NFL Nation: Roberto Garza

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears released their final injury report Friday heading into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers with receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) and defensive end Jared Allen (illness) listed as questionable.

Marshall
Allen
The club held out Marshall and Allen from Friday’s practice, and officially ruled out center Roberto Garza (ankle), left guard Matt Slauson (ankle), linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion).

Allen visited the team facilities briefly on Friday, but was sent home by the athletic training staff to recuperate.

"He’s just back there resting, but you know where I’m going with this," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "It’s not that things aren’t looking good because he went home. I couldn’t tell you that. I’ll leave it up to the trainers, really the doctors. They have to let us know where he’s at, and hopefully he’ll be ready to go. I really can’t tell you what it is. He just hasn’t been feeling well, and that’s been day to day."

As for Marshall, it’s still unknown whether he will be sufficiently healed from a sprained right ankle suffered in the season opener to make a meaningful contribution to the club’s offense. Marshall was hobbled during the team’s Week 2 matchup at San Francisco, but healthy enough to contribute three touchdown receptions.

Against the Jets on Monday night, Marshall caught only one pass for 6 yards. The short turnaround with the Bears playing a Monday night contest also lessens the receiver’s prospects for making a sufficient recovery. Marshall hasn’t practiced all week.

"It’s very difficult to be at your best when you don’t practice every day and there’s timing issues, there’s different formations, there’s different looks,” Trestman said. “So that’s a challenge, and you have to weigh those costs and benefits as you move through the week knowing that he may or may not play. So we’ll try to work through that, and if he’s going to play, work hard to put him in position where things we can give him he knows what to do and can play at full speed."

In other news, safety Chris Conte (shoulder) was officially listed as questionable. Safety Ryan Mundy (stinger) is probable, as is defensive end Trevor Scott (foot).

If Allen can’t play against the Packers, the Bears will insert Willie Young into the starting lineup opposite Lamarr Houston.

"Obviously it’s an opportunity, but at the same time, Jared would be missed," Young said. "Hopefully, we still have some leadership and his presence on the sidelines. We’re professionals here. When one guy goes down we’ve got to look for guys to step up and be effective. But I haven’t heard anything yet [whether Allen will play]. That’s gonna be a game-time decision I guess. I have no idea."

Allen practices, Marshall sits

September, 19, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen (lower back) practiced without restrictions on Friday, but wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) remained sidelined for a second consecutive day.

 Marshall and Allen are both expected to play Monday night versus the New York Jets.

Besides Marshall, six other Bears were held out of Friday’s practice: defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff
(concussion), linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), defensive end Trevor Scott (foot), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quad), center Roberto Garza (ankle) and left guard Matt Slauson (ankle).

McClellin’s situation took a turn for the worse. The linebacker had limited in participation in practice on Thursday, but he sat out the entire workout on Friday.

According to head coach Marc Trestman, McClellin suffered the hand injury in practice this week, not during the 28-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.

In other health news, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) were both limited for the second straight practice, while receiver Josh Morgan (groin) had full participation. Morgan should be available to face the Jets.
CHICAGO -- A rash of injuries on the offensive line and at wide receiver prompted the Chicago Bears to make a handful of roster moves in advance of Sunday night’s road game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Sources confirmed the Bears waived quarterback David Fales and released veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden and veteran fullback Tony Fiammetta.

The Bears announced following Friday’s practice that Fales (shoulder) and Fiammetta (hamstring) had been officially ruled out for Week 2.

Hayden was a healthy inactive in Chicago's 23-20 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills in the season opener.

The expectation is the Bears will look to fill some of the open roster spots off the practice squad. With Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) questionable, and Josh Morgan (groin) doubtful, the Bears could choose to promote one, or more, of their current practice squad wide receivers: Josh Bellamy, Greg Herd, Chris Williams and Rashad Ross. Practice squad center/guard Taylor Boggs is a candidate to help with depth on the offensive line after starters Roberto Garza (high-ankle sprain) and Matt Slauson (high-ankle sprain) were both declared out for the 49ers game.

CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

Martellus Bennett
Bennett on INTs: Tight end Martellus Bennett took responsibility for the first of Jay Cutler's two interceptions but claims to not know what happened on the second INT, which led to Buffalo taking a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Both passes were intended for Bennett, with the second being picked off by defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

"I don't know what happened on that s---," Bennett said. "The fat guy got a pick."

Jeffery appears to be fine: Alshon Jeffery missed the fourth quarter and overtime due to a hamstring injury, but Bears coach Marc Trestman said, "Alshon was prepared to go in there at specific times. I'll just leave it at that." Jeffery was seen in the locker room after the game, and he didn't appear to be walking with a limp or any type of discomfort. Trestman said he didn't know the extent of Jeffery's injury.

Garza and Slauson hobbled: Center Roberto Garza conducted postgame interviews with a walking boot lying on the floor in front of his locker while left guard Matt Slauson walked with a limp on the way out of the locker room. Both players missed the entire second half and said they will receive MRI exams Monday morning.
CHICAGO -- Matt Forte continues to run the wrong way this preseason, carrying seven times for a loss of 7 yards in two outings, but Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman remains optimistic his team can improve the rushing attack by the time the games count.

Forte
Forte
Forte carried four times Thursday in Chicago's 20-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while backup Shaun Draughn averaged 11 yards on three attempts

"We haven't been productive," Trestman said. "Certainly, we've had a few more [productive] runs with the second [teamers] and thirds than we did with the first. We're working on it hard every day."

Chicago's early struggles running the ball are fairly common. It takes time, several reps at practice and, in live action, synchronizing all the moving parts involved with fielding an efficient ground attack.

Forte's rushing statistics from 2013 indicate as much, as he didn't put together a 100-yard outing until the eighth game of the season.

"Running game usually takes a little more time to get in sync," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We're not really game planning exactly how we would during the year; just kind of running some plays. We'll get to where we need to be."

In the past, both Forte and center Roberto Garza have discussed how important it is for the offensive line and the running backs to develop precise timing. That's typically thrown off somewhat in the preseason because so many different players are rotated in and out of the lineup, not to mention the fact the offense isn't game planning the opponent.

"We're playing against a very good front during practice," Trestman said. "But we haven't shown that productivity. We hope that's not an indication. We feel strongly we're gonna be able to run the ball effectively, but we have not yet done that in the first two editions of the preseason."
So what if Chicago Bears center Roberto Garza turns 35 in less than a month? The team absolutely made the right decision in shrugging off age and instead focusing on production in deciding to bring back Garza for what will be his 1oth season in Chicago.

The Bears also made the right move to come up from the original minimum offer the sides discussed shortly after the conclusion of the regular season.

Garza
A captain for each of the past three seasons, Garza has started in eight postseason contests, and anchored a revamped offensive line in 2013 that featured four new starters. The Bears finished last season as one of just three teams in the NFL to start the same five offensive linemen for all 16 games.

So bringing back Garza only enriches the continuity along the offensive line, which should be even better in 2014 in Year 2 in Marc Trestman's offensive system.

Bears general manager Phil Emery referenced Garza's consistency when discussing in January the potential difficulty of bringing back the starting center after a 2013 campaign which was arguably Garza's best in Chicago.

“A year ago, he was at 11 total [hits, sacks and knockdowns allowed] for the season,” Emery said. “This year, he was at five. So I've told him I thought he made a big push up. He got a lot better with his overall body position and his hip placement. He's obviously very important in terms of calling signals for our offensive line and making point adjustments.”

Garza also brings a selfless attitude that has proved to be contagious in the locker room. In making a decision on whether to sign the seven-year extension with the Bears, quarterback Jay Cutler talked about the desire of teammates to win championships over chasing dollars.

“I talked with [Matt] Forte, [Brandon Marshall], Garza and all the guys,” Cutler explained. “We're here to win championships, not to make so and so amount of dollars.”

It's apparent the Bears used the recent deal signed by Detroit center Dominic Raiola, who is 35, as the framework for Garza's contract. Raiola signed a one-year deal earlier in February worth $1.5 million.

So while Garza's deal doesn't exactly break the bank, it's cap friendly and rewards one of the fixtures on Chicago's offensive line who hasn't shown any signs he's regressing.
The Chicago Bears announced Monday they signed center Taylor Boggs and safety Derrick Martin to one-year contracts.

Financial terms of the deals weren’t disclosed.

A three-year veteran, Boggs (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) played in one game last season, after spending the prior two years with the New York Jets after joining them in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Humboldt State.

Boggs served as the primary backup last season to veteran Roberto Garza. So it’s unclear what the signing of Boggs means for Garza, a pending free agent. The club has said it would like to bring back Garza for 2014. But all indications point to the Bears wanting to do so with a veteran minimum type of deal, which means there’s a good chance Garza will wait to see if other teams are interested in bringing him in as a potential starter.

Garza has started in 133 of 142 regular-season games for the Bears, and served as the leader on an offensive line that featured four new starters in 2013.

Martin, meanwhile, is an eight-year veteran who played in seven games for the Bears in 2013, primarily as a special-teamer. He produced six special-teams tackles and one stop on defense in 2013, and has played on five teams (Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, New England Patriots and the Bears) over eight seasons.

Martin has posted 66 tackles on special teams, 38 on defense, and three interceptions, eight pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.

The next big thing: Bears

January, 23, 2014
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The Chicago Bears took care of some of the heavy lifting by signing quarterback Jay Cutler to an extension, in addition to bringing back guard Matt Slauson, cornerback Tim Jennings and kicker Robbie Gould.

The Bears now need to turn their attention to three areas: their own free agents, unrestricted free agency and the NFL draft, with drastic improvement of the club’s struggling defense as the No. 1 underlying factor. In all, the Bears have 25 free agents they’ve got to decide whether to bring back, a group that includes key players such as center Roberto Garza, cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff, along with backup quarterback Josh McCown, linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive end Corey Wootton.

Limited salary cap space will be the main hindrance to bringing back some of their own, as well as any plans to improve by making acquisitions on the open market. Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted the club’s cap space will be tight, but added the team should still be able to improve the roster.

The club has ways to free up space, such as converting Cutler’s $22.5 million base salary for 2014 into a signing bonus it can prorate over the life of his deal or asking other veterans such as Julius Peppers, who counts $18,183,333 against the cap in 2014, to restructure.
With the season over and the cupboard bare in terms of Chicago Bears news, I decided to try my first Twitter mailbag to answer some of the questions you guys had.

Throughout the offseason, we'll try to knock out at least one of these per week.

So let's get into this:

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.”

Hester, Peppers unsure of futures

December, 29, 2013
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CHICAGO -- Three-time Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester wants clarity on his future with the Chicago Bears.

Hester, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after earning $2,107,523 in the final year of his contract, hopes to hear in the near future if he fits into the Bears’ plans beyond 2013.

Peppers
Hester
“I really want to know right away,” Hester said following the Bears’ 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers. “I am the type of guy, I don’t want to go through the whole offseason not knowing where I am going to be at. I want to retire as a Bear. I put in too much hard work here and did a lot of things around here. I am pretty sure the fans want me back, so who knows.”

One of the organization’s most popular players since he debuted in the league in 2006 as a second-round pick out of the University of Miami, Hester said he’s currently in the dark regarding the Bears’ offseason intentions.

“To be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hester said. “It really hurts walking off the field knowing that this could be my last time wearing a Chicago Bears uniform. It’s the most hurtful feeling that I have right now. This is where I was born and raised (as an NFL player). It’s not like I played three years somewhere else or six years somewhere else, but I know this is a business.

Everything I had in me I left it all on the field tonight. We just came up short.”

Hester returned a punt 49 yards in Week 17 while also handling five kickoffs for 127 yards. In his first season of being exclusively a return man, Hester finished 2013 with a 27.7 yard average on kickoff returns and 14.2 yard average on punt returns, including an 81-yard touchdown.

He joins a long list of prominent Bears players with expiring contracts. Among the players on the list: quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, defensive lineman Corey Wootton, safety Major Wright, center Roberto Garza, linebacker James Anderson and left guard Matt Slauson.

The future of veteran defensive end Julius Peppers is also in doubt. Although Peppers is under contract through 2015, he is currently projected to count $18,183,333 against the Bears’ salary cap next season. Peppers lead the Bears this year with 7.5 sacks, but he didn’t look nearly as dominant as he had in previous seasons.

“I’m not sure, I don’t know [what’s going to happen],” Peppers said. “I’m in a contract. You’ll need to talk to a decision-maker about that.”

The Bears failed to extend player contracts for almost the entire season until they re-signed kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammatta in the week leading up to the Packers game. General manager Phil Emery is expected to work quickly in the coming weeks to try to re-sign some of his own free agents that he views as long-term parts of the team.

Five things we learned vs. Packers

November, 5, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 27-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers:

1. Josh McCown a solid investment at No. 2: The job McCown has done the past two games is nothing short of remarkable. Reserve quarterbacks pressed into action rarely have this level of success. Let’s put McCown’s performance Monday in perspective: He completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards, threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions and did it on the road -- in a place where the Bears seldom win, against a quality opponent. Seneca Wallace had no shot to lead the Packers to a victory after Aaron Rodgers suffered a left shoulder/collarbone injury in the first quarter. McCown, on the other hand, inspired confidence all night. Another stellar game by the offensive line and Matt Forte rushing for 125 yards certainly helped, but the star of the game from the Bears’ perspective has to be McCown. As I wrote last week, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. McCown treats every single person at Halas Hall with respect, and for that reason he has the entire organization on his side. This is a win Bears fans will remember for a long time, and it could be the turning point of the season.

2. Momentum is now on the Bears’ side: Chicago's once-promising season looked as if it was about to go off the tracks after the Bears dropped three of four games. But Monday's victory at Lambeau Field changes everything. Now sitting at 5-3 and 2-1 in the NFC North, the Bears return home Sunday to face a Detroit Lions squad that is much more vulnerable when playing on the road, away from the controlled environment of Ford Field. Following the Lions game -- a crucial matchup, considering that Detroit knocked off the Bears on Sept. 29 -- Chicago has winnable games against the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams. If the Bears play their cards right, they could finish November somewhere in the 7-4 range, or perhaps even better. That would put the Bears in prime playoff contention entering the final month of the season. Monday night was a swing game for the Bears -- and the season has now swung back in a positive direction after some scary moments of late.

3. Defensive ends produce: A consistent pass rush had eluded the Bears virtually the entire season, until defensive ends Julius Peppers (one) and Shea McClellin (three) combined for four sacks versus the Packers. Peppers also had an important interception, while McClellin delivered the hit that knocked Rodgers out of the game. Corey Wootton even contributed a sack late in the game from his defensive-tackle position. While there are many things the Bears can still improve upon on this side of the ball (the run defense and tackling among them), Peppers and McClellin finally delivered the kind of effort Chicago fans were desperate to see. Perhaps this game can serve as a springboard for McClellin, who said in the locker room that his effort definitely helped his confidence. This is the kind of production Bears general manager Phil Emery envisioned when he drafted McClellin No. 19 overall in 2012. Better late than never. And if it turns out to be an isolated occurrence, at least McClellin had the monster game against the Packers.

4. The offensive line is for real: The Packers game should only serve to reinforce the turnaround on the Bears’ offensive line from 2012 to 2013. McCown was sacked just one time in 41 pass attempts. Forte averaged 5.2 yards per carry, while the team overall rushed for 171 yards. This group has the perfect balance of youth and experience. Roberto Garza receives some credit for his effort his season. The Bears investigated drafting a center in last year's draft. But now it looks like the team should offer Garza a one-year deal in the offseason to keep him on the roster in 2014. Left guard Matt Slauson also seems worth a new deal. Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer, Pat Meyer and Emery all deserve praise for turning one of the Bears’ greatest weaknesses into a strength in just one offseason.

5. Special teams slipped: What is going on with special teams? First, Adam Podlesh has a punted blocked for the first time in his NFL career, then Green Bay is able to recover a surprise onside kick in the second half. Special teams have been a staple in Chicago for years, but this season the group has not been as effective. With the defense still struggling in many aspects (Green Bay rushed for 199 yards), the Bears can not afford to make gaffes on special teams as they push for a postseason berth. Time to clean it up in the game’s third phase.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aided by terrific protection from the offensive line, Josh McCown pulled off a rare feat for a Chicago Bears’ quarterback on Monday night: win a game at Lambeau Field.

For the second consecutive game, McCown displayed remarkable poise and confidence in relief of Jay Cutler, completing 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 90.7, guiding the Bears to a 27-20 victory -- their win in Green Bay since 2007.

“It would be hard to find a (better win), but they are all special through every level from back at high school to Sam Houston to now,” McCown said. “They are all special. This is neat. This is really neat because it means so much to our team, because it is a divisional opponent, and it is for the divisional lead. All those things factor into this. So it is special and I am very thankful.”

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago TribuneJosh McCown completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay.
McCown, sacked only one time, appeared to be in complete control of the offense from the opening kickoff, leading the Bears on two separate scoring drives that consumed 10 or more plays, including a marathon final drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 8:58 worth of clock (18 plays and 95 yards including penalties) that resulted in a 27-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

“He’s got a lot of energy in the huddle,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “Every now and then we have to calm him down a little because he starts screaming and we don’t want the defense hearing the play. But we had a lot of fun and he did a great job leading us. That is what this game is all about; you prepare and when it’s time to play you go out there and let loose. We were able to do that today.”

On the season, McCown has connected on 36-of-61 throws for 476 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

According to Bears rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, McCown’s experience and understanding of the offense had a calming effect on the team the entire evening.

“Josh is a 12-year veteran,” Mills said. “He’s been through everything and has experienced all the ups-and-downs and has learned from it. He’s a true leader. Just to see him stay poised and calm in the pocket like that and show no fear towards anyone: that just left me speechless.

“I knew that he could do it. He knew that he could do it. But we had to show the world that he could do it. After seeing on Monday night how he is able to stand in pocket as cool as a summer’s day, it was really calming for me.”

Atkins impressed with Bears' RG Long

September, 4, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears knew at the end of last season the team desperately needed a massive overhaul on the offensive line. Mission accomplished. General manager Phil Emery tackled the issue of improving the line by investing significant resources in both free agency and the NFL draft en route to acquiring left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills -- leaving veteran center Roberto Garza as the lone holdover from 2012.

[+] EnlargeGeno Atkins
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsCincinnati's Geno Atkins should prove to be a tough assignment for rookie Kyle Long in his first regular-season start.
This new-look group will be put to the test immediately in Week 1. The Cincinnati Bengals come to town Sunday with arguably one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, led by the game’s premiere three-technique defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who inked a lucrative five-year contract extension after he led all interior defensive linemen last season with 12.5 sacks to go along with a team-high 15 tackles for loss.

As a unit, the Bengals’ defensive line recorded 43 sacks last season and helped the defense rank sixth in fewest yards allowed.

This should present a terrific challenge up front for the Bears, especially for the Long/Mills rookie right side of the offensive line. Atkins told the Chicago media during a conference call on Wednesday that he was impressed by Long’s performance in the preseason after the first-round pick won the starting job outright. The Atkins-Long matchup is expected to be one of the most intriguing battles on Sunday.

“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after defensive linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”

Atkins also praised Bears tailback Matt Forte, who averaged 9.9 yards per carry on 15 rushing attempts behind the offensive line in the preseason. Forte is expected to be a focal point of the Bears’ offense in Week 1.

“He’s very, I want to say, shifty,” Atkins said. “He likes to cut back, so, I mean, he’s very explosive. If you give him a cutback lane, he will take it back and make you pay. To me, that makes him a dynamic player.
They’ve got tons of playmakers like Jay Cutler, Forte and Michael Bush. The offensive line is pretty stout. They’re a big group. And Brandon Marshall. They’re already loaded, so we just have to get after them.”

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