Bears open vs. Atlanta; host Packers Week 3


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

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.

TVWeek 1
Sun., Sept. 11
Week 2
Sun., Sept. 18
@ Saints
Week 3
Sun., Sept. 25
Week 4
Sun., Oct. 2
Week 5
Mon., Oct. 10
@ Lions
Week 6
Sun., Oct. 16
Week 7
Sun., Oct. 23
@ Buccaneers (London)
Week 8
Week 9
Mon., Nov. 7
@ Eagles
Week 10
Sun., Nov. 13
Week 11
Sun., Nov. 20
Week 12
Sun., Nov. 27
@ Raiders
Week 13
Sun., Dec. 4
Week 14
Sun., Dec. 11
@ Broncos
Week 15
Sun., Dec. 18
Week 16
Sun., Dec. 25
@ Packers
Week 17
Sun., Jan. 1
@ Vikings
Check back on Comcast SportsNet for more information as it becomes available.

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

Some decisions have ways of simply making themselves. Decisions like, say, who will be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Regrettably, one aspect of that decision was made for the Bears when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken left arm in the second quarter of Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. At that moment the Hoyer-or-Cutler question was rendered moot. As FOX’s Jay Glazer had reported, the No. 1 job was Hoyer’s to lose, and the injury unfortunately took care of that. Coaches never had to make that decision.

This is clearly not the way Cutler would like to have been returned to his job. No player is pleased to have an opportunity made possible by a catastrophic injury to a teammate.

Bigger picture: The 2016 season was always a prove-it year for Jay Cutler, more so than even last year because of guaranteed money, which is now gone. The rest of the 2016 now becomes a condensed prove-it crucible, where Cutler is playing for his job in Chicago or his next team. His price for 2017 ($15 million) is modest by starter standards, but so is his resume.

Without a strong final nine games, assuming his injured thumb is sufficiently recovered after nearly six weeks off, Cutler may find himself as next offseason’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, sort-of wanted by a team but for money nowhere close to the value he and his agent had in mind.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The play of rookies Dak Presott in Dallas and Carson Wentz in Philadelphia will reinforce the message that you can start and win with a rookie right away, which projects to depress any Cutler market. Why pay a marginal veteran, which Cutler has been and certainly is at this point and age (34 next April), when a rookie can be had at a fraction of the cost?

Without a massive contract renegotiation, a scenario of Cutler staying on as a bridge to a young successor is beyond a longshot. Hoyer, far more likely to fit that role, and his price will not approach Cutler’s.

Cutler now has his second chance. Whether he likes it or not, it’s an audition.

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — It was a bright spot, a small one on an otherwise dismal night of losing to the Green Bay Packers. But it was at least something.

After struggling for months to stay healthy and gain NFL weight, Leonard Floyd finally played like the ninth-overall pick of an NFL draft.

The rookie outside linebacker collected a sack in the first half, then exploded past Green Bay right tackle Brian Bulaga as part of stunt with fellow linebacker Willie Young on the third play of the second quarter for a second sack of Aaron Rodgers, one that came with a strip of the football and recovery in the end zone.

"We had a great play called,” Floyd said. “Willie came down and picked the guard for me and I looped around and the play was done and I made it. It felt great [to get a touchdown], but at the end of the day I wanted a win."

That was one of the very few bright spots as the Packers piled up 311 yards through three quarters, at times using wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery as running backs because of injuries. The drumbeat continued with touchdowns on three straight Green Bay possessions in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The defense has allowed 23 or more points in five of seven games this season, with the Packers rolling off consecutive touchdown drives of 85, 84 and 57 in the second half as the Bears were limited to 2:49 time of possession in the fourth quarter.

“It helps when you’re playing [defense], to actually have a little bit of a break,” head coach John Fox said. “Unfortunately in the second half, I think that probably caught up with us a little bit.”

The defense had its fullest complement of personnel yet this season, with outside linebackers Floyd and Pernell McPhee both active (McPhee for the first time this year following offseason knee surgery), in addition to starting cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Tracy Porter, both of whom were injured during the Jacksonville game. It was not enough.

[BEARS GRADES: Quarterback woes take offense to new low in loss to Packers]

Defensive line: F

The interior of the line was quiet for most of the game, with wide receivers lining up as running backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Cornelius Washington had the only hit by a defensive lineman on Rodgers as the line rarely collapsed the pocket with center-push or even kept him in the pocket.

Linebacker: B-

Floyd started after two games inactive and a zero stat sheet vs. Detroit. He struggled too often getting disengaged from Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari at the outset before breaking through with second effort for his first career solo sack. That was topped by the strip-sack and recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. Floyd had a third hit on Rodgers and a tackle for loss.

"It is very tough,” Floyd said. “He gets the ball out pretty quickly. You just have to keep rushing every snap. He is at his best when he is scrambling around playing backyard football."

McPhee was a welcome addition to a slumping defense, even in his limited capacity (19 snaps). McPhee was not credited with any tackles but was surprisingly fast off the ball initially, and got penetration to alter running lanes and some pressure on Rodgers, although he appeared to slow somewhat, not unexpected considering how limited he has been throughout the year because of the surgery.

Sam Acho provided some edge pressure with two hits on Rodgers and a pass deflected. Jerrell Freeman had a quarterback hit and delivered a game-high 13 tackles.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Secondary: D

The secondary was forced to cover long into plays because of absent pressure on Rodgers but the coverage had its own problems with an offense that threw 56 times but was never intercepted. Three Green Bay receivers totaled double-digit receptions: Davante Adams (13), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10).

Cre’Von LeBlanc started at corner as the Bears opened with six defensive backs, and delivered a goal-line stop in the first quarter, stuffing Montgomery, who was used as a running back because of injuries to the Green Bay backfield. LeBlanc finished with seven tackles and a hit blitzing Rodgers.

Porter matched up with Jordy Nelson and allowed the Green Bay wideout just one catch on four targets through three quarters. But breakdowns were deadly, allowing the Packers to stage their two longest scoring drives of the season in the second half. The second came when Porter and safety Harold Jones-Quartey both covered the same man in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, leaving Adams alone for his second TD catch of the game.

Adrian Amos interfered with Nelson to give the Packers a 44-yard penalty pickup in the first quarter. De’Vante Bausby had a number of solid plays despite a lack of meaningful pressure from the front. But Bausby had two holding penalties on the Packers’ second fourth-quarter scoring drive.

"There were a lot of penalties out there.,” Bausby said. “We had a good scheme and plan, but we just didn't finish in the second half as a group. Facing Rodgers is a challenge, but I felt like our play calling was excellent. We just didn't finish."

Special teams: B

Connor Barth converted from 39 yards to tie the game in the second quarter. It was Barth’s seventh in his last eight attempts. Pat O’Donnell turned in another strong night punting, averaging 43.8 net on five punts. Coverage helped keep three of those inside the 20.