NFL Nation: Chicago Bears

video When: 1 p.m. ET Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis TV: Fox

The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears square off in what amounts to the Week 17 NFC North undercard, with third place in the division at stake before the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers battle for the division title. The Vikings-Bears matchup will feature the same two quarterbacks as the teams' Nov. 16 meeting, but Teddy Bridgewater and Jay Cutler are headed in very different directions.

Bridgewater has completed better than 70 percent of his passes in each of his past four games and seems to be asserting himself as a solid young NFL quarterback. Cutler, meanwhile, was benched last week in favor of Jimmy Clausen and is starting this week only because Clausen sustained a concussion against Detroit. Sunday could be Cutler's last game with the Bears.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discuss Sunday's matchup:

Goessling: Michael, it looks like we’ll see Cutler one more time this Sunday. Is that a good thing for the Bears at this point? He played well against the Vikings last time, but how invested will he be?

Wright: Ben, it depends on how you look at it. Marc Trestman mentioned that Cutler gives this team the best chance to win against the Vikings, which is absolutely true. But to me, Trestman probably irreparably damaged the relationship with the quarterback by benching him. When the announcement was made, I asked Trestman directly about Cutler’s future in Chicago because once you make the type of decision he made, to go with Clausen, there’s no turning back. I still believe that. So if the Bears actually plan to move Cutler this offseason, they’re taking a big risk in playing him against the Vikings in this meaningless game. Cutler’s $15.5 million salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, and if he’s on the roster on the third day of the new league year, the Bears would be on the hook for more than $10 million of his 2016 salary. And guess what? You can’t trade an injured player. So to me, this is a risky proposition. Based on the decision to start Cutler, my guess is the team isn’t planning to move him this offseason. I think the relationship between Cutler and Trestman is broken. So Cutler will be invested, but he’ll also probably be out there doing his own thing as opposed to playing within the confines of Trestman’s system. My expectation is Cutler will play a backyard brand of ball in this last outing.

The teams own similar records, but I’d be willing to bet you the feelings about the future of both these franchises are way different. Minnesota (6-9) has lost its last five by a combined 16 points, while what’s going down with the Bears (5-10) is downright embarrassing. Despite Minnesota’s record, there seems to be some optimism about the future. What’s next for the Vikings?

Goessling: They're 6-9, but after everything they've been through -- losing Adrian Peterson, starting a rookie quarterback, dealing with several injuries on the offensive line -- the Vikings feel as though they're headed in the right direction. The key to the whole thing, of course, is Bridgewater. If he continues to get better, the Vikings will have a young quarterback they can build around for the first time since ... Daunte Culpepper? They got only a few years of franchise QB-level play from him, but that tells you how starved this team has been for an answer at the position. The defense probably needs another offseason of player acquisition, but with the right moves, this could be a top-10 unit next year. That, plus an improving young quarterback, is a nice foundation.

The Bears’ pass rush hasn’t gotten the job done enough this season, and now Willie Young is out, so this looks as if it could be a matchup of resistible force vs. movable object when the Vikings are trying to stop the Bears’ pass rush. Can Jared Allen pick up some of the slack in his return to Minnesota?

Wright: I think he can, and you know he’ll be motivated to play well in front of the Vikings' fans at TCF Bank Stadium. Allen throughout his career has always been a guy who has kind of come on as the season progressed, and it seems as if this season is no different. He’s sitting at 5.5 sacks right now, and it seems very likely he'll finish the season without a double-digit sack total for the first time since 2006. So you know Allen is going to give it everything he’s got to try to get the 4.5 sacks he needs to get to double digits, which you and I both know probably isn’t happening. But that’s not going to stop him from trying. My guess is he’ll draw a little extra attention because the Bears will be forced to play unheralded guys such as Cornelius Washington and David Bass opposite Allen. So he’ll have a difficult time trying to pick up the slack for Young.

Remember Bridgewater’s dreadful pro day workout? That seems like ages ago, and now he certainly seems like the answer at quarterback moving forward. In what areas does Bridgewater need to improve this offseason to take that next step?

Goessling: He's really made some significant strides in recent weeks, particularly with how well he throws downfield. He's completed better than 70 percent of his throws of 15 yards or longer in the past four weeks, which is a huge development for a QB who wasn't hitting anything deep earlier this season. I'd still like to see him be able to manage a higher volume of those throws -- you know Norv Turner would love to make the old "Bang 8" skinny post a staple of his offense again -- and he probably needs to get stronger this winter. He still throws high at times and misses some easy completions, but his improvement even during the past month has been noticeable. Bridgewater wants to be great; he believes he's capable of it and he'll put the work in to try to get there. An offseason of strength training and prep work can only help.

Of the Bears teams you’ve covered, how surprising has the collapse of this one been? I thought they’d be a playoff team; some had them among the NFC contenders. What sticks with you most about what went wrong?

Wright: This is just my fifth season on the Bears beat, but it’s by far the worst I’ve seen it out here. All the internal drama obviously sticks out. But I think what sticks out the most is how badly Bears general manager Phil Emery miscalculated in terms of the contributions this team would be able to get from some of the additions he made. Emery paid big money to sign Allen and Lamarr Houston in free agency and they’ve combined for 6.5 sacks. Houston had never produced more than six sacks in a season, yet Emery billed him as the crown jewel of the team’s free-agent class. Then the Bears went out and signed a bunch of no-name safeties. M.D. Jennings was the most experienced safety of all the signees and he didn’t even make the team. Let’s not even get into the big money paid to Cutler.

Coming off a promising 2013 season, the Bears sold everyone on the notion they’d be a playoff contender. But the fact is that Chicago’s offense in 2013 -- despite finishing second in scoring last season -- wasn't as good as everyone seems to think. They caught teams by surprise because they didn’t know what to expect from Trestman’s offense, but at the core, the unit is flawed. You’ve got three big receivers in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, but not one target capable of taking the top off coverages. So I knew the offense would take a step back in 2014, but not as dramatic as what we’ve seen. On the other side of the ball, nobody expected the Bears to return to the level they’d been under Lovie Smith. But the expectation was the defense would be at least mediocre, which obviously isn’t the case. I’d say about 80 to 85 percent of this team’s problems in every facet are the result of bad personnel moves. So although Trestman and the coaching staff -- deservedly -- take plenty of heat, Emery dealt them a horrible hand from a personnel standpoint.

It’s difficult to get a team up when there’s nothing to play for. But what is Mike Zimmer’s message for how he’d like to see the Vikings close out this season?

Goessling: Zimmer was livid with the Vikings after their 37-35 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday, and I'd be willing to bet they'll be sharper this weekend. He's made it clear that he's not going to go into evaluation mode, that it's still about winning games this season. But at the same time, the Vikings are trying to make decisions about their future and Zimmer has sent the message that players who coast to the finish line won't have as much security as they might expect. I think the Vikings will respond to that Sunday, especially playing at home and facing a team that appears to be in disarray.
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Matt Forte eyes milestones

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
5:15
PM ET
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Matt Forte remained upbeat Wednesday despite missing out on being named to his third Pro Bowl as the running back eyes a couple of significant milestones Sunday when the Chicago Bears face the Minnesota Vikings.

With 94 receptions through 15 games, Forte needs just eight more to break the NFL single-season record for receptions by a running back, set in 1995 by Larry Centers (101 receptions). In addition, if Forte gains 13 yards rushing against the Vikings and catches six passes, he’ll join LaDainian Tomlinson as just the second player in NFL history to finish a season with 1,000 rushing yards and 100 catches.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesMatt Forte is just eight receptions from setting the NFL record for running backs in a single season.
“It’s important, but not the most important thing to me,” Forte said of the single-season record for receptions by a running back. “I’m not going to go out looking to get eight catches. I’m really just going out there to run the ball, catch the ball, block, and do what I’ve got to do for us to be successful on offense and help us win the game.”

Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long, however, wants to make the record reality for Forte.

“I was gonna butt in there when he was talking about how it’s not important to him,” Long joked. “We’re in the National Football League, and I’m sitting next to a guy who has an opportunity to catch the single most passes in NFL history for a running back in a season. I know I’m gonna be yelling at our quarterback to throw him the ball. Are you kidding me? What a tremendous honor to get to play with a guy like Matt and have an opportunity to be a part of something like that that will stand for a really long time.”

Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t plan to alter the game plan to make sure Forte reaches his milestones. With nothing left to play for, it would be easy for the team to turn its attention to such matters.

“Last games, oftentimes there’s those types of things that are up on the table,” Trestman said. “But I think the primary focus is to do what we have to do on each and every play to win the game, and those things will usually take care of themselves.”

That’s fine by Forte.

“I’m just looking forward to this weekend. I’ve got a chance to do something special this week,” Forte said. “Obviously I’m focused on winning the game first. But on this offense, we’ve obviously this year underachieved, but there’s still room to go out there and improve and finish strong in the last game. It’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s the last game of the season.’ You’ve got to go out there and prove that you deserve to be in the league. We’ve got another chance to go out and play well.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Nothing tangible remains to play for Sunday in the season-finale at Minnesota, but Jay Cutler plans to muster up investment for "the guys in the locker room" in what could wind up being his last game as quarterback of the Chicago Bears.

Cutler
"The guys that have been in the huddle all year long that I’ve been with, those are the guys I’ll play for this week," Cutler said.

Signed to a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million last January, Cutler takes over as the starter after being benched last week in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who on Monday was diagnosed with a concussion. In 10 starts against the Vikings, Cutler has thrown for 2,434 yards, 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a passer rating of 98.0.

Cutler declined to speculate on his future, but admitted it will be difficult to generate energy for the season finale with so little to play for and uncertainty about what might transpire as soon as the Monday following Sunday’s outing at TCF Bank Stadium.

Cutler’s 2015 base salary of $15.5 million is fully guaranteed, and another $10 million guarantee for his 2016 salary kicks in if the quarterback remains on the roster on March 12, the third day of the 2015 league year.

"I think you’ve just got to prepare yourself that anything could happen," Cutler said. "That’s kind of what I’m prepared for. I mean, everyone could stay. Everyone could get axed. You just never know what direction it’s going to go. You just have to stay open-minded and know that things happen for a reason."

Asked whether he’s ever come to grips with the human element of what could take place on Monday and the number of people it could affect, Cutler said he ponders such scenarios during training camp.

"You chop [the roster] down, chop it down," Cutler said. "You wonder where those guys go, what happens to them. Some of them never play football again. The situation after the year, it’s gonna be similar. Coaches could leave. Players could leave. I could leave. That’s part of it."

Cutler has called the 2014 season his most difficult as a professional, and admits all the turmoil has conditioned him to "expect the least expected at this point."

"Hopefully, we can make it through the next couple of days without something else happening," he said. "You never know though."
SELECTIONS

Kyle Long, OG, Second Pro Bowl selection: Long earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection and became the first Chicago Bears offensive lineman to receive the honor in each of his first two seasons with the franchise. Long became the first Bear since Devin Hester (2006-07) to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. According to STATS, LLC, Long hasn’t allowed a sack in 2014, and he anchors a Chicago offense that ranks first in franchise history in completion percentage (65.1), second in passing touchdowns (30), tied for second in completions (373), fourth in net passing yards (3,627) and sixth in passer rating (88.1). Long is part of an offensive line that has helped running back Matt Forte rank No. 3 in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,772).

Who he beat out: Orlando Franklin, Louis Vasquez, T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, David DeCastro, Mike Pouncey, Dan Connolly

SNUBS

Matt Forte, RB: Forte racked up 1,772 yards from scrimmage through the first 15 games, which ties for third in the NFL. But the problem is the Bears refuse to commit to the rushing attack, which significantly affected Forte’s numbers. Arguably the league’s best all-around back, Forte leads the Bears with 94 catches for 785 yards, and he’s just 13 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the fifth time in his seven-year career.

Who he should have beaten out: LeSean McCoy.

Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery generated a team-high 1,099 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 83 receptions, despite playing the majority of the year hampered by nagging injuries. Jeffery has gained 2,887 yards over his first three seasons. Jeffery has already gained the second-most receiving yards by a Bears player in his first three seasons, and he ranks No. 5 in the NFL in receiving yardage since 2013.

Who he should have beaten out: A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears officially placed defensive end Willie Young on injured reserve due to a torn left Achilles on Tuesday, and brought back defensive end Austen Lane, who spent the preseason with the club.

Young
“That’s a tough one,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said of Young’s injury. “He has kind of been an inspirational leader. You guys know him in the locker room -- he’s a charismatic guy. He keeps people up. He’s fun to be around. He’s a guy who is always up and around the building, and has played well and gotten better throughout the season. He’ll be missed on Sunday, certainly.”

Young posted a career-high 10 sacks in 2014, which also leads the Bears, and he’s tied for 13th in the NFL and tied for sixth in the NFC in sacks. Young played in 15 games with eight starts this season, registering 55 tackles, one forced fumble, three pass breakups and 13 quarterback pressures.

A five-year veteran, Young also blocked a field goal this season. He’s now posted 127 career tackles, 16 sacks, 10 pass breakups and 14 tackles for lost yardage.

Lane, meanwhile, has appeared in 30 games with 17 starts over four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2010-12) and Detroit Lions (2013), contributing 64 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, 13 quarterback hurries and five tackles for lost yardage.

A fifth-round pick of the Jaguars in 2010, Lane spent training camp with the Bears, but was released at the end of the preseason.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker hears criticism from the fans regarding the Bears' struggling defense, but it's not anything worse than what he hears at home, considering his wife Jo-Ellyn and her family all hail from Chicago.

"You know, they want to win, too," Tucker said. "My wife is from Chicago. She's from the South side and so her mom, her whole family is here. They're all Bears fans. There's a little bit of, ‘You spend all that time over there and that's the best you can do?' type of thing."

With Chicago mired in a four-game losing streak, the club's defense in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions, held an opponent to fewer than 31 points for the first time since Nov. 23, when the Bears limited Tampa Bay to 13 points during a 21-13 win. The season-finale at Minnesota could be the coaching staff's last game together, as it's expected Bears coach Marc Trestman and the staff will be let go at the conclusion of the season. Still, nobody is concerned about what might take place next week, as the staff is focused on prepping for the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeTrestman
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast"When you're sitting here with the record that we have, everybody's got something to say about it," Marc Trestman said.
"No one is happy at this time about where we are," Tucker said. "You can't sugarcoat it and think everyone is just on Cloud 9 right now. But we have to be mature about it. You have to handle it. You're going to have some moments, and we'll just work through it. We still have one more game to play, and so that's where our focus is. That's why it's difficult for me to reflect right now because we're not in reflect mode. We're in preparation mode for our last game. There will be plenty of time to reflect and look back. Right now, we've got a really big game ahead of us."

Trestman empathized with Tucker. After all, the team's high-priced offense underachieved in 2014 perhaps more than the embattled defense with Trestman presiding over it all. The team has endured plenty of off-the-field drama, too, with issues regarding trust between players and coaches in the locker room, and the benching of Jay Cutler just to name a couple.

"We're all getting earfuls, believe me, and certainly Mel's getting his share," Trestman said. "We all are, as we said. When you're sitting here with the record that we have, everybody's got something to say about it. That's part of the job we have right now, and we've had, is to deal with it and move forward and get our guys ready to play. That's where our responsibility lies, is the day-to-day process of doing our best as coaches to get our guys ready to play. That's our job."

That doesn't make it any easier for the staff to deal with, especially considering the high expectations entering the 2014 season. The Bears were coming off a promising 8-8 campaign in Trestman's first season at the helm. Like other teams around the league, the Bears have dealt with their fair share of injuries. But Trestman, Tucker and special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis all refused Tuesday to make excuses.

On offense, seven players with three years or fewer of experience have started at least one game. In fact, the Bears lined up on offense against the Lions with their eighth combination of starters along the offensive line. Defensively, the Bears have lined up with 11 combinations of starters in addition to losing five players, including four starters, to season-ending injuries.

Asked if he dreaded what's known around the NFL as Black Monday -- the day many coaching staffs are fired -- DeCamillis said, "No," as he's dealt with similar situations during nearly 30 years as a coach in the league.

"You're going to say, ‘He's not telling the truth,' but you deal with this," DeCamillis said. "I've been on staffs that it's an issue. I'm just trying to roll through this thing and try to get ready for Minnesota. You have quiet times where you think about that stuff. But this isn't a quiet time right now. I've got to go back upstairs and figure out a way to cover these guys this week because they're definitely explosive. I'll worry about that stuff whenever it happens I guess. What did you say, Monday?"

QB snapshot: Jimmy Clausen

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Jimmy Clausen and how he played in the Chicago Bears' 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 16:

Clausen
Seeking a "spark" to ignite Chicago's dormant offense, Bears coach Marc Trestman benched Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen, and while the tactic appeared to work initially, ultimately the club dropped its fourth in a row as the unit put up just 14 points.

For the most part, Clausen produced an error-free game, but he did throw one interception with 2:02 left to play on a fourth-down desperation heave. So while Clausen didn't make many of the game-changing mistakes we've seen from Cutler, the truth is the quarterback proved only that he's a capable NFL backup. Nothing more. But we won't discount the fact Clausen played against one of the NFL's best defenses with little prep time, and without the services of starting left guard Kyle Long.

Still, Clausen was only mediocre in his first start since 2010, finishing the game with two touchdown passes and a rating of 77.0, while completing only one pass for a gain of more than 18 yards (20-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter). In Clausen's defense, Jeffery did drop four passes, and the Bears were unable to generate a sufficient rushing attack (55 yards rushing from Matt Forte). But the quarterback put together only one legitimate scoring drive (80 yards on 15 plays, aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty that gave Chicago a first down after a stalled drive).

Clausen's second scoring drive came as the result of a muffed punt recovered on the Detroit 11.
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Marc Trestman benched starting quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen for Sunday's 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Then mysterious circumstances -- the team's announcement that Clausen was ruled out after suffering a concussion Sunday for which delayed symptoms surfaced Monday -- called for Trestman to go back to Cutler for the season finale at Minnesota. Trestman mentioned that Cutler gives the Bears the best chance to win, which is absolutely true. But if Cutler's future is truly as murky as the team's recent actions indicate, why risk getting the quarterback hurt, which would diminish his trade value while potentially making the Bears liable for $10 million of the quarterback's $16 million base salary for 2016 if he's still on the roster on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12)?

Remember, you can't move an injured player.

Cutler said all the right things last week in the wake of the benching. But from this vantage point, Trestman made a move in benching Cutler that he can't undo. In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to keep his job, Trestman damaged the relationship with Cutler. Likely forever.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesIn a questionable move, Jay Cutler will start in the Bears' Week 17 game at Minnesota on Sunday.
So Trestman's decision to go back to Cutler makes little sense, given there's absolutely nothing left for the Bears to play for Sunday in Minnesota.

Even receiver Brandon Marshall admitted Monday during his radio show on ESPN 1000 he's "sure there's some bitterness there or something there," and that Cutler coming back "is playing with your emotions a little bit."

Cutler's salary guarantees make it difficult enough to trade the quarterback because any franchise grabbing him would basically be forced to make a two-year commitment. So the quarterback going down with an injury in a meaningless game would only increase the difficulty the Bears already face this offseason, if the plan truly is to move Cutler.

Trestman insisted the relationship with the quarterback isn't strained. But even if that's truly the case, it's still bad business to play Cutler against the Vikings. Besides, why not give rookie David Fales a chance to showcase his skills?

"Jay's comments to the media were very similar to mine. We didn't practice together, in terms of what we were going to say. I said very specifically that I believe that Jay can work his way out of this," Trestman said. "And I've enjoyed coaching him and working with him. And we had dialogue last week. And we worked together last week. It was a tough week on him. I empathize with him on that. But we're moving forward, both with the idea that we've worked together for a long time and that hasn't changed."

What has changed is the functionality in the Chicago Bears' organization. That, certainly needs to change.
CHICAGO -- The body-language police likely focused a critical eye on Jay Cutler during Chicago’s 20-14 loss Sunday to the Detroit Lions, but behind the scenes, the benched quarterback spent extra time at Halas Hall preparing Jimmy Clausen for his first start since his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers in 2010.

Cutler
“He was involved during the week in the meetings, actively and vocally involved,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said of Cutler. “Today, he did what you would expect him to do. He was with Jimmy and [quarterbacks coach] Matt [Cavanaugh] between series and was part of the dialogue.”

Clausen threw two touchdown passes and an interception, with a passer rating of 77.0. But with just two days of prep time, Clausen said Cutler and rookie David Fales stayed with him until nearly 9 p.m. those nights at the team’s facilities.

When Clausen signed with the team in June, Cutler immediately took the backup quarterback under his wing.

“We only had two days to prepare for this game, so we stayed pretty much until 8:30 p.m. every single night, trying to watch as much tape as possible, get all the calls down,” Clausen said. “Get everything down to make sure we were prepared for this game. But Jay was great. David Fales was great in helping me to go through all the calls, watching the film. Staying real late, they helped me out a lot.”
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CHICAGO -- No brilliant aerial display or 100-plus passer rating for Jimmy Clausen. Not even a victory for that matter.

Yet when Chicago walked off the field 20-14 losers to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field, the feeling permeating the locker room and postgame press conference room wasn’t one of despair with Clausen falling short in his first start since 2010 because the quarterback kept the Bears in it until the end.

“What do I think I did for myself?” Clausen asked. “I think I just went out there and competed. That’s the biggest thing I think I did, and showed I can play in this league. It’s not about me or anything about that. It’s about winning football games. That’s what we were trying to do today against a division opponent, and we came up short.”

With Jay Cutler, the NFL’s highest-paid offensive player backing him up, Clausen tossed two touchdown passes and absorbed a pair of sacks on the way to producing a passer rating of 77.0. Clausen passed for just 181 yards on the day against a Lions defense that entered the contest ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed (17.0) and second in total yards (300.3-yard average)

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJimmy Clausen avoided the types of game-changing mistakes that have plagued Jay Cutler all season.
So Marc Trestman probably didn't save his job by benching Cutler last week in favor of Clausen, because the new starter didn’t exactly light up the Lions. But it’s important to note the Bears attacked Detroit’s vaunted defense with a scaled-back game plan due to Clausen’s limited repetitions, while taking the field with a pair of rookie backups (Ryan Groy and Michael Ola) at the guard positions along an offensive line that gave up seven sacks just six days prior against New Orleans’ 31st-ranked defense.

Trestman sought “a spark” when naming Clausen the starter, and received as much in Sunday’s loss.

Against the playoff-bound Lions, the Bears led 14-10 to start the fourth quarter.

“I think that Jimmy, as the game went on, continued to get more comfortable,” Trestman said. “We cut down the quantity of plays we had in the game plan. We matched it up against things we’ve seen Detroit do defensively, and tried to give them the things and packages he would need to get it done. We certainly had more than enough today to utilize that. He did a nice job during the week, not only during practice, but after practice with the guys, getting the reps and assignment checks he needed to see everything. I felt good about that going in today.”

The coach also likely feels positive vibes about the way Clausen stayed within the confines of the scheme -- which is what Trestman wanted all along from the original starter -- without taking unnecessary risks and making the same game-changing mistakes that ultimately led to the decision to bench Cutler.

Trestman paused for nearly five seconds last week when asked whether general manager Phil Emery was on board with his decision to bench Cutler. That pause indicated the coach and general manager, who signed Cutler to a seven-year, $126.7 million deal last January, may not have seen eye to eye regarding that decision.

But if Clausen plays mistake-free football within Trestman’s scheme and experiences success to close the season next week at Minnesota, perhaps it proves the coach’s system works just fine, and that Cutler was the problem all along. Again, it’s probably too late for Cutler’s benching to save Trestman’s job. But if Clausen closes on a positive note, it at least gives ownership pause when making decisions about the futures of Trestman, Cutler and even Emery, who has been steadfast in his support of the quarterback.

Down 20-14 with 2:30 left to play, Clausen hit Marquess Wilson for a 7-yard gain on first down. On second down, Clausen scrambled around right end, only to be rocked by Ezekiel Ansah, who was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness after knocking off the quarterback’s helmet.

Clausen popped up quickly, later admitting “my emotions are going 100 miles a minute at that time, I’m just fired up.” But that sequence rubbed off on the rest of the team.

“I respect that,” Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff said.

“Oh yeah, he’s a fiery guy, man,” said center Roberto Garza. “He was in the game trying to make plays all through the game, and he was the reason we were in this game.”

Not the reason the Bears were out of it, like they’d been so many times before with Cutler and his NFL-high 24 turnovers at the helm.

When the Bears fell 34-17 on Thanksgiving at Detroit, Cutler passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two interceptions, with the Lions converting one of the turnovers into a Matt Prater field goal.

Clausen threw an interception in the fourth quarter on a desperation shot on fourth-and-10 from the Chicago 45 with just 2:02 left to play.

Trestman declined to name Clausen the starter for the season-finale at Minnesota, but the quarterback whose record as a starter now stands at 1-10, hopes the brass gives him another shot.

It's not like the Bears have anything else to lose.

“I’ve never given up,” Clausen said when asked if he thought he’d never receive another shot to start in the NFL. “You can never give up. The only thing you can ask for is another opportunity. That’s what Coach Trestman gave me today, another opportunity. I just went out there and tried to compete to the best of my ability, make the plays when the plays were there.”
CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions:

Martellus Bennett
Martellus Bennett mentioned he didn't "think the passion is always there" for some players after his club's loss on Dec. 15 to the New Orleans Saints, but after a defeat to the Lions on Sunday, the Bears tight end commended the effort of teammates.

"I felt guys brought it a little bit more today," Bennett said. "Overall, I think everybody's playing hard. Guys are playing hard until the end of the game. That's all you can ask for, your teammates to come out and give everything they've got, and try to do the most they can. I felt like all three phases, that's what guys were doing."

Dry-erase message: With no postseason to play for, the message left on the team's dry-erase board in the locker room said, "Play for the guy next to you."

Strange scene: The lockers of Bennett, Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen are all in a row, and in that order. Interestingly, a large crowd on one side gathered near Bennett's locker, while Clausen conducted a postgame interview with WBBM. In the middle, Cutler's locker sat empty, and there was no sign of the benched quarterback in the locker room after the game.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
4:06
PM ET

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

What it means: Nothing tangible as this team has been out of postseason contention for quite some time, but at the very least, Jimmy Clausen's performance could give ownership pause regarding what seemed to be an inevitable conclusion (firing) for Bears coach Marc Trestman.

Trestman stirred controversy last week by benching Jay Cutler, the club’s $126.7 million signal-caller, in favor of Clausen, a backup with a career record of 1-9 as a starter. Facing a playoff-bound Detroit squad which ranks No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed and No. 2 overall, without the services of both starting guards, Clausen may have proved that Cutler, not Trestman, was the offense’s problem all along. Perhaps that viewpoint is too simplistic, but ownership definitely has to at least ponder Clausen’s strong outing in determining the futures of general manager Phil Emery, Trestman, the rest of the coaching staff and Cutler.

Clausen probably didn’t save Trestman’s job. But given Clausen’s limited prep time, the caliber of competition, and the fact that he faced the Lions without two starting interior protectors, ownership has to be feeling some buyer’s remorse regarding Cutler, while questioning Emery’s skills as an evaluator. After all, Emery has been steadfast in his support of Cutler, calling the benched starter a franchise quarterback on multiple occasions.

Stock Watch: Chicago’s offensive line gave up seven sacks in the team’s loss to the New Orleans Saints’ 31st-ranked defense, yet it kept Clausen relatively clean against Detroit’s No. 2-ranked defense. The Bears lined up with their seventh combination of starters against the Saints, only to see that number climb to combination No. 8 against the Lions as Kyle Long was forced out of the lineup due to a hip injury. With Ryan Groy and Michael Ola filling in at the guard spots, the Bears limited Detroit’s dominant front four to only one sack.

Attendance waning: Undoubtedly Chicago’s struggles on the field have manifested themselves at the ticket gate. The Chicago Bears announced 9,028 unused tickets for Sunday’s game. During the team’s 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football," the Bears announced there were nearly 11,000 unused tickets.

Game ball: Despite limited prep time, a scaled-back game plan and two backups in the starting lineup along the offensive line, Jimmy Clausen performed efficiently enough to keep the Bears in the game until the very end. Instead of taking unnecessary chances and turning the ball over the way Cutler did prior to his benching, Clausen stayed within the confines of the offense, and helped the Bears take a 14-10 lead into the fourth quarter. Clausen tossed one interception, but that came on a desperation pass on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining.

What’s next: The Bears take the next two days off before heading back to Halas Hall to kick off preparations for the season finale at Minnesota.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jimmy Clausen spent extra time after Friday’s practice working through plays with the receiving corps and running back Matt Forte in preparation for Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Lions, but coach Marc Trestman said the new starter at quarterback will enter the contest with a scaled-back game plan.

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While Clausen and rookie David Fales took in the extra work at Halas Hall, recently benched quarterback Jay Cutler was conspicuously absent despite saying Thursday he planned to help the new starter as much as possible.

“With the limited practice day, we’ve gotten a lot extra work done with these guys,” Trestman said. “They’ve put in some extra time to make sure everybody’s in the right spot and knows where to go. [The Bears will utilize] probably not the quantity of plays [usually called with Cutler under center] because we haven’t had an opportunity to rep them with [Clausen] throughout the year.”

A former second-round pick, Clausen receives his first NFL start on Sunday since 2010, when the quarterback finished with a 1-9 record as a Carolina Panther while generating the lowest season-ending QBR (11.0) for a qualified quarterback in any season for which the statistic has been tracked.

In Clausen’s 10 starts in 2010, the quarterback threw for three touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“This is a very businesslike team,” Trestman said when asked how the team is handling the change at quarterback. “They go back to work, and they’ve done the things they’ve done each and every day after wins and after losses. Quite frankly, that’s how they responded: in a very consistent manner. I can’t speak for anybody else. We’ve made a change. Jimmy is going to play. I know he’ll give his best effort. I know each and every guy is playing to win the game. That’s how we look at it.”

Interestingly, Cutler didn’t stay after practice Friday to work with Clausen, while Fales did. Trestman said Cutler will serve as the No. 2 quarterback, while also divulging Fales won’t be active for Sunday’s matchup against the Lions.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears announced safety Chris Conte (back) and kicker Robbie Gould (right quadriceps) are out for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

The club also listed cornerback Tim Jennings (ankle), left guard Kyle Long (hip), and defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff (knee) and Will Sutton (illness) as questionable. Long and Ratliff were limited participants Friday during practice at Halas Hall.

“Kyle, his hip is a little bit sore today,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He did some limited work. We just monitored his work today.”

Trestman called Gould “week to week,” and said the kicker “tried very hard to go last week.”

The team will hold out Gould for the third consecutive week, while Conte will miss his second straight outing after suffering the back injury in the third quarter of a Dec. 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Prior to that, Conte left a Thanksgiving loss to the Lions due to an eye injury, and he's missed time with sprains on both shoulders.

It’s expected that Brock Vereen will start in Conte’s place.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman detailed Thursday what sounded like a meticulous approach in making the decision to bench quarterback Jay Cutler, but most of the players found out about the move through social media instead of from the man in charge.

“We’d like for everything to come from in-house first, but at the end of the day, it didn’t work out like that,” said left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who added the team held a meeting Thursday “to cover up what got out yesterday.”

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Trestman described a process in which he met with Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen “to tell them my intentions and walk them through the process of how this was gonna be handled,” before sitting down later in the day with general manager Phil Emery to “talk to him about my decision, and finalize it on our staff meeting” Wednesday night. Before Trestman informed the team, however, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter posted a tweet breaking news of the coach’s decision to bench Cutler in favor of Clausen.

Trestman was asked Thursday whether he was concerned about news of the decision to bench Cutler leaking through social media before he actually informed the team.

“The normal course of events is I wanted to make sure the quarterbacks knew my intent. The biggest part of this, I wanted the team to know, hear from me first,” Trestman said. “And we all know that in this day and age it's very difficult to keep some of those things [quiet]. I mean, it was assumed that eventually it could get out during the course of the day, but my thoughts were to respect my team. I wanted them to hear it from me first. I wanted them to know I spoke with the quarterbacks. They knew about it. And ultimately I wanted them to know they knew about it before it got out, which was critically important.”

Obviously, that’s not what took place.

“I found out on Twitter; not ideal,” left guard Kyle Long said.

Cornerback Charles Tillman on “Mike & Mike” on ESPN radio said he found out about the news on Twitter, too.

“Didn’t really matter to me,” said tight end Martellus Bennett when asked if he would rather have heard about Cutler’s benching from Trestman. “Half the s--- I read, I don’t believe anyway. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Bears tight ends coach Andy Bischoff sent a text message to Bennett informing him of the news.

“It was surprising at first to hear the news, obviously,” Long said. “But we have the utmost confidence in the people upstairs. You get torn between a decision involving one of your good friends and your quarterback. But you have to put emotions and opinions to the side when you’re doing something like this because the bottom line is, I know [Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong] Suh's still going to be lined up in the three-technique on Sunday, and that won’t change. Not much changes in terms of what we have to do.”

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