Missed opps, and now a season nearing the brink

604556.png

Missed opps, and now a season nearing the brink

Losing three out of four games constitutes falling off a seasons cliff for the Bears after a 7-1 start. No longer are they in any discussion of the NFLs best and they are in danger of being able to look over the edge at the abyss, which in the NFL is no-playoffs.

The Bears will probably clear the bar without real difficulty, although their two gimmes on the schedule are both away games, at Arizona and at Detroit, two teams with a combined eight wins for the season. The chance was there on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks to move past the San Francisco 49ers into the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, and now the Bears are a wild-card team.

Which may not be a bad thing. The last two Super Bowl winners (Green Bay, New York Giants) played no playoff games at home. And the Bears had home-field losses to exit the 2001 and 2005 postseason in one-and-done fashion, and their 2010 NFC Championship loss was at home.

Indianapolis Colts (8-4) W 41-21

Balanced identity established with 33-35 run pass ratio and O runs up 428 yards with Jay Cutler throwing for 333 yards and 2 TDs to go with rushing TDs by Michael Bush (2) and Matt Forte (1) as part of 122 rushing yards. Nice to have caught this team while Andrew Luck was still a puppy.

@ Green Bay Packers (8-4) L 23-10

Jay Cutler berates offensive linemen on national TV for seven sacks; linemen just have to accept Cutlers four INTs apparently. Embarrassing offensive performance all around as defense holds Aaron Rodgers and Pack to 3 FGs and one TD.

St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) W 23-6

Defense sacks Sam Bradford six times and holds Rams out of the end zone. Offense scores only one TD for the second week in a row and Jay Cutler continues to find a groove with receivers.

@ Dallas Cowboys (6-6) W 34-18

Five interceptions of Tony Romo, two returned for TDs (Briggs, Tillman) and a workmanlike 360 yards on offense produce a crucial road win on MNF against the most overrated (annually) team in the NFL.

@ Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) W 41-3

Bears offense runs up 501 balanced yards (214 rush, 287 pass) and explodes after a sluggish first half. Briggs and Tillman make NFL history with TD interceptions for second straight week and Brandon Marshall puts up 144 yards on 12 catches.

Sun., Oct. 14 Off week

vs. Detroit Lions (4-8) W 13-7

Jay Cutler sacked five times and survives Ndamukong Suhs WWF takedown. Bears RBs net 132 yards as run game clicks. Offense cant put Lions away but Charles Tillman D on Calvin Johnson virtually locks Bears DB into a 2nd Pro Bowl.

vs. Carolina Panthers (3-9) W 23-22

Robbie Gould 41-yard FG as time expires caps 16-point fourth quarter and rally from 19-7 deficit. Offense and defense struggle badly for three quarters but Kellen Davis catches TD pass and Tim Jennings TD return to turn back Cam Newton and reeling Ron Rivera team.

@ Tennessee Titans (4-8) W 51-20

Charles Tillmans bid for defensive player of the year got a boost from four forced fumbles, Brian Urlacher returned an INT for a touchdown and Corey Wootton scored on a blocked punt. Jay Cutler throws three TDs to Brandon Marshall in a game Bears led 28-2 after one quarter.

Houston Texans (11-1) L 13-6

Jay Cutler goes out with concussion and offense improves with Jason Campbell. But too many wasted chances with good field positions with 2 INTs and 2 lost fumbles. Arian Foster rushes for 102 but Bears adjust to control Texans offense in second half.

@ San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) L 32-7

Jason Campbell cannot survive an abysmal performance by the offensive line, allowing 5.5 sacks to Aldon Smith, while the defense makes an instant star out of Colin Kaepernick in his first NFL start.

Vikings (6-6) W 28-10

Jay Cutler returns from his concussion, completes 15 of 17 in the first half as the Bears get up 25-3 and cruise. Adrian Peterson loses to fumbles, Chris Conte intercepts Christian Ponder, and the offense turns the takeaways into 14 points.

Seattle Seahawks (6-6) L 23-17

Defense allows 459 yards as Russell Smith runs them ragged on TD drives of 97 and 80 yards for an overtime win. Bears squander numerous chances for stops and fail to convert an early fourth down vs. taking a safe FG.

@ Minnesota Vikings (6-6) Sun., Dec. 9, noon

Vikings cant hold 14-10 halftime edge as Packers score 13 unanswered in the second to give Minnesota its fourth loss in the last five games.

Green Bay Packers (8-4) Sun., Dec. 16, noon

Pack survives 210 rushing yards by Adrian Peterson by intercepting Christian Ponder twice in the red zone to catch Bears in NFC North. Next: Detroit

@ Arizona Cardinals (4-8) Sun., Dec. 23, 3:15 p.m.

A new low for Cards, losing 7-6 to the N.Y. Jets who play so poorly that Mark Sanchez is benched. Five first downs and 0-for-15 on third downs to run string to eight straight losses. Next: @ Seattle

@ Detroit Lions (4-8) Sun., Dec. 30, noon

Just when you think the Lions have reached the pinnacle of classlessness, they raise their own bar, taunting and laughing at an injured Colt still down with a concussion after an Ndamukong Suh hit. Last laugh to Colts on Andrew LuckDonnie Avery TD flip. Next: @ Green Bay

Morning Update: Bulls fall to Blazers; Could Chris Sale be on the move?

Morning Update: Bulls fall to Blazers; Could Chris Sale be on the move?

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Coyotes tonight on CSN+

Despite Chris Sale rumors, White Sox say they have contingencies in place for a rebuild

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf knows 'it will be very hard to trade' Chris Sale

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Rajon Rondo used foul language with Bulls assistant coaches following loss to Mavs

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

[MORE BEARS: Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved]

Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”