Bears down and out; hated Packers claim Halas

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Bears down and out; hated Packers claim Halas

Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
Posted 5:19 p.m. Updated 8:46 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Guard Chris Williams sat silently in front of his locker, showered and dressed to leave, a hat pulled down a little farther than usual over eyes that looked a little damper than usual. Across the locker room, two teammates sat next to each other, looking straight ahead after most of the locker room had cleared out, neither speaking.

The shock of the Bears 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers was nearly palpable among players who were within a play or two of the Super Bowl and were having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that their season was over.

Thisll sit with us until we play another game, said center Olin Kreutz.

In the final analysis, the Green Bay Packers were simply a little bit better than the Bears. The Packers came into the home of the Bears and took away the NFC Championship trophy named for the Bears own founding father.

Read: Bears' grades come up short

The win advances the Packers to Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the AFC Championship.

But as Sunday wound down, none of that seemed to matter.

There were some things to be proud of, said a subdued Julius Peppers, still in his uniform pants long after improbably near-hero Caleb Hanies final pass was intercepted at the Green Bay 12 with 40 seconds to play. But the main goal we wanted to accomplish, we werent able to do that.

Its very disappointing. I just dont know how else to say it.

Then Peppers issued the mission statement for the 2011 season: Well be back, he said matter-of-factly. We will be back.

Almost back this year

The Bears were almost back Sunday in a game where they appeared to be thoroughly outclassed to start with and then thoroughly out-manned, literally, in the second half.

Green Bay went 84 yards effortlessly through the Bears defense on its first possession for a 7-0 lead while some of the crowd of 61,171 were still filing in. They pushed the lead to 14-0 less than 4 minutes into the second quarter with Aaron Rodgers picking the secondary apart for some of the 252 yards the Packers amassed on the Bears in the first two quarters.

The Bears then awoke on defense and shut the Packers out over the final 41 minutes of the game, with Green Bays only score coming on an interception and 18-yard return for a touchdown by defensive tackle B.J. Raji deep in the fourth quarter.

By that time, the Bears had lost quarterback Jay Cutler to a possibly serious knee injury; they had seen No. 2 Todd Collins come off the bench and deliver a putrid performance on two possessions; and they were in the suddenly very capable hands of No. 3 Hanie.

Watch: Lovie's postgame comments on Cutler injury

Without running one of his own offenses plays since October when he was demoted to No. 3 behind Collins, Hanie completed 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in just the fourth quarter. He directed scoring drives of 67 and 60 yards, setting up one score with a 32-yard pass to Johnny Knox that was followed by a one-yard bolt by Chester Taylor, and he threw 35 yards to Earl Bennett with just under 5 minutes for a touchdown that brought the Bears to 21-14.

Watch: Could there be a QB controversy?

But they could get no closer. A fourth-and-4 pass toward Knox was intercepted by cornerback Sam Shields and the Bears season was over.

I felt good going in, said Hanie, who was not restricted just to handing off to Matt Forte despite having little practice time. I felt like we had a chance to go down and score every time.

In his first action since throwing three passes against Carolina in Week 5, Caleb Hanie directed the Bears on two touchdown drives including throwing one TD pass to Earl Bennett. (AP)Comeback Caleb

The Taylor score was the first touchdown by the Bears against Green Bay in nine quarters, since a Greg Olsen TD catch in the second quarter of the first Packers game this season.

Hanie shook off the disastrous interception and return by Raji to throw the pass to Bennett between two defensive backs, one of whom was 2009 NFL defensive player of the year Charles Woodson.

I kinda wish we had Jay in there the whole game, the way things were going, a relieved Clay Matthews said after the Packers escape.

The Bears dont leave Sunday with a conference championship or the chance at a second Super Bowl in five years. But they finished with plans.

Watch: Cutler says Bears were in position to win Super Bowl

Were in this for the long haul and we might have fallen short of our goals this year, said linebacker Lance Briggs. But next year we wont fall short.

Our jobs not done. Hats off to the Packers; theyll represent the NFC very well. But next year the Chicago Bears will have their day.

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.

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Injuries will remain a swirling Bears story until the start of the regular season in Houston on Sept. 11, at which time the injuries will be separated from what coach John Fox termed “owies” on Tuesday. Players are trained to know the difference between pain (which you can play through) and injury (which you can sometimes worsen by playing on) and the next couple weeks, more than Saturday’s preseason game No. 3, will see all that play out.

In the meantime, however, projected roster decisions are being affected by what a handful of Bears are revealing about themselves in the vacuum created by injuries to front-liners.

These three do not automatically translate into changes at the top of the depth chart. Players lose jobs, not because of injury, but because their replacements play better than they were, and that hasn’t necessarily happened. But a team looking for quality depth is getting glimpses of some while starters are sidelined.

1.   Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey down, Jacquizz Rodgers rising.

Over the past couple weeks, the Bears’ running back committee has been expanding even as certain key figures have coped with injuries. Carey was put in the concussion protocol after a hit on special teams during the Denver game, and Langford was in a walking boot from a bone bruise suffered in the New England game.

Rodgers, the senior member of the running-back committee, may have been an outsider in a roster squeeze, particularly after the drafting of Jordan Howard this offseason. But Rodgers has materialized with the No. 1 offense with increasing frequency, even with Carey back.

“You know 'Quizz was a big part of what we were doing early last year and then he got injured, he broke his arm,” said coach John Fox. “You know he's a real pro's pro as far as he approaches the game. He's a leader in that running-back room, you know he's a big contributor on 4th down as well as a guy who can go in and tote the rock. 

“But we didn't get a lot of looks at that last year and I've liked what I've seen this year.”

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2. Grasu/Long down, Cornelius Edison rising.

First it was center Hroniss Grasu going down with a torn ACL. Over the past week it has been right guard Kyle Long sitting out with a worrisome shoulder injury. The first occasioned installing Ted Larsen, edged out at left guard by rookie Cody Whitehair, at center. The second sent Larsen to right guard and moved Cornelius Edison up into the center spot with the No. 1 offense.

Edison, who’d spent part of his rookie year on the Bears’ practice squad, went undrafted out of Portland State and was far from a player to watch when camp began, even mistakenly ID’d as a linebacker in team literature.

Not anymore. Long is expected back at some point and Larsen the presumptive starter at center. But Edison has earned time with the No. 1 offense and done enough with it to be a serious candidate to stick on a roster in need of interior insurance.

“[Edison] is athletic,” Fox said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night in New England and I thought he performed pretty well.”

3. CB’s down, Kevin Peterson rising. 

Kyle Fuller required knee surgery a week ago. Bryce Callahan has been hobbled and held out of practice. Jacoby Glenn started at New England but went out with a concussion. All are favorites for roster spots, but their absences has allowed Peterson onto the field and into situations where he has played his way into position to surprise when final cutdowns are done.

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Peterson is an obvious prospect for practice squad. “He's been here all through the off-season and into training camp,” Fox said. “He hasn't had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at the [cornerback] position. So [the Kansas City game] will be a big opportunity for him as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

[RELATED: Porter balancing job as 'coach' and starting CB]

Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

When Charles Tillman retired earlier this year, more than an elite cornerback was exiting the game. Tillman was a mentor to young defensive backs, even though he made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in moving on to coaching in his next career.

When the Bears re-signed Tracy Porter to a three-year contract this offseason, one that committed some $4.5 million to a cornerback who’d been with five different teams over the past five seasons, they were cementing in place more than just their top defensive back. They were committing to one of those hard-to-find individuals whose presence makes the whole greater than just the sum of the parts.

Porter, who has played 16 games just once (Oakland, 2009) in his eight NFL seasons, has started as many games in his career (79, including six in postseason) as the rest of the Bears defensive backs combined (75). The result is that Porter suddenly becomes the bell-cow for a group that is struggling to establish itself and a level of NFL competence.

“We’re young in the secondary outside of Tracy Porter for the most part and we’re just going to have to see what they’re capable of doing mentally as we go through the process here,” said coordinator Vic Fangio, “and how many schemes we can ask them to do effectively.”

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A significant measure of how many of those schemes and everything else the secondary will be able to do traces (no pun intended) to Porter. He is not only the best defensive back on the roster; he also is the most experienced, from time in schemes with New Orleans, Denver, Oakland, Washington and now the Bears.

The situation is complex, however.

Veterans are too often assumed to be mentors to young players, even to the point of helping know where to line up, techniques and such. That involves in-game help, which is the nature of defense anyway. But a player assuming too much of a role in coaching others in his group can lose focus on his own job, a prelude to disaster.

“It can, but I try to do my best to focus in on what I need to do, and then once I see those guys taking their reps, then that’s when I go into the coaching mode,” Porter said. “But when I’m out there on the field, I’m locked in to what ‘21’ [his own number] and the rest of the defense has to do.

“But when the younger guys are in, I’m definitely in coaching mode. I’m getting my mental reps. At the same time, I’m watching those guys what they’re doing, if they’re having a missed assignment or having a not-so-good technique that I can help them with.”

The Bears had high hopes last year for tall cornerback Alan Ball, who started the first three games as Porter worked his way back from a preseason hamstring strain. Ball failed to capitalize on his opportunity and Porter replaced him at Seattle, then started the rest of the year.

And he has has begun this year working at setting an example as he did last Nov. 26 when he intercepted one Aaron Rodgers pass and broke up four others – most by any player in Rodgers’ career. Last Thursday’s game at New England was preseason, meaning that stats are typically dismissed as meaningless (which they are decidedly not when they indicate a pattern or trend). Inside the Chicago 10 Porter stripped the football from a Patriots running back and recovered it. The play was one the Bears practiced and the result was a takeaway in a second straight game, something the Bears were unable to accomplish over the final seven games of 2015.

It also was the only pass breakup or forced/recovered fumble by any member of the secondary in the game.

But that is part of preseason, and with the spiraling injury list in the secondary, Porter’s work away from the football will continue to be an unofficial on-field “assistant” to defensive-backs coach Ed Donatell.

“My biggest challenge?” Porter reflected. “Just keeping the guys into it that are injured and bringing the guys that weren’t getting many reps, getting those guys up to speed, to catch up the first- and second-team defense.”