Bears fall victim to another Broncos comeback

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Bears fall victim to another Broncos comeback

DENVER As the Bears lined up for a block attempt on Denver kicker Matt Praters 51-yard field goal in overtime, defensive tackle Henry Melton turned to safety Chris Conte in no small state of disbelief.

Birdman, Melton said, how did we ever get in this situation?

Melton may well have been speaking for the Bears season as well as Sundays 13-10 overtime loss to the Broncos. Just as he had from 59 yards with 2 seconds remaining to tie the game, Prater made his 51-yard kick, giving Denver its sixth straight victory, the Bears (7-6) their third straight loss, and their playoff hopes a possible death blow.

The defense, which had shut out Tim Tebow and the Broncos for 56 minutes, cracked and allowed 10 points over the final four minutes of regulation.

The offense twice had chances to win the game and failed, in the person of Marion Barber. The running back inexplicably stepped out of bounds after a carry with two minutes remaining, effectively giving the Broncos, who were by then out of time outs, 35 free seconds and a clock-stoppage.

The Broncos needed 50 seconds to drive for Praters tying field goal.

We have to know the situation, said coach Lovie Smith. In that situation we have to be able to keep the ball in bounds. Hell tell you that.

For Tebow, who turned himself around dramatically in the final quarter, the Barber blunder was an occasion for a different thought.

I might have thanked the Lord when he did that, Tebow said.

Barber, who had cost the Bears a touchdown in the Kansas City loss when he lined up improperly on what was a scoring pass to him, then compounded his mistake by fumbling the ball at the Denver 33 in overtime, well within winning-field-goal range for Robbie Gould.

That was turned into Praters second boot from 50-plus.

We just didnt finish, said linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Now it is the Bears who may be finished, however.

Costly defeat

The loss, before a Sports Authority Field crowd of 75,513, was nothing short of devastating in a season that was slipping away from the Bears over the past two weeks, since Jay Cutlers thumb injury and compounded by Matt Fortes knee injury.

The Bears are now looking up at both the Falcons and Lions after having control of their wild-card destiny at 7-3.

The Detroit Lions defeated the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons slipped by the Carolina Panthers, results that gave the Bears two biggest wild-card rivals matching 8-5 records.

Only once (1979) in franchise history has a Bears team lost three straight games and advanced to the postseason. That team achieved the playoffs by virtue of winning its final three games for a 10-6 record.

All losses hurt. This one hurts, said linebacker Lance Briggs. Were getting closer to the end of the season. Weve got three games left theyre all must-win.

Eventful regulation

The Bears built a 10-0 lead through the end of the third quarter on a nine-yard touchdown run by Barber and 57-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. They appeared to have a win within their grasp before a collapse unlike many by the defense in the past couple of seasons.

Denver scored its first points of the game on a 10yard pass from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas with just over two minutes to play. Linebacker Nick Roach was able to gather in a bounding onsides kickoff.

The Bears were forced to punt, and Tebow and the Broncos, with help from the clock-stoppage on Barbers stepping out of bounds, had a chance for a winning score starting from their 20-yard line with 56 seconds to play.

Prater converted a 59-yard field field goal with two seconds remaining to tie a game in which the Broncos had never led.

Very special teams

Devin Hesters 26-yard punt return in the third quarter, twisting away from what was developing as solid coverage, set the Bears up at the Denver 42. The offense moved to a first-and-goal at the Broncos 9, from where Barber broke tackles and went in standing up with less than 6 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Those were the first points of the game and were followed by Gould converting the longest field goal in franchise history, a 57-yarder on the first snap of the fourth quarter.

A Julius Peppers second-quarter block of a 28-yard field goal try helped hold the Broncos scoreless in the first half.

Breakdown giveaways

The Bears did virtually nothing in a scoreless first half and the Broncos only slightly more as the two teams combined for 90 yards in the first quarter and 219 total for the half. The Bears had 84 total yards in the first half and was in Denvers end of the field for exactly one play in the entire first half.

Particularly disturbing for the Bears, the offense failed to convert on any of five third downs in the first half after an 0-for-11 effort in the loss to Kansas City.

After two three-and-outs, the defense created its own problems with a pair of major gaffes. The pass rush was non-existent on a third-and-16 to allow a 23-yard Tebow completion. And Lance Briggs was called for a late hit of Tebow to give Denver another first down.

The threat was ended with Charles Tillman made one of the more acrobatic interceptions of the season, going high for the catch of an apparent Tebow throwaway and twisting to get both feet down.

A possession later, Tebow converted a third-and-15 in the second quarter when containment broke down. Israel Idonije drew a roughing penalty for a low hit on Tebow on a third-and-8.

Despite four third-down conversions, the Bears avoided damage when Peppers and Israel Idonije blocked a short field goal midway through the second quarter.

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

PHOENIX – NFL owners meetings, like the Scouting Combine, invariably involve hallway conversations regarding quarterbacks. Why doesn’t Colin Kaepernick have a job? Why does Mark Sanchez have one? Will Jay Cutler take one? This year, despite a 3-13 record last season and a continuing slide toward irrelevance, the Bears are in intriguing part of those conversations, or maybe, whispers.

The reason, beyond the obvious fact that the Bears stand at No. 3 in a QB-lite draft, is because the Bears not only have done significant things at the position – cutting Cutler, signing Sanchez and Mike Glennon, not signing Brian Hoyer – but one NFL source said to keep an eye on the Bears as potentially being involved in at least one future blockbuster after this season.

More on that in a moment.

First of all, every indication is that GM Ryan Pace is absolutely NOT locked into or about to allow himself to be pressured into drafting a quarterback in 2017. Certainly not at No. 3, maybe not at all. Maybe this is pre-draft posturing, misinformation or misdirection, and Pace has said in the past that he wants to draft quarterbacks but hasn’t in his first two Bears drafts. But still:

“We’re going to draft the best players available, wherever that may be,” Pace said on Tuesday. “And if it’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback. But we’re going to take the best players available. I think now some of those things are unforeseen. You can’t predict some of those things. But right now I like the way Sanchez blends with Glennon and with Connor Shaw.”

Whether the public likes Pace’s moves at quarterback, or whether they’re good, bad or anywhere in between is just offseason speculation for now. The NFL will start giving him meaningful feedback sometime this September. What Pace has in fact done, regardless of analyses at this point, like it or not, is create options for himself and his coaches. And those extend beyond 2017.

Some context here: Even with some measure of job security in the short term, Pace is tasked with winning in the future as well as the present. He has addressed the 2017 quarterback situation, if not spectacularly, with Glennon and Sanchez specifically. But think beyond ’17; because Pace is.

More context: GM’s and head coaches like and need options. Doubts about Glennon, Sanchez, Connor Shaw or some rookie notwithstanding, Pace has the Bears positioned with options, not necessarily good options, but arguably best-available for the most part.

A little more context: Dowell Loggains may not have quelled all doubts about his play calling, but Cutler, Hoyer and Matt Barkley all had their best NFL stretches, albeit short, under his stewardship. 

Pace has effectively positioned the Bears for not one or two, but as many as a half-dozen spins of the quarterback wheel looking for a winner. It is a place the Bears were not in for most of Cutler’s tenure outside of brief Hoyer and Josh McCown bursts.

Within this context, consider the Pace’s chances for a strike at THE priority position for the franchise:

Spin 1: Mike Glennon

Pace announced the former Bucs quarterback as the Bears’ starter. Probably is. But Matt Flynn was the Seahawks’ starter when they free-agent signed him away from Green Bay in 2012. He lost his starting job by the end of training camp to a rookie third-round draft choice, Russell Wilson.

The Bears chose Glennon over Cutler and Hoyer because of upside; if Glennon plays to his perceived ceiling, the Bears have him under contract for two more years.

Spin 2: Mark Sanchez

When all the cynical subsides, consider him a low-risk spin who has been good enough to stand a career 37-35 as a starter. McCown amounted to something and still is after age 30, even with bad teams. Hoyer played some of his best football the past two seasons, after age 30. If Loggains resuscitates Sanchez’s career at age 30… .

Spin 3: The rookie

How, where and even if – make that a big IF – the Bears make their first Ryan Pace draft pick of a quarterback doesn’t come around for another month. But whomever the Bears select, if they select a quarterback this draft, gives Pace another spin of the QB wheel.

Spin 4: Kirk Cousins

CSNChicago.com confirmed that the Bears called on Cousins’ availability, even with the specter of Washington’s franchise tag hanging over him. But as one NFL source noted, Cousins is on a one-year deal ($23.94 million tag guarantee), it is his second and presumably last tag, and he has spurned long-term Washington offers to this point.

Glennon’s contract commits the Bears to $16 million this year. After that, minimal guarantee. Sanchez, one-year deal. Cousins, one-year deal.

Next offseason… . 

Spin 5: Jimmy Garoppolo

The Eastern Illinois quarterback wasn’t deemed worth a No. 3 pick in 2014, in either round one or two. He hasn’t put enough on film to make him worth that pick now.

But if the Cleveland Browns don’t trade for him, or New England hasn’t turned to him and locked him up contractually, he would be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. It will take a long-term market deal but at least he wouldn’t cost a high No. 1.

Spin 6: Connor Shaw

He is already clearly getting a preseason look, as he did last year, and is ahead of evaluations that accompanied David Fales and some other Bears hopefuls. He’s found money if he develops into something, but Warren Moon, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner were all undrafted free agents, too.

Bears believe they got more than just a No. 2 QB in signing Mark Sanchez

Bears believe they got more than just a No. 2 QB in signing Mark Sanchez

PHOENIX – The signing of Mark Sanchez last week gave the Bears what they view as a bona fide No. 2 quarterback, something they have needed at least one of in each of the last seven seasons. Sanchez has started 72 NFL games vs. the 18 of Mike Glennon but GM Ryan Pace reiterated on Tuesday that Glennon is ensconced as the starter.
 
More than just finding a viable backup has been at stake in the Bears' quest for a backup, and in a clear statement of philosophy, Pace affirmed that intangibles played a significant part in deciding on Sanchez. Part of those specifically involved an assessment of how Sanchez would work off the field with Glennon.
 
"He's knowledgeable, he's smart and him and Mike have already kind of clicked," Pace said. "They're together and they're organizing workouts on their own and those kind of things are important.
 
"We've talked about it before: There's no more important room than the quarterback room and we put a lot of thought as to how that room blends together, especially with the number two position. Obviously we're evaluating the physical traits and what he can do physically but how they fit in as teammates, how they help each other, how they support each other. I think we've all seen really good rooms that are better as a whole because of the people that are in there. And maybe some rooms that don't click well together. I think we've created an environment not only with him but also with Connor Shaw where it's a room that can really click together and make each other better."

[MORE BEARS: No Bears move yet on CB Deiondre' Hall except maybe to safety]
 
While Pace and coach John Fox have preached competition throughout the depth chart, that does not appear to apply at quarterback the same way. Indeed, a true quarterback competition can divide teams and become a distraction cloud over more than just that one position.
 
Glennon in fact may not need a lot of external competition. He is effectively playing to restart his NFL career, with $16 million guaranteed for the 2017 season but only $2.5 million guaranteed beyond that on a contract with a top-out of $45 million over three years.
 
"I think it's good for them to always be pushing each other so there's competition," Pace said. "Glennon's our starter… but that doesn't mean they're not pushing each other throughout practice and I think that goes with Connor Shaw, too. So those guys are all competitive guys, we wouldn't want them if they weren't competitive, and I just think it's a healthy competition."