NFC North: Martellus Bennett

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears held out Martellus Bennett from Friday’s practice due to a rib injury, and the club officially listed the tight end as questionable on the final injury report headed into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

“We’ll see. We really don’t know right now,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s been inside getting treatment. We’re hopeful he’ll play.”

Bennett
Bennett suffered the injury during practice on Wednesday when “he twisted a little bit,” according to Trestman, who called the incident “kind of awkward on the practice field.”

If Bennett isn’t able to play against the Packers, the Bears will utilize veteran Dante Rosario in the starting lineup.

“These things happen,” Trestman said. “We’ve got a lot of faith in Dante and the things that he can do. We know the value that Marty has. We’re not underestimating that at all. We’re going to do the best we can. We’re not going to make excuses.”

Bennett currently ranks second among NFL tight ends in catches (47) and second on the team. He is also second on the team in receiving yardage (563) and is tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions.

Bennett comes off a six-catch performance against the New England Patriots.

In other injury news, the Bears officially declared left guard Matt Slauson (torn pectoral muscle) out for Sunday along with linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring).

Linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and Lance Briggs (ribs) are probable, along with cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand), safety Danny McCray (knee) and right tackle Jordan Mills (foot).
There’s no better way to kick off our look around the Bears beat with this piece by ESPN.com’s David Fleming, who spent the bye week with tight end Martellus Bennett as he put the finishing touches on his animated movie “Zoovie”.

Bennett
 Bennett told me he spent his bye week working on the film, which he hopes to enter in some upcoming festivals.

While most of the piece chronicles Bennett’s creative process, the tight end does talk a little football. When he does, Bennett drops a money quote about the importance of Sunday’s game at Green Bay. With the Bears sitting at 3-5, Bennett knows there’s the possibility some of his teammates have given up on the season.

"There are guys, and I've seen it, there are guys in this situation [on other teams], and coaches too, who are already packing it in and shutting it down and already in offseason mode, like, 'What beach or what club or what golf course am I going to?' That's why the Packers game will tell us a lot,” Bennett said. “That's what I want to see: Who's coming back with that mentality that we could still make the playoffs, and who's already packed it in and already thinking about partying and hitting the club in the offseason?"

By the way, Bennett says in the piece he’s fully planning on the Bears advancing to the playoffs.

If you get a minute, take a look at the piece because it’s definitely worth a read to get an idea of what makes Bennett click.

-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jon Greenberg isn’t confident about the team’s chances Sunday at Green Bay with Jay Cutler at the helm. Can’t say I blame him.

Greenberg writes: As you might be able to infer, I'm not too positive about these Bears' chances this week. I don't buy the hype about a post-bye-week revival. That's typical NFL empty blather. Nothing has changed for this team. If it finishes 8-8, consider that an accomplishment.

With a game against the hated Packers on tap, there's more buzz in Chicago about Joe Maddon buying shots and Blackhawks fans buying Winter Classic jerseys.

Who can blame us? How could anyone be confident with Cutler starting in Green Bay?

The Bears are 1-9 against the Packers with Cutler as the starter -- including the NFC championship loss he couldn't finish -- thanks in part to his 20 interceptions and slapdash play. In three games at Lambeau Field, all losses, he's completed 48 percent of his passes for 571 yards, two touchdowns and 10 picks.

-- Matt Forte says talk is cheap, ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson takes writes.

-- Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune chronicles Brandon Marshall’s brief session with the media on Thursday at Halas Hall.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears added tight end Martellus Bennett to their short list of injuries heading into Sunday’s game at Green Bay.

Bennett was limited for Thursday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center due to rib soreness, but his status for Sunday’s game isn’t in jeopardy. The team conducted practice at its indoor facility Thursday because of high winds posing a potential safety threat for the video staff filming practice from lifts.

“So we did that today and we went inside, did a two-minute period today to start practice,” Trestman said Thursday. “It was a competitive two-minute, and then we worked on third down and here we are. So we had a good, brisk workout today. Very competitive. Guys worked extremely hard today as they always do.”

The team held out guard Eben Britton (appendectomy) and linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring).

Full participants for the workout Thursday included linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and Lance Briggs (ribs), cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand), safety Danny McCray (knee) and right tackle Jordan Mills (foot).
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Before getting into thick of the Chicago Bears' next matchup at the Carolina Panthers, let's first take a look at the team's first-quarter report card after a 2-2 start:

Quarterback

Jay Cutler has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's shown more discipline and better command of the offense, but costly turnovers have been an issue. If Cutler maintains his current level of efficiency, he'll set a career high in passer rating for the second consecutive season. Cutler currently ranks third in completions (102), ninth in yards (1,006) and is tied for second in touchdowns, and his passer rating is currently 94.7. Grade: B

Running back

Matt Forte finally broke through for his first 100-yard rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers and is currently tied for eighth in rushing yards (258), first in receptions at his position (24) and third in yards from scrimmage (452). Rookie Ka'Deem Carey is becoming more of a factor in the offense as well, and the Bears have employed formations that feature both backs in the game at the same time. Both backs average at least 4 yards per attempt. Grade: B+

Offensive line

Injuries in the season opener to center Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson gave cause for concern, but their replacements Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola have performed well. The group has given up eight sacks through the first four games. According to Pro Football Focus, every offensive lineman graded positively in run blocking against the Packers. Grade: B-

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe offseason work tight end Martellus Bennett put in is paying off for the Bears.
Tight end

Martellus Bennett ranks second in catches (29th) among tight ends, fourth in yards (295) and is tied for second in touchdown receptions (four). Bennett put in the work during the offseason to prepare for a more significant role, and he appears to have developed a strong rapport with Cutler. Bennett has scored a touchdown in all but one game, while averaging 7.25 receptions. Grade: A

Receiver

Injuries have led to slow starts for Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, who have combined for 36 receptions and six touchdowns through four games. But the duo is gradually getting back to full speed. The club's complementary targets such as Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan haven't received many opportunities to showcase their talent, but they're plenty capable. Grade: B-

Defensive line

The Bears revamped the defensive line in the offseason with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. But the group certainly hasn't met expectations as the Bears rank 20th against the run while contributing just eight sacks (linebacker Shea McClellin is responsible for a sack as well). For the Bears to gain any level of consistency on defense with the style they play, the defensive line needs to step up its game, shut down the run and pressure the quarterback. Grade: D

Cornerback

The Bears are tied for fourth in the league in takeaways (eight), and rookie Kyle Fuller deserves credit for his team-high- three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Fuller became the only NFL player in the past 20 years with three interceptions and two forced fumbles in the first three games of the season. Obviously, Charles Tillman's season-ending triceps injury hurts the position. But the Bears are in decent shape with Fuller and Tim Jennings. The Bears need better play from the nickel corner spot. Grade: B-

Safety

Chris Conte gave up 46 yards on two catches and a touchdown against the Packers and missed a couple of tackles but for the most part has performed well (two interceptions). Ryan Mundy has been a solid run defender, and provided one of the team's takeaways with his pick-six Sept. 22 against the New York Jets. Overall, the safeties still need to play a little better. But they've been much more consistent than they were in 2013. Grade: C+

Linebacker

Shea McClellin entered the season as the starter on the strong side but has been on the shelf recently with a broken hand. Perhaps that's somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it has enabled the Bears to upgrade the overall athleticism of the starting lineup by replacing McClellin with Jonathan Bostic. The group lacks consistency in terms of gap integrity and pass coverage but is tracking positively. Grade: C-

Coaching

Coach Marc Trestman caught heat for the club's clock management in the second quarter to Green Bay, and you have to admit the Bears committed a few unnecessary penalties in the defeat, not to mention the thrown challenge flag that resulted in a lost timeout. Trestman deserves credit for suspending Bennett during training camp, because the move resulted in a positive change for the tight end. And you can't deny this Bears team did manage to pull together back-to-back road wins against strong opponents. Grade: C+

Overall

The consecutive road wins at San Francisco and New York followed by the stinker at home against Green Bay point to a lack of consistency in every facet of the game, and while injuries at key positions have been an issue, Chicago's situation plays out every week all over the league. So there are no excuses here. Ultimately, the Bears will be in decent shape in the second half of the season if they can finish the second quarter headed into the bye with a record of .500 or better.
CHICAGO -- An examination of what the Chicago Bears must do after their 23-20 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills: Coach Marc Trestman defended Jay Cutler in the aftermath of the quarterback’s two interceptions Sunday that led to points.

Cutler
But if the Bears expect to succeed against San Francisco on the road Sunday night, the coach needs to administer some tough love to his $126 million quarterback behind closed doors, in addition to preparing potential replacements along the offensive line and at receiver as contingency plans for injuries, while cracking the whip on the club’s porous run defense.

That’s quite a bit to accomplish in three days of prep time, but Trestman and the staff need to cover as much ground as possible.

“As I told the guys, it’s continuity football,” Trestman said. “It’s all about team. All three phases are involved in this game. We’ve got to accept responsibility, and that starts with me.”

The Bears turned the ball over three times, leading to 13 points, and the Bills needed to move the ball a total of 58 yards to put those points on the board. That's too easy for Buffalo; too hard on Chicago’s embattled defense.

Cutler’s INTs came on a pass thrown behind Martellus Bennett, while the other throw to the tight end -- which was picked off by defensive tackle Kyle Williams -- should never have been attempted. It’s one thing to try to make a play. But in crucial situations, smart football rules the day.

Had Cutler simply thrown it away instead of forcing the throw on his second INT, the Bears would have had one more down to try to win the game. Trestman also could have helped Cutler on the second INT, which came on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter in Buffalo territory, by making a better play call like a simple run as opposed to the bootleg, which exposes the quarterback to potential punishment, not to mention turnovers.

Trestman and the offensive staff also need to prepare potential replacements for Roberto Garza, Matt Slauson and Alshon Jeffery to take on more significant roles if the trio is forced to miss time.

Defensively, the Bears gave up 193 yards on the ground, including Fred Jackson’s 38-yard burst that set up the game-winning field goal. Take away Jackson’s 38-yard run and Anthony Dixon’s 47-yard jaunt, and the Bears would have surrendered 108 yards on 31 attempts. That’s still too much.

“We didn’t play disciplined football for four quarters, and it hurt us,” defensive end Lamarr Houston said. “We were in a good position to get them stopped, but once again, we lacked in the discipline area. We have to do our jobs, know our jobs, and just play disciplined football.”

That applies in all three phases.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears announced nine players won’t suit up for their matchup Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Soldier Field.

The list includes receivers Marquess Wilson and Chris Williams, safeties Craig Steltz and Chris Conte, cornerback Isaiah Frey, center Brian de la Puente, guard Jordan Mills, tight end Dante Rosario and defensive end Willie Young.

Wilson is expected to miss time in the regular season due to a fractured collarbone, while Williams is sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Steltz and Conte came off the physically unable to perform list on Sunday, and it’s likely the staff wants the duo to take in more practice time before participating in a preseason outing.

Frey, meanwhile, is nursing a strained hamstring while de la Puente is sidelined with a sprained MCL.

The staff continues to exercise caution with Mills, who underwent surgery in January on a fractured metatarsal in his left foot.

Rosario was held out of practice Tuesday due to what Bears coach Marc Trestman called calf soreness.

It’s unknown why the Bears plan to hold out Young.

Bears Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
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BOURBONAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • The Bears broke training camp Tuesday in cool, rainy conditions at Olivet Nazarene University, but the club plans to spend one more day on campus going through meetings and walk-throughs in preparation for Thursday’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It seems like we just got here, and now we’ve got one more day of walk-throughs and we’re moving back, 48 hours until game time,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It was a very good camp. I told them after practice I thought we did a great job of focusing when we need to focus on our work. I think you saw that, for those of you who have been here every day.”
  • The Bears held out Chris Williams (hamstring), Eben Britton (hamstring), Jordan Mills (foot), Marquess Wilson (collarbone), Isaiah Frey (hamstring) and Dante Rosario (calf). Charles Tillman and Jeremiah Ratliff were given the day off to rest.
  • Since returning from a strained quadriceps, veteran cornerback Tim Jennings has worked exclusively at the nickel corner spot. Prior to the injury, Jennings had been working outside opposite Tillman when the Bears played their base defense, before kicking inside when the team ran nickel. Now Jennings is taking reps solely as the nickel.
  • Marisa Buchheit, otherwise known as Miss Illinois 2014, visited the sideline at camp and took pictures with several spectators, and even some with members of the media.
  • Safety Chris Conte slipped while dropping into coverage, allowing room for the offense to hit a pass down the seam. Immediately after the play, several in the crowd began to continuously heckle and ridicule the safety. One teammate stood up and screamed “shut up” to the spectators.
  • Obviously, Conte’s struggles in 2013 are well documented. But he certainly wasn’t deserving of the ruthless ridicule, especially considering several players slipped on the wet grass during Tuesday’s workout.
  • On the subject of Conte, it’s still unknown whether he’ll play Thursday against the Jaguars.

“I’m gonna leave that up to the trainers. I’m hoping he can [play], but I can’t say that right now,” Trestman said. “We’ll wait and see.”
  • Conte came off the club’s physically unable to perform list on Sunday and has practiced every day since.
  • At the conclusion of the final workout of training camp, team officials wheeled the bicycles ridden around campus by the players and coaches onto the field to give away to some of the kids in attendance. The Bears have done this for the past several years.
  • Tight end Martellus Bennett spent several minutes after practice playing catch with a young boy visiting camp. After they played catch, the boy walked off the field carrying Bennett’s helmet.
CHICAGO -- Martellus Bennett’s absence at Soldier Field for Friday’s preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles was expected, given that he’d missed two practices and a walk-through session leading into the contest.

The question now is when Bennett will be allowed to rejoin his teammates.

Bennett
Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery have said Bennett needs to go through “a process” before he can return. But how long does this process last? Chicago receives the day off after Friday’s game and returns Sunday to the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University.

“You never want to see a player suspended. But I think the philosophy and the culture that Marc Trestman and Phil Emery have instilled, not just in the locker room, it’s not just about Martellus, but about the whole organization," team president Ted Phillips told Fox during its broadcast of Friday's game. "It’s important to keep it and it’s simple: Humility, respect, and believe that the guy next to you is every bit as important as you are and that every employee is part of a championship organization. That is going to be done. So I think Martellus, he’ll come out of it a better teammate.”

If Bennett remains a no-show when the team returns to camp, it would seem to indicate the transgressions the tight end is being punished for are deeper than we’ve all speculated. Multiple sources believed Bennett’s suspension was a result of an accumulation of incidents, with his fight with rookie Kyle Fuller being simply the latest.

Putting it lightly, the two sources described the tight end as difficult. But would Emery and Trestman potentially sacrifice the cohesiveness of the offense this season to make a point? That’s not to say Bennett shouldn’t be disciplined. He should be. But the Bears also need to be mindful that Bennett’s punishment -- depending on how this plays out -- could wind up turning into a negative situation if not handled properly.

The bottom line is the Bears need Bennett back in the fold as quickly as possible as they work to improve on what last year was one of the best offenses in the NFL.

The preseason opener against the Eagles would have been a good time to bring back Bennett, even if the club’s intention was that he didn’t participate in the game.

Bears Camp Report: Day 11

August, 6, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • The battle for the No. 2 tight end spot is intensifying with all the candidates receiving more repetitions because of Martellus Bennett’s indefinite suspension, and there’s a chance incumbent Dante Rosario could be unseated.

    Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan appear to be making the strongest pushes for the spot, but Jeron Mastrud has impressed, too.

    “We have way more depth than we did last year,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “We have blockers. We have receivers. We have some combination guys at the F position, which is usually the second TE coming into the game.”

    Mulligan is perhaps the best blocker, while Miller seems to be the team’s best receiving tight end outside of Bennett. With the heat bearing down from the competition, Rosario has picked up his game, too.
  • The Bears started out practice wearing shoulder pads, but took them off at the conclusion of the first full team drill. With the club just two days from opening the preseason against Philadelphia, coach Marc Trestman wanted “to get a Friday tempo before a Sunday game.”

    “We kept the pads on early to get through individual, and we had a run-game emphasis early on,” he said. “We wanted the guys to be padded up in the shoulders just to protect themselves and be able to pick up the tempo, and then we took the pads off to lighten the load a little bit.”
  • Not to be confused with former Bear Sam Hurd, receiver Greg Herd, who was signed on Monday night has been assigned No. 81. The Bears signed Herd to add at receiver after Marquess Wilson suffered a fractured clavicle. The Bears waived linebacker Conor O’Neill in a corresponding roster move.
  • Guard Kyle Long (ankle), cornerback Isaiah Frey (hamstring), tackle Jordan Mills (foot), guard Eben Britton (hamstring), cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) and safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder) were held out of practice. Conte and Steltz remain on the physically unable to perform list. Defensive end Jared Allen has missed the past two workouts and is excused to handle a family matter.
  • Chris Williams spent time Wednesday taking snaps with the first-team offense as the slot receiver.
  • Trestman ran sprints at the conclusion of practice with Alshon Jeffery, Josh Bellamy and Herd.
  • Trestman doesn’t anticipate the starters receiving much playing time in the exhibition opener against the Eagles.

    “We haven’t sat down to talk about it,” he said. “I’m open minded to hear what our coaches have to say. Sometimes it’s [determined] more on a player-by-player basis than it is the group itself, and we’ll make a decision sometime before we play.”
He’s taken part in just four practices at training camp, but in that short sliver of time, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler shows evidence he’s poised to take a major step in Year 2 of Marc Trestman’s offense.

“It’s obvious in practice that Jay is taking more and more control by the day,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “Not that he didn’t before; he did. But with his comfort level with all the things we’re trying to get done, he’s able to solve some of his own problems on the field, even when he didn’t maybe have that answer taught to him yet. It’s really helped that Jay has studied really hard all offseason. He’s worked on technique. He’s been one of the hardest-working guys on the team this offseason.”

Cutler
In other words, Cutler isn’t resting on what the offense accomplished in 2013.

You know the numbers. The Bears set records last season in net yardage (6,109 yards), passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9) in addition to achieving a franchise-best 344 first downs while scoring the second-most points in franchise history (445).

Cutler’s 63.1 completion percentage ranked second in franchise history, as he churned out a career-best passer rating of 89.2.

Cutler has long held a reputation for surliness, and the outside perception is he’s aloof with teammates. Yet within the organization, the quarterback didn’t display such qualities, according to the coaches. Actually, he’s quite the opposite, they say.

“I didn’t know him before last year, and to be honest with you, since I’ve been around him I’ve been nothing but impressed,” quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said. “I think he’s got a real sincere attitude about this organization, his teammates, the coaching staff and what we’re trying to get done. He believes in it.

“He does things that will never, ever get reported, and you just say, ‘Wow, that’s unselfish.' I admire that in him.”

What went largely unreported during last year’s camp was Cutler’s penchant for gathering the players late at night to go through walkthroughs of what the offense might be working on the next day.

Evidence of Cutler’s growth also manifested itself Saturday on the field after the club’s second workout of camp. Earlier that day, Cutler and tight end Martellus Bennett squandered what should have been a touchdown in the red zone when linebacker Jonathan Bostic broke up the quarterback’s pass.

As the rest of the team walked off the field after practice, Cutler walked over to an adjacent field with Bennett to talk about ways they could be more effective in the red zone. The conversation wasn’t combative, and the duo walked away smiling, having gained a better understanding of how to capitalize on the next red-zone opportunity.

“In certain situations [Bennett is] really hard to cover,” Cutler later explained. “He’s such a big guy that even some of the intermediate stuff over the middle, he’s able to bring guys and get separation. He played basketball, so he knows how to high point the ball down in the red zone. We’ve just got to keep throwing different stuff at him and incorporating him in different ways.”

Cutler hasn’t been perfect, nor has anyone else on the offense thus far at camp. But everyone recognizes the deficiencies, and Cutler seems to be taking the lead in cleaning up things.

Cutler admitted “there’s been some sloppy stuff out there,” thus far at camp, which he said “is to be expected.”

That’s part of the reason Cutler is sometimes taking repetitions with the second-team offense. The staff wants Cutler to take as many snaps as possible to strengthen his command of the offense, while also working with different personnel that might become more involved in the scheme if there’s an injury to a key contributor.

Trestman agreed with Kromer's assessment that Cutler is more of a problem-solver in Year 2 of the offense.

“It happens both in the protection game because of his acumen. He’s seein' it all. He’s also doing it within the framework of our passing game as well,” Trestman said. “He’s able to get guys in the right position, change routes quickly and get the best and most out of each and every play. That’s kind of where he is. He’s kind of fixing it at the line of scrimmage when he needs to get that done.”

Cavanaugh called Cutler “a great example” for the offense.

“He just wants to be the best he can be every day, and he wants to make the people around him better, too,” Cavanaugh said. “That’ what you want in your leader. You want a guy who can make people around him better and be an example for them and make them better.”
The Chicago Bears finally finalized the defensive coaching staff by bringing aboard defensive-line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring. So what’s the next step?

That remains to be seen, as the Bears have kept everything pretty close to the vest thus far in what’s been a relatively quiet offseason. But remember, it’s still early. This team has lots of decisions and moves to make.

Thanks to everybody who sent in questions. Obviously, we can’t execute this feature without your participation. So we definitely appreciate it.
 
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears locked up quarterback Jay Cutler for the long term on Thursday with a seven-year contract, a move that might finally secure some stability on the club’s offense.

“It rewards Jay, and it helps the team continue to be able to build a championship-level team,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsAlong with his play in 2013, Jay Cutler impressed the Bears with the way he handled adversity.
Throughout his tenure in Chicago, Cutler has rightfully received plenty of criticism on several fronts, ranging from his truculence with the media and demeanor in games, to a record of futility against NFC North rival Green Bay. But what was undeniable in 2013 is the fact that he improved tremendously during his first season in a new offense under Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer.

Emery saw as much almost immediately, and admitted it.

In leading the Bears to a 3-0 record to start the season, Cutler completed 67.3 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and three interceptions to go with a passer rating of 94.2. At that point, Emery knew “we were headed in the right direction” regarding Cutler.

But when Cutler suffered a groin injury on Oct. 20 at Washington, Emery had to pump the brakes on rushing to hand the quarterback a new deal.

Cutler returned too quickly from the groin injury and played in the club’s Nov. 10 matchup against the Detroit Lions. Largely ineffective in that outing, Cutler finished with a passer rating of 69.8, a performance Emery admitted “wasn’t his best day.”

“But you know what? He battled back and he put us in a position to tie the game," Emery said.

How Cutler handled that adversity provided more evidence that Chicago needed him for the long term. In that game, he suffered an ankle injury that would put him on the shelf for the next four games while backup Josh McCown performed well enough to conjure discussion about a potential quarterback controversy.

That became another adverse situation Emery would use as a litmus test in determining whether Cutler’s future was with the Bears.

“How he handled that as a person after throwing a couple of picks, coming back and being a reason that you win that game” played a major part in Emery’s decision, as was the way “he handled the Green Bay Packers [in the regular-season finale].”

“That’s when I finalized the decision,” Emery said.

So the general manager reached out to Cutler’s agent, Bus Cook, on Monday to start the process of locking up the quarterback long term.

Given that Cutler signed a seven-year deal, it’s likely a cap-friendly contract that will allow the Bears to be aggressive in free agency to restock a floundering defense.

There’s no doubt that he showed growth under Trestman. In four seasons with the Bears prior to 2013, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. In 2013, Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2, his best since his rookie season (2006).

It’s important to note Cutler’s improvement came in just one season in a new offense, coached by a new staff and filled with new players on the offensive line. What will happen once Cutler gains a level of mastery in the offense similar to what Aaron Rodgers has in Green Bay, what Tom Brady has in New England?

It’s impossible to predict with any real accuracy.

But by locking up Cutler, the Bears gives us a chance to find out.

“When was the last time you had a Jay Cutler?” receiver Brandon Marshall asked on Monday. “When was the last time you had Jay Cutler with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, [Matt] Slauson, [Jermon] Bushrod, [Kyle] Long, [Roberto] Garza, Trestman, Kromer, [receivers coach] Mike Groh, Phil Emery? The pieces are there.”

Undoubtedly, Cutler is the most important one.

All-NFC North: Chicago Bears

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


The Chicago Bears placed three offensive players on ESPN.com's All-NFC North team in Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, with one notable exception in Brandon Marshall.

Meanwhile, cornerback Tim Jennings served as the lone representative from Chicago’s struggling defense.

For the record, we nominated both Jeffery and Marshall since they are the NFL’s top receiving duo. They combined for 2,716 yards -- the highest for a receiving pair in franchise history. Despite his pedigree as a four-time Pro Bowler and the fact he’s caught 90-plus balls in two consecutive seasons, Marshall fell victim to the numbers game as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson earned the spot on the all-division team opposite Jeffery. Marshall recorded his fifth 100-reception season, tying him for the most in NFL history.

Interestingly, Jeffery, Marshall and Forte are just the seventh trio of teammates in NFL history to feature one 1,200-yard rusher and two 1,200-yard receivers in a season.

In his second season, Jeffery posted 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns on 89 receptions. Both Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler have campaigned pretty hard for Jeffery to be named to his first Pro Bowl. It’s almost certain that Marshall will make the Pro Bowl despite the snub on this NFC North team.

Having hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fourth time in his career, Forte has also broken Chicago’s single-season record for catches by a running back (70), a mark he previously set as a rookie.

Bennett, meanwhile, set career highs in receptions (65) and receiving yards (759), while tying a career high in receiving touchdowns (5).

With the way the Bears have performed on defense, Jennings is definitely the only player deserving of All-NFC North mention. His 12 interceptions since 2012 rank second in the NFL only to Seattle’s Richard Sherman (16). Jennings is also one of six players in 2013 to return multiple interceptions for touchdowns, and his three interception returns for TDs since 2012 are tied for second-most in the league over that span.

One of the most notable absences on the all-division team is Bears return man Devin Hester, who tied Deion Sanders' NFL record for return touchdowns with an 81-yard punt return score in Week 7 at Washington. Hester's 2013 campaign has been decent, but Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings put together a better season than arguably the best returner in NFL history.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Brandon Marshall broke down the history of the quarterback-starved Chicago Bears franchise on Monday when asked whether Jay Cutler should be brought back in 2014 on a new contract.

With Chicago’s season coming to an end Sunday after a 33-28 loss to Green Bay, Cutler’s contract situation remains a hot topic because the quarterback is not signed beyond 2013. As the players cleared out their lockers at Halas Hall following final meetings with Bears coach Marc Trestman, Marshall provided his take on Cutler.

“One thing I know about Chicago: It’s been a long time since we had a quarterback like Jay Cutler,” Marshall said. “So all your stories this offseason, I think that should be the headline or that should be the story written this year: ‘Oh, how we love Jay Cutler,’ because it’s been so long. His first few years here he hadn’t gotten it done, and I think that’s not all on him. There’s some on him, but then you look around and he’s one of the most beat-up quarterbacks around; didn’t have adequate coaching on the offensive side of the ball. Every year I think he had a different offensive coordinator. Now that you have continuity, not only upstairs, but in the locker room or the room with the wide receivers, offensive line, running back position, it’s set up for him to be successful. The steps he’s taken this year in leadership, and even growing as a quarterback, mentally and physically, we saw those things.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhQuarterback Jay Cutler thrived this season under head coach Marc Trestman.
Despite Cutler’s record of futility against the Packers continuing on Sunday, the quarterback performed well in the loss. Cutler passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns to go with a passer rating of 103.8. In doing so, Cutler completed three passes for 30-plus yards, including a 67-yard connection to Alshon Jeffery, a 37-yarder to Marshall, and a 33-yarder to Matt Forte.

In eight previous games against the Packers, Cutler completed 142 of 257 passes for 1,702 yards, nine touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a passer rating of 61.5. Against the rest of the NFC North over that same span, he had thrown for 33 TDs and 16 INTs.

So despite a season hindered by Cutler missing time due to injuries, there’s no doubt that the quarterback showed growth under first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. In four seasons with the Bears prior to this season, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. In 2013, Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2, the quarterback’s best since his rookie season (2006).

“The man’s 30. Jay’s like 30 years old, ain’t he?” tight end Martellus Bennett asked. “How much development do y’all expect him to do? I haven’t really talked to him too much today. But he’s been an awesome teammate since day one for me. So I don’t know the Jay you guys [keep] talking about and all the [expletive] you guys write all the time, talking about Jay [has] changed. I only met one Jay Cutler, and he’s been awesome from day one.”

But center Roberto Garza senses a change in Cutler.

“It’s unbelievable,” Garza said. “To put up the numbers we did with that offense we had, and the playmakers we had week in and week out, it was a great thing to be a part of. To see Jay go out there and play like we know he can was good to see. It’s definitely something they are going to build on for the future.”

But will Cutler be back in 2014?

“There’s a lot of uncertainties,” Garza said. “But he’s a great quarterback. He deserves to be here and I’m sure that will all work out.”

Marshall admitted his input ultimately won’t sway general manager Phil Emery's decision. But Emery has mentioned on multiple occasions that he considers Cutler a franchise-level quarterback, and it’s unlikely the season-ending loss to the Packers changed that.

“Phil is smart. He’ll get it done. He’ll do what’s best for the team, and I think Jay is what’s best for the team,” Marshall said. “When was the last time you had a Jay Cutler? When was the last time you had Jay Cutler with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, [Matt] Slauson, [Jermon] Bushrod, [Kyle] Long, Garza, Trestman, Kromer, [receivers coach] Mike Groh, Phil Emery? The pieces are there.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The situation looks dire, but Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings says “he’s seen it done before” and “if we get that one spark,” perhaps the club’s dying postseason hopes can spring back to life.

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.”

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