Bears-Lions: And the winner is…

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Bears-Lions: And the winner is…

Coach John Fox addressed his team at a special meeting on Friday. While he wasn’t getting into details of his remarks, the general tenor was clear for the wrap-up of a season of reforming a destitute culture within one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.

“I think this is unique in that you're kind of finishing one season and beginning another year so how you finish is important,” Fox said.

The specific outcome of the Bears-Detroit Lions game Sunday has not mattered since the playoffs dealt both teams out over the past couple weeks. But it does matter in the minds of Bears coaches who’ve worked since last January to install not only different systems in all three phases, but also a different mindset around winning.

[MORE: Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN]

So while the stated objective of avoiding a second straight season with double-digit losses may seem both meaningless and menial, it isn’t for those invested in the process and wanting to be part of a Bears future.

It was more than coincidence that GM Ryan Pace’s first three signings in free agency were two players from winning Super Bowl teams – Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle – a third who’d been part of playoff teams two of his previous four seasons – Eddie Royal – and a fourth who anchored offensive lines for playoff teams two of his last three seasons – Will Montgomery.

The point has been to import building blocks with talent and character and, particularly now, to “get some good energy in the building, some wins, some confidence,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “Because I really don’t feel like that we’re that far off.”

A season on the rebound from its 0-3 start went completely off the rails with losses to lesser opponents with losing records (San Francisco, Washington). A victory over Detroit does not give the Bears a winning record. But it would end a five-game losing streak against the Lions, longest run of futility against that division rival since the six straight losses from 1968-70.

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Coaches and personnel staff will be continuing an evaluation process that has been going on for nearly a year for more than a few players. But the bigger focus is on building a culture from within.

“It’s mostly about trying to stay positive,” said defensive end Willie Young, “and keeping all the young guys on the same page and doing whatever it takes to get this thing rolling again.”

And the winner is…

For all of the talk of attitude shifts, none of that really happens without wins to sustain confidence of players in themselves and in everything the coaching staff is presenting. For most of this season, that has been present as the schemes of coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers put players generally in positions to make plays, and players not making them and pointing thumbs, not fingers.

The Lions (6-9) are a better team than they were when the scraped out an overtime win at Detroit back on Oct. 18, the first of the three times the Bears (6-9) played and failed to reach .500. The Bears? Not so sure what they’ve become.

The Bears had lost three straight before thumping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. The Lions have won their last two and five of seven since a 1-7 first half-season with the only win over the Bears. The Lions are wondering about the future of head coach Jim Caldwell; the Bears don’t have a head-coaching question but do have others about themselves and the ability to target a game and win it.

“It would be big,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “To have that momentum going into the offseason, to finish the season out on a two-game wining streak, that would create huge momentum leading into next year.”

So who comes out of Sunday with momentum?

Moon's prediction: Bears 23, Lions 17

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

The daily litany of injuries and practice limitations through training camp and to this point of preseason have been stories. But they typically do not take on real significance until about this time of the football year, when teams swing onto final approach for their first regular-season game.

Against that backdrop, the Bears’ injury forecast was trending the right direction on Monday when No. 1 tight end Zach Miller and No. 1 nickel receiver Eddie Royal, both out for extended periods going through the team’s concussion protocol, were practicing without the don’t-hit-me red practice jerseys they were in as recently as last week.

Right guard Kyle Long, down with a shoulder injury since the New England game, was not in practice pads Monday but trotted over to a nearby goalpost at one point during practice, got into his stance and delivered a couple of linemen “punches” to the padding.

All three are vital components of a struggling offense in desperate need of impact players at any position.

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Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, held out of the Kansas City game on Saturday with hamstring soreness, was in uniform as well. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, was out running laps around the practice field, although he remains a longshot to be active for the Sept. 11 opener in Houston.

The situation was less encouraging for linebacker Pernell McPhee, who continues to do only controlled running and cutting along the sidelines as he works back from knee surgery in January. Chances of his return for the start of the regular season appear next to nil.

“We’ve got some avenues that we’re going to have to decide here as we cut down [the roster] to the 53 and some time from now, so I don’t like making those decisions now,” said coach John Fox. “But we’ll continue to evaluate him. There are options. He did start [training camp] on PUP [physically unable to perform]. We have a lot of options and we’ll do what’s best for us and him.”

The team has kept details of McPhee’s procedure and injury in-house. But teammate Willie Young, whose 2014 season ended with an Achilles injury of his own, offered a perspective that hinted at how serious McPhee’s injury may have been.

“It’s a credit to him, because to bounce back from any what used to be career-ending injuries is a challenge,” Young said, adding, “but he’s on course, I would say.”

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

With the No. 1 units in all three phases generally done for the 2016 preseason, one of the few stats that coaches and teams focus on can be analyzed for a Bears team that doesn’t have a lot of numerical results worth noting.

Through three preseason losses the Bears curiously have a plus-1 turnover ratio, taking the ball away from opponents. Through three games last year the Bears stood at plus-6 after a 2-1 point of a preseason in which coach John Fox sought to change a losing culture with an aggressive preseason approach.

Why this matters in a preseason of failures is this: Of the 15 teams with negative turnover totals, only one had a winning record. Not that a positive preseason means regular-season success, as the Bears demonstrated last year.

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But while the Bears offense has done precious little with the football when it’s had it, at least it is not giving it to opponents. Brian Hoyer has thrown the only two interceptions in 96 throws by Bears quarterbacks, a rate of 2.1 percent.

The defense has been without starting cornerback Kyle Fuller and No. 1 nickel corner Bryce Callahan for the past two games, and top corner Tracy Porter for game one and part of game three, the latter because of a concussion.

Still, members of the defense, which has produced two interceptions and two fumble recoveries through three games, have noticed a difference this year from last year’s first in a 3-4 base defense.

“Faster, that’s the main thing,” said defensive tackle Will Sutton. “A year under my belt in the system, you’re not thinking as much because you should know the plays. I can play a lot faster because I know how the blocks are being made against this type of defense, for instance.”

[RELATED: Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?]

The results have not yet been reflected in points, yardage or wins. But within the defense, players believe that team speed has been increased along with reaction speed, breaks on the ball and other elements that go into producing takeaways.

“Absolutely,” said linebacker Willie Young. “We’ve got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and [linebacker Lamarr] Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year.

“But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence.”

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Bears coach John Fox declared in the wake of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that what transpired hadn’t been all bad. And that’s true; good wins don’t usually look as good in the film room afterwards, and bad losses don’t automatically show up all dark, either.

And so it is after preseason game No. 3 that the Bears in fact did have some good along with some bad in what was the worst performance of the preseason, if only because so much of it involved the No. 1 units, and they’re supposed to be better than that.

Since so much seemed to be (and actually was) bad on Saturday night, the contrarian approach is invoked here: Let’s start with the good.

Good: The Bears faced Kansas City (which also was missing a handful of key starters) without Bryce Callahan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Eddie Royal. Tracy Porter left with a concussion. They expect to have some if not all of those starters and sub-starters back by Week 1.

Bad: Miller, Porter, Royal and McPhee have varying degrees of injury histories, McPhee the least of the group but had never been put in the position of holding up as a full-time starter before last season. The chances of the Bears having all their key players for full seasons are slim.

Good: Jay Cutler has thrown 31 passes this preseason. None of them have been intercepted. In what proved to be a foreshadowing of a ball-security breakthrough for the historically turnover-prone quarterback, Cutler threw zero interceptions in 33 attempts last preseason. In the regular season Cutler had two games of 31 attempts and another of 33 with zero interceptions, plus pick-free games of 24, 27 and 45 attempts.

Preseason and training camp stats mean nothing; preseason and camp performances often do.

[RELATED: Bears defense can't pick up all the pieces from a broken offense]

Bad: Kevin White has shown less than nothing through preseason, catching a total of three passes and dropping an equal number in what is his de facto rookie season. He has run imprecise routes and looked a seventh-round draft pick, not a seventh-overall one. Despite his apparent explosiveness, no Bear is averaging less than White’s 4 yards per reception.

Good: Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith have had next-step preseasons, a matter of some potential significance given the health concerns with Eddie Royal and production concerns with White. No Bear has caught more than Bellamy’s 10 passes, and no Bear with more than two catches has averaged more than Meredith’s 16 yards per catch.

Bad: The Bears need a road win at Cleveland next Thursday to avoid the fifth winless preseason in franchise history.

Good: Of the previous four no-win warmup slates, the Bears finished 9-5 in 1962 and 11-5 and in the NFC Championship in 2010. The 1998 season, Dave Wannstedt’s last, wound up 4-12 but 1978 at least was 7-9.

Five of the last six times the Bears lost the “all-important third preseason game,” the Bears finished 8-8 or better.

Bad: (put in the Kansas City game tape)