Chicago Bears

Bears secure No. 2 seed in NFC playoff picture

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Bears secure No. 2 seed in NFC playoff picture

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
11:47 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
The Minnesota Vikings 24-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles was both really good news and really bad news for the Bears.

The good is obvious and near immediate. The Bears are now assured of no worse than the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, meaning they receive a bye through the wild-card round and dont have to play until the Jan. 15-16 weekend. An already healthy team gets even more time to get healthy.

And they will be exactly two games from returning to the Super Bowl.

The Bears could even earn the No.1 seed and a guarantee of both playoff games being played in Soldier Field. Its a longshot because the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints both would have to lose Sunday on the road, the Falcons to Carolina and that would be an even more monumental upset that what the Vikings effected in Philadelphia.

The bad news is longer term and perhaps as significant ultimately. With the performance of Joe Webb, it appears very likely that the Vikings have found a quarterback to succeed Brett Favre. Minnesota wasnt going to bring Tavaris Jackson back and Favre isnt coming back (finally) so the ascension of Webb to starter re-sets the Vikings as a legitimate force in the NFC North, which they were heading away from being.

And one outside aspect to Minnesotas performance is that anyone who looked at the Bears wins over the Vikings and dismissed Minnesota as a hobbled team should reconsider. Favre was never an overly serious challenge for the Bears under Lovie Smith (he was 9-3 against Favre teams). The Bears were fortunate to miss Adrian Peterson in the snow game at TCF Bank Stadium on that Monday night but Peterson too had been increasingly blunted by the Bears.

Packing in the Packers

Never let it be said that all young players dont get the implications of history in their game.

The game against Green Bay next Sunday isnt just another game and running back Matt Forte was blunt about there being an added measure of sweetness in knocking Green Bay out of the playoffs, which a loss would do to the Packers.

It would be nice, Forte said. It would be even better with us going to the playoffs, just to kind of kick them out and not have them in it either.

One thing the Philadelphia loss also did was eliminate the possibility that the Bears would have to play the Packers this Sunday and, if they lost, face them again the following weekend.

Lovie Smith cited beating the Packers among his three primary goals when he took the job back in 2004. As far as beating Green Bay being added motivation this weekend, Smith says all the right things about the true motivation nowto a point.

We dont need any more motivation, Smith said. Our motivation for us, like its always been, is to win a world championship. As far as the Packers, we realize the rivalry, but its really just about us playing our best ball.

And if something unfortunate happens to them, I mean, so be it.

Thinking North

One thing the Bears have done with Lovie Smith is take care of business close to home. Since Smith arrived in 2004, the Bears hold winning records over each of the other three division rivals

Detroit: 10-4, including six straight

Green Bay: 8-5, plus Sunday

Minnesota: 8-6, including 3-1 vs. Favre Vikings

By comparison, Dave Wannstedt was 1-11 against the Packers. Dick Jauron was 2-8; and Mike Ditka was 15-5, losing his first and last games against Green Bay, the latter against a young Brett.

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.

Jordan Howard's eye injury keeps him grounded as Bears fly to Arizona

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USA TODAY

Jordan Howard's eye injury keeps him grounded as Bears fly to Arizona

The Bears' best offensive player won't be suiting up in Saturday's preseason game. In fact, he won't even be on the sideline. 

Jordan Howard suffered an eye injury Friday, preventing him from flying with the team to Arizona. 

Although ESPN's Adam Schefter believes it's minor, that's not a good sign for an offense that relies heavily on the run game.

Joining Howard on the inactive list are more key offensive guys: 

- Kyle Long, OL

- Jeremy Langford, RB

- Joshua Bellamy, WR

- Markus Wheaton, WR

That means Mike Glennon, who is embroiled in a growing quarterback controversy, will have his work cut out for him. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears will also be missing some notables: 

- Danny Trevathan, LB

- Mitch Unrein, DL

- Bryce Callahan, DB

- Alex Scearse, LB

- Jonathan Anderson, LB

- Kapron Lewis-Moore, DL

Hopefully Howard and the team can get healthy before the real deal begins because last year's injury-plagued season was certainly no fun. 

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

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USA Today Sports Images

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

One of John Fox’s favorite sayings is that the best ability is availability. No player exemplified that line more than left tackle Charles Leno Jr. in 2016. 

Leno played all 1,010 of the Bears’ offensive snaps last year. His effectiveness may not have matched his availability — Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, described Leno as being a “below average” starter. The Bears like Leno, though. But enough to give him another contract?

“He’s pretty reliable and dependable,” Fox said. “But we all have room for improvement so I think he’d tell you the same thing.”

For Leno, there’s no time like the present to make those strides. He’s due to hit free agency after this season, and, unless the Bears sign him to a contract extension, will enter a market that last spring saw five left tackles (Riley Reiff, Matt Kalil, Russell Okung, Andrew Whitworth and Kelvin Beachum) sign contracts each including eight-figure guaranteed money. But Leno, who will be 26 this spring, isn’t doing a lot of thinking about what his future could look like beyond this year. 

“It’s in the back of your mind, but at the end of the day I’m trying to go out there and just perfect my craft,” Leno said. “That’s really what I’m trying to do. I’ve been doing that the last two and a half years now. It’s the same routine every day. Just trying to go out there and perfect my craft, things will take care of itself. If I do what I need to do out there, everything will follow.”

For Leno, perfecting his craft means perfecting the basics of being a left tackle. What he rattled off: Placement of hands, base in pass set, staying square, not opening up too early. Being consistent in those areas is what Leno sees as that next step in his development. 

“I think Charles Leno does a really great job focusing attention to detail within his set,” left guard Kyle Long said. “Whether it’s a set angle, his hands or his strike, he always has a plan and he’s somebody that’s athletic enough to recover if he ever does get in a bad situation. It’s a really difficult position to play out there but I think Charles Leno is one of the most athletic guys that’s been around here.” 

Practice has provided an ideal opportunity for Leno to work on all those things, given the array of pass rushers he’s facing from his own defense. 

“I got a very fast guy (Leonard Floyd), I got a very tall, long guy (Willie Young), and I got a short, powerful guy (Lamarr Houston). I mean, what more do I need on a practice field? I got the best guys in the world to go against every day.”

But the point remains: Leno does have room for growth. A fully healthy Bears’ offensive line, with a more consistent Leno, can be one of the best units in the NFL on which the team’s level of production can be based. 

And if that’s the case, Leno can expect a significant payday next spring, either from the Bears or another team. 

“I never expected I would be in this situation, absolutely not,” Leno said. “I’m very blessed, I’m thankful for the opportunity that I’ve got into. But also, it’s a testament to the work I’ve been putting in for myself and I just don’t ever want that to stop. I don’t ever want the work ethic that I have to ever go down because I’ve got some money or because I’m in a contract year. I want to keep improving whether I have the money or not.”