Bears buried under early blizzard of Pats' points

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Bears buried under early blizzard of Pats' points

Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010
Posted 6:12 PM Updated 9:10 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears were fueled through their five-game winning streak by a number of total team wins, games in which offense, defense and special teams turned in winning performances.

That win streak came to a disastrous and brutal end Sunday against the New England Patriots (11-2) with a total team loss. The Bears (9-4) were soundly thrashed on offense, defense and special teams in a 36-7 loss that will unleash a new spasm of questions as to the legitimacy of the Bears as a championship hopeful.

The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us.

The afternoon was a particularly bitter setback, with the loss coming after the Green Bay Packers (8-5) lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a concussion and their game 7-3 to the Detroit Lions. A win over New England would have given the Bears a two-game lead in the NFC North with three games to play.

The good news, however, is that the Packers go to New England next Sunday. The Bears can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Minnesota Vikings and a Green Bay loss to the Patriots, which now looks extremely likely. The resurgent Vikings had their Sunday game with the New York Giants bumped to Monday night and to Detroit after snow collapsed sections of the Metrodome, also placing in question the locale for the Bears game next Monday night against the Vikings.

But we cant count on other teams, said quarterback Jay Cutler. We have to take care of our business. We dont want to slide in the back door. We want to be playing our best football right now so we can make a serious run at this.
How bad was it?

The Bears were playing anything but their best football Sunday against arguably the NFLs best.

We were outplayed, said defensive end Julius Peppers. We need to get better, a lot better, quick.

Swirling snow obscured yard stripes most of the game, with Chicago Park District shovelers and sweepers working during breaks to clear areas of the field. They shouldve saved themselves the trouble. There was precious little worth seeing from a Chicago perspective and they mightve done the Bears a service by moving the snow onto the field instead.

But neither the snow nor the winds gusting as high as 53 miles per hour nor the wind chill of 9 degrees turned out to matter.

There were some gusts from time to time, Cutler said, but other than that it wasnt that bad.

It wasnt a game. It was virtually a seven-on-seven passing drill by the New England offense with a defense that didnt appear allowed to tackle.

The Bears actually outscored the Patriots 7-3 in the second half, with a 1-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor midway through the third quarter when many of the 56,161 in attendance had long since departed. All that did was take the victors margin below 30.

New England quarterback Tom Brady did nothing to tarnish what is moving toward an MVP season. Brady methodically ran up 314 passing yards through three quarters, a passer rating of 110.2 and tossed two touchdown passes against zero interceptions. The Patriots 475 yards were a season high.

Tom Brady is the best QB in the NFL, said Urlacher. We knew it coming in and this game just confirmed it.

Cutler and the Bears offense, which had controlled the ball and games in the process of rolling off five straight wins, did nothing remotely comparable. The Bears managed only 115 net yards through three quarters, had just eight first downs to New Englands 22, and Cutler was 8 for 19 for 96 yards, no TDs, an interception and a rating of 36.3.

No Bears opponent had scored more than 26 points in a game this season. The Patriots, leading the NFL with an average of 31.6 points per game, had 33 in the first half alone, including 10 directly off turnovers by a disoriented, ineffective offense.

New Englands 273 yards in the first half were more than Detroit, Carolina, Minnesota and Miami each managed in whole games against the Bears this season.

The Bears had 33 net yards, two first downs and zero points to show for 30 minutes of play against a team that was handing them their third home loss of the season.

Ominously, the Bears failed to make the playoffs in all three of their seasons under Lovie Smith when they lost three times in Soldier Field.

The reality is we got our butts kicked and were still in first place, Urlacher said. Well watch film and learn from it but were still in first place in the NFC North and thats where we wanted to be when the season began.

Its happened before

The Bears can only console themselves with the knowledge that they are far from alone in enduring New England batterings. Since falling behind the Detroit Lions midway through the third quarter on Thanksgiving, through the early third quarter Sunday when their lead over the Bears reached 36-0, the Patriots outscored three opponents 109-3.

And two of those opponents were nine-win teams: the New York Jets and the Bears.

The Patriots had the ball for six possessions in the first half and scored on five of them. To make up for the one failed possession (the first of the game, when Urlacher and Israel Idonije combined on a sack of Brady), New England even scored on one of the Bears possessions.

The Bears had allowed only one opponent (Seattle) as many as two drives of at least 80 yards. New England had three in the first half alone.

Hopeless early

If there was any hope of catching the Patriots in a letdown after their 45-3 dismantling last Monday of the New York Jets, that vanished abruptly and brutally less that 20 minutes into Sunday.

The Patriots went through the Chicago defense on drives of 85 and 87 yards, lasting 12 and 11 plays against a unit that had allowed drives of double-digit plays only five times in the last five games. Less than five minutes into the second quarter the Bears were in a 14-0 hole.

That worsened to 21-0 almost immediately when Johnny Knox was stripped of the ball by cornerback Devin McCourty after a catch at the Chicago 39. The ball was recovered by linebacker Gary Guyton and returned 35 yards for a touchdown.

The Bears challenged the ruling when in slow-motion replays Knox appeared to be down before the ball came out. But close-up camera work revealed that Knox was on McCourtys foot, not the ground, when the ball was lost and the Bears were in their biggest hole of the 2010 season.

Getting worse

Matters continued to spiral downward in a hurry.

A 42-yard punt return by Julian Edelman set the Patriots up for a 30-yard Shayne Graham field goal midway through the second quarter. Graham was called on again barely a minute later when Cutler was sacked and lost a fumble to linebacker Jerod Mayo at the Chicago 9. Graham turned that into points with a 25-yard boot that pushed the New England lead to 27-0.

Edelman broke a 71-yard return for an apparent touchdown just before halftime but was denied because of a holding call by one of his blockers.

No problem.

The penalty simply moved the Patriots back to their 20, from where Brady found wide receiver Deion Branch several steps behind cornerback Charles Tillman for a 59-yard touchdown. The PAT was wide right, one of the few things the Patriots missed.

We should have had someone back deep and we didnt, Lovie Smith said. It was as simple as that, basic cover-four breakdown in coverage.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.