Bears open vs. Atlanta; host Packers Week 3

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Bears open vs. Atlanta; host Packers Week 3

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 5:38 p.m. Updated: 6:39 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The NFL does not yet have the security of a collective bargaining agreement between its owners and players. But players are working out on their own as if there will be a season, owners are managing their businesses as if therell be one, and the league has put out its 2011 schedule also based on the assumption that there will be football on time come September.

The Bears did not draw the honor of opening against the defending Super Bowl champions; the distinction of visiting the Green Bay Packers to open the 2011 season has gone to the New Orleans Saints, who preceded the Packers in the confetti shower.

But the Bears do get just their second home opener of the Lovie Smith era, facing the NFC South-winning Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 11. And the season will end with holiday specials against two division opponents: Green Bay on Dec. 25 followed by the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 1, both games away from the lakefront.

We like opening with three of our first four games in front of our fans at Soldier Field, Smith said in a statement. It is also clear that our division is well respected as we face each of our rivals in primetime this season. The NFC North deserves the showcase games and we look forward to those classic match-ups in front of a national audience.

The league also thinks enough of the Bears and the NFC North to have prime-time games with the Bears against each of their division rivals.

This marks the fifth time in eight Lovie Smith seasons that the Bears have finished with two division opponents and it is seventh time in Smiths eight years that the NFL has pitted the Bears against the Packers in one of the last two games of a season.

The schedule has the Bears facing Detroit and Philadelphia in Monday Night Football games, a venue in which Smiths teams are 6-1.

Including the two games against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Bears draw a schedule that lines up with eight teams that finished the 2010 season with winning records, in addition to the 8-8 Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders game falls in a stretch of four games against the AFC West, including a visit by Jay Cutler to Denver where the Broncos may be quarterbacked by Kyle Orton.

DayDateTime Opponent (10 record)

Sun. Sept. 11, noon Atlanta Falcons (13-3)

Comment: Division winners with Matt Ryan. Only the second time Lovie Smith has opened at home.
Sun., Sept. 18, noon @ New Orleans Saints (11-5)

Comment: For all of their successes, Drew Brees and Saints are 0-5 vs. Lovie Smith, including playoffs.

Sun., Sept. 25, 3:15 p.m Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Comment: An early season win was scant consolation after the Packers beat the Bears twice in three games on the way to the Super Bowl. Green Bays arrow clearly pointing up.

Sun., Oct. 2, noon Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Comment: Ron Rivera as head coach, Cam Newton as his starting quarterback? Story lines, anyone?

Mon, Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m. @ Detroit Lions (6-10)
Comment: The one-time doormats nearly beat the Bears twice and won their last four, including a shutdown of the Packers. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy for a full season.

Sun., Oct. 16, 7:20 p.m. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Comment: The end of the Brett Favre Era finally arrives. Leslie Frazier begins the makeover of a team with an identity crisis at quarterback.

Sun., Oct. 23, 7 p.m. @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)

Comment: Currently scheduled for Wembley Stadium in London but owners-players impasse needs to be settled by Aug. 1.
Sun., Oct. 30 Off week

Mon., Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. @ Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Comment: Another date with Michael Vick. This makes five straight years facing the Eagles, last four decided by 5 or fewer points.
Sun., Nov. 13, noon Detroit Lions (6-10)
Comment: Last game vs. NFC before a four-game run through the AFC West.

Sun., Nov. 20, 3:15 p.m. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
Comment: One of the NFLs more enigmatic teams. Cutler and Philip Rivers can renew acquaintances.
Sun., Nov. 27, 3:05 p.m. @ Oakland Raiders (8-8)

Comment: The NFLs most hostile environment for visitors but Bears havent lost to Raiduhs since 99.

Sun., Dec., 4, noon Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Comment: Chiefs were wild-card losers last postseason but have won five straight vs. NFC under one-time Bears asst. Todd Haley.
Sun., Dec. 11, 3:05 p.m. @ Denver Broncos (4-12)

Comment: Orton or Tim Tebow under center for Cutlers homecoming against the team that drafted him.

Sun., Dec. 18, noon Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
Comment: The division winner with the losing record were 1-1 vs. 10 Bears, including playoffs.

Sun., Dec. 25, 7:20 p.m. @ Green Bay Packers (10-6)

Comment: First of two division games to finish the season. Either or both likely to have playoff seeding at stake.

Sun., Jan. 1, noon @ Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Comment: Vikings should have their quarterback situation sorted out by then.

WeekDateOpponentTime
TVWeek 1
Sun., Sept. 11
Falcons12:00
FOX
Week 2
Sun., Sept. 18
@ Saints
12:00
FOX
Week 3
Sun., Sept. 25
Packers
3:15
FOX
Week 4
Sun., Oct. 2
Panthers
12:00
FOX
Week 5
Mon., Oct. 10
@ Lions
7:30
ESPN
Week 6
Sun., Oct. 16
Vikings
7:20
NBC
Week 7
Sun., Oct. 23
@ Buccaneers (London)
12:00
FOX
Week 8
BYE
BYE
BYE
BYE
Week 9
Mon., Nov. 7
@ Eagles
7:30
ESPN
Week 10
Sun., Nov. 13
Lions
12:00
FOX
Week 11
Sun., Nov. 20
Chargers
3:15
FOX
Week 12
Sun., Nov. 27
@ Raiders
3:05
FOX
Week 13
Sun., Dec. 4
Chiefs
12:00
CBS
Week 14
Sun., Dec. 11
@ Broncos
3:05
FOX
Week 15
Sun., Dec. 18
Seahawks
12:00
FOX
Week 16
Sun., Dec. 25
@ Packers
7:20
NBC
Week 17
Sun., Jan. 1
@ Vikings
12:00
FOX
Check back on Comcast SportsNet for more information as it becomes available.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

Here are some of Saturday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jose Abreu homers twice as White Sox beat Tigers for sixth straight win

Cubs bash three homers in come-from-behind win over Red Sox

Dwyane Wade would like clarity on Bulls' direction before making decision

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

Dax McCarty tallies assist against former team, but Fire still lose to Red Bulls

Eddie Jackson healthy, ready to bring center fielder range to Bears' secondary

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Watch: This is why new Bears running back Tarik Cohen is nicknamed 'The Human Joystick'

 

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

Trying to sort through some Halas Hall draft mysteries…. well, one big one, anyway.

Now that it’s all done: Were GM Ryan Pace and the personnel staff really in phase with John Fox and the coaching staff? Because that really is the franchise-grade question and one with the broadest possible ramifications.

The gut feeling is, yes. That’s really based just on watching the two of them together Saturday during the post-draft debriefing. If there was tension, frustration or a fracture in the relationship, the two were as good at masking it as they were concealing their draft plans.

Which they could be. Maybe reading John Fox’s face is no easier than Jay Cutler’s. They wouldn’t be the first to put up a fraud façade or public face.

But regardless of any taffy pulls or disagreements that may have played out during the draft, the jokes, asides and other responses to queries suggested otherwise. It wasn’t just what they said; it was how they said it.

“How would you grade your draft?” the pair was asked.

“I’ll tell you in three years,” Pace said.

“I’m sure we’ll get some ‘input,” Fox said, laughing, for a media corps that will provide more than a little of that “input.”

This was their third draft together. Fox has worked with myriad personnel guys and draft rooms, so how has Pace changed? Gotten bossier?

“He’s been the same guy,” Fox said. “We talk about that in this building, whether that be players, coaches or personnel people. I think he has done a terrific job and he’s got great people skills. You listen, but then you have to go with your gut, too… . After three years, every year you have convictions on players and everyone kind of keeps track of that. We have been in this spot three straight years and we’ve even been in this spot with high picks. I think he’s done a terrific job.”

Beneath all of the analyses of whether Mitch Trubisky is really the franchise quarterback the Bears have sought since Jim McMahon couldn’t stay healthy 30 years ago, or whether lesser-fete’d college programs (Ashland, Kutztown, North Carolina A&T) will produced NFL-grade talent for the Bears, lurks the deeper and arguably more significant assessment of what the 2017 draft means for the futures of Pace and Fox, jointly and individually.

The vulnerabilities are obvious; a combined 9-23 record in their two Bears seasons puts a lot of jobs over a “vulnerable” trap door in an organization that has never retained a coach after three straight losing seasons – even if the last thing Chairman George McCaskey wants on his watch is a situation in such steep decline that it even continues to lose even after a regime change, as it did after three-season-losers Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron and Dave Wannstedt.

Irrespective of specific 2017 draft choices, the surest course toward cataclysm would be a divide between coach and GM, which some want to believe has begun, fueled if by nothing else but Chris Mortensen’s report Thursday that Fox only found out about the decision to pursue and make the Trubisky deal a short time before Pace made it. Mort walked back from the claim, and Pace ripped it as “so false” later on Friday.

Pace was adamant that he and Fox were in lock step on the move for a quarterback who ideally doesn’t see the field a lot this season. As a first-rounder the Bears do have him for as much as five years if they elect to pick up the option for the fifth year of his rookie contract.

Would Fox have wanted a defensive force? Probably. But he went 3-13 last season in no small part because he had to use three different quarterbacks and two of them were bad.

“I think the quarterback position was obviously a need position as well,” Fox said. “That became pretty clear as we went out in free agency and got Mike Glennon. I think you're always trying to add depth at every position.

“Unlike what some people think, quarterback is key, too. If you look back at a year ago, we went through three quarterbacks, due to injuries, so I think building depth is really important. I think Mitch is a quality, quality player. I think if you did research and we need to do that, I'm going to say that a lot of people had him ranked very high, and us no different.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan]

One cynical view making some rounds is that Pace has set Fox up to fail specifically by not giving him defensive help that would translate into win-now prospects for a coach who obviously needs to. But that doesn’t quite square somehow.

Pace and the draft powers were promising Fox a real shot at something even better than a quarterback. All they needed was for Cleveland to opt for Trubisky, which was in discussion over in Ohio until not long before the draft. Then the Bears, who’d talked over scenarios with San Francisco GM John Lynch over recent weeks, would have made that trade, but for Myles Garrett.

The Bears at No. 3 had tabbed three possible options for themselves, but with every intention of trading up unless the 49ers were blown away by a trade offer the Bears couldn’t match.

“I would say there were probably two of the three that we’d be willing to go up for,” Pace said, with a sly smile but without naming Garrett.

Which makes it reasonable to conclude that Fox knew the GM would get him the projected best edge rusher in the draft, unless their projected best quarterback was there. Which is what happened.

“We knew [Trubisky], obviously, was our top quarterback,” Pace said. “At one point in time – you don’t know what to believe – but up until the last second, there was speculation that Mitch could go 1. So then there’s even talks: ‘Wow, if he goes 1, and Myles goes to 2, what are we going to do?’

“And so all these scenarios are being played out. And there’s just so many of them. And we talk them all out. But the idea of ‘If Mitch is there at 2, and it’s realistic for us to go get him,’ that was something we discussed.”

The Bears were expected to prioritize the secondary, even as high as LSU’s Jamal Adams in some first-round scenarios. They didn’t get draft help for one of the poorest takeaway secondaries in NFL history until well into the fourth round. Was Pace undercutting his defense-based head coach and a staff boasting some of the top mentors in their areas?

Really?

Pace guaranteed $20 million of Bears money to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara ($7 million) and Marcus Cooper ($8 million) and safety Quintin Demps ($5 million). To have then used a high pick for a defensive back could conceivably have had McCaskey calling over and asking just exactly how Pace figured he needed to give his coaches a viable secondary. In the final analysis, Pace’s view of upgrading the secondary was more than draft-centric.

“We added a lot in free agency, so that was the plan,” Pace said. “We signed three corners in free agency and a safety and now we just drafted a safety. Part of our free agency plan was to attack the secondary and we accomplished it there. And that kind of allowed us to draft best player available when this moment came.”

If Fox had a problem with any of that, it was not apparent Saturday night after their third draft together.