for touchdowns in six days courtesy of Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Bears have proved that when the defense scores, good things happen.
Since 2004, the Bears own a 21-5 record when the defense scores a TD. The Bears are 18-2 under those circumstances over the past seven seasons.
Tillman scored Chicago's first touchdown with 5:04 left in the third quarter to give the Bears a 13-3 lead after Gould's extra point. The INT came on what might have been a communication mishap between Gabbert and receiver Justin Blackmon.
Tillman now has 32 career interceptions, with seven returned for touchdowns. Tillman's seven TDs go down as the most defensive touchdowns in franchise history.
Briggs' score came in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard return.
Here’s a breakdown of Chicago’s defensive touchdowns since 2004: 30 TDs total; 23 interception return TDs, 7 fumble return TDs; 26 games in which the defense scored a TD.
More sacks: Jacksonville's offensive line for the most part kept the defensive line of the Bears in check until the second half, when Briggs and Corey Wootton (two sacks) dropped Gabbert to run up the club's season sack total to 18.
Considering the Jaguars started off the game converting 4-of-8 on third down, the Bears applied the pressure at just the right time.
Briggs' sack in the third quarter marked just the second by a player not on the defensive line. Interestingly, 15 of the team's sacks have come from the defensive line. Briggs and strongside linebacker Nick Roach are the only players that aren't members of the defensive line to nab sacks.
What's next: Plenty of rest for the Bears, who will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to Halas Hall on Wednesday. The Bears are idle this week, and don't return to action until they face the Detroit Lions in a Monday night matchup at Soldier Field on Oct. 22.
September, 23, 2012
CHICAGO -- Despite all the additions and lofty expectations for the offense, defense -- as usual -- carried the Chicago Bears to a 23-6 triumph Sunday over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.
Led by Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks), the Bears sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times and picked him off twice, with Major Wright returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown, in addition to limiting the signal-caller to a passer rating of 39.2.
Coming off a meltdown in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago’s offense -- which operated without starting running back Matt Forte -- sputtered, but showed small signs of improvement.
Here’s a closer look:
What it means: The entire NFC North entered this week’s games with 1-1 records, so the Bears needed a win to stay in the mix atop the division standings. Obviously, it’s still early in the race. But the Bears didn’t want to put themselves in a hole so early in the season and fall into a situation where they’re playing catch-up.
Besides that, winning is the best way to rebound from a devastating defeat like the one suffered on Sept. 13 at Green Bay.
Front four still fearsome: Chicago’s front four built on its impressive start to the season by generating six sacks of Bradford on Sunday to run up their season total to 14.
The Bears entered the game tied for second in the NFL with eight sacks, accounting for 47 yards in losses. Interestingly, every one of those sacks had come from the defensive line. But Nick Roach broke the string of sacks by defensive linemen by getting in on the action for the club’s linebackers.
Missed opportunity: Devin Hester's drop of a sure touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter seemed to sum up a day of missed opportunities by the Bears' offense. The Bears had just driven 11 plays, and siphoned away close to six minutes off the clock only to settle for a 22-yard Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 13-6.
Hester’s miss was just one of many by the Bears, who suffered multiple dropped passes from Brandon Marshall and some errant throws by Cutler.
The offense hoped to rebound in front of the home crowd after last Thursday’s embarrassing performance. The unit showed improvement in several areas, but for the most part sputtered.
Major playmaker? Wright has dealt with his fair share of criticism throughout his three-year tenure with the team, ranging from questions about durability to his grasp of Chicago’s defensive system. Well, Wright finally seems to be dispelling the doubts.
In the fourth quarter Sunday, Wright intercepted a Bradford pass intended for Danny Amendola with 9:06 left to play and returned it for a 45-yard TD to make the score 20-6 after the extra-point kick. Tim Jennings, who also picked off a pass late in the game, tipped the ball right into Wright’s hands. But on the return for a TD, Wright showcased the physical traits the Bears raved about when they drafted him with a third-round pick in 2010.
Wright recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the team’s system contributed to his problems over the first two years of his career. But in the offseason, Wright said he put forth more of an effort to gain a firm grasp of the intricacies of the defense, and that appears to be paying off.
Wright entered Sunday’s game with 15 tackles in three starts.
Windy City: Kickers took advantage of light east winds in the first half with Gould connecting on a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter, and Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hitting on a 56-yarder with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Gould’s 54-yard bomb was his longest since Dec. 11 of last season when he booted a 57-yard field goal at Denver. Since Dec. 5, 2010, Gould is 6-of-6 on field goal attempts of 50-plus yards.
Two No. 1s down, three to go: Bradford marked the second of five No. 1 overall picks the Bears will face this season. The club faced 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck in Week 1 and came away with three interceptions in 41-21 victory over the Colts and limited Bradford, the first pick of 2010, on Sunday to 152 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 39.2.
Each of the club’s first four home games features No. 1 overall picks. The next two are Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first pick of ’09, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the top pick in ’11. The Bears wrap up matchups against No. 1s in Week 11 when they face Alex Smith (No. 1 overall in ’05) at San Francisco on Nov. 19.
Best actor goes to: No contest, Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi wins. After locking up with Rams defensive end William Hayes at the end of a Michael Bush run, Carimi flopped to the turf in an attempt to draw a penalty. If you recall, Carimi was called in the team’s loss to the Packers on Sept. 13 for a personal foul for continuing after the whistle was blown.
Hayes didn’t appear to be doing that when Carimi appeared to throw up his arms and basically launch himself backward onto the ground.
Bad acting, Gabe. You deserve a Razzie. It was certainly entertaining, though, drawing giggles throughout the Soldier Field press box.
What’s next: The Bears receive another opportunity on the national stage next Monday night when they face the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Surely the memory of the meltdown at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13 will remain fresh on the club’s mind in preparation for the Cowboys. So the Bears will work hard to avoid a repeat performance in the national spotlight.
September, 9, 2012
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears unleashed the explosive offense they discussed all offseason in demolishing the Indianapolis Colts 41-21 in Mike Tice’s first official game as the club’s new playcaller.
While the unit looked shaky early on, it’s not out of the question to say that with some seasoning the Bears could develop into arguably the most dangerous offense in the NFC North with all the weapons the team has acquired to put around quarterback Jay Cutler.
Cutler shook off a 1-for-10 start to throw for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 42-yard bomb to rookie Alshon Jeffery in the fourth quarter to put the exclamation point on an explosive Bears performance that also featured running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush combining for 122 yards and three more TDs.
Here’s a closer look:
What it means: The Bears needed to start off with a victory because they face the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. Minnesota and Detroit started off their seasons with victories, so it was important for the Bears to do the same to keep pace in a division that will be one of the league’s most competitive in 2012.
Shaky start: Cutler dramatically improved as the first half progressed, but the Bears know he can’t get off to such a slow start again Thursday night. Cutler completed only one of his first 10 passes, and threw an interception returned for a touchdown by Jerrell Freeman that gave the Colts an early advantage at the 11:23 mark of the first quarter. Cutler’s passer rating after 13 attempts was 0, and he finished the first quarter with a passer rating of 4.9 after completing 3-of-10 for 21 yards. Once Cutler stopped forcing passes to Marshall and the offensive line settled in, the quarterback finished the first half completing 15-of-27 for 228 yards and a touchdown and a passer rating of 80.5.
Andrew Luck makes history: Well, not really, but sort of. Luck starting against Chicago marked just the second time the Bears faced a starting quarterback making his NFL debut. The last time it happened, the Bears matched up against Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Scott Tinsley, who was playing his first NFL game during the 1987 strike season. Chicago smashed the Eagles 35-3 in that outing in front of 4,074 fans as Tinsley completed 7-of-22 passes for 65 yards. The Bears sacked Tinsley’s backup, Guido Merkins, 10 times. Obviously, Luck fared a little better by hitting on 23-of-45 for 309 yards and a TD.
Cutler milestone: Cutler’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall with 5:52 remaining in the second quarter moved the quarterback into sole possession of fourth place in franchise history in career TD passes. Cutler came into the game tied with Ed Brown and Erik Kramer for fourth with 63 TD tosses. Cutler finished the game with 333 yards and two touchdown passes. But Cutler still has plenty of work to do to catch franchise leader Sid Luckman (137 career TD passes).
Forte moves past Sayers: Forte entered the matchup with the Colts needing 46 yards from scrimmage to move past Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers for fourth most yards from scrimmage in franchise history. Forte passed Sayers in the first quarter when he gained 47 of Chicago’s 61 yards on two plays during one of the club’s two first-quarter scoring drives. Forte entered the game with 6,218 yards from scrimmage in 60 outings. Sayers had gained 6,263 yards from scrimmage in 68 games. Forte also became just the third player in Bears history to gain 4,000 career rushing yards and 2,000 receiving. Forte come into the game with 1,985 yards receiving and caught two passes for 32 yards in the first half to move into select company with Walter Payton and Neal Anderson, who rushed for 6,166 yards and gained 2,763 yards receiving during his career.
What’s next: The Bears face a short turnaround going into Thursday night’s matchup on the road against the Packers. So they’ll return to the practice field to work on Monday and Tuesday before using Wednesday as a travel day.