Bears stave off Newton, Panthers

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Bears stave off Newton, Panthers

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011Posted: 3:15 p.m. Updated: 9:15 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Box score Photo gallery
15 on 6: Run game provides great victory
READ: Hester, Forte receive highest mark
Gameday Blog: 'Devin Hester, you're ridiculous!'
Cutler: Still trying to find out identity
Lovie: Teams may stop kicking to Hester
Moon: On the Bears victory over Carolina
Miller: Shows his praise for Newton

So much for Ron Riveras storybook return to Soldier Field.

Pounding on the ground as they havent done all season, the Bears (2-2) withstood another outstanding show by rookie quarterback Cam Newton to put down the Carolina Panthers 34-29 for as close to a must-win as any fourth game of a Bears season can be.

We wanted to be 4-0, said quarterback Jay Cutler, who had one of the lightest passing workloads of his career with 17 passing attempts. We feel like we gave our two Ls away but were happy where were at. Theres a lot of football left to play.

The win halted a two-game slide that suddenly placed the Bears season in some peril, given a road game against the surging Detroit Lions (4-0) next Monday night. The Lions won in Dallas with a comeback against the over-hyped Cowboys and Tony Romo Sunday and the Bears could not afford to fall any further behind the Lions and Green Bay Packers at the end of the first quarter of the 2011 season.

A defeat would have put the Bears in serious jeopardy with the season just one-fourth over. They lost four games all last season in the NFC; a defeat vs. Carolina would have been the third this season and created potential problems with wild-card scenarios unless the Bears managed a reversal, which Sundays win may have been.

The Bears went to the ground early and for most of the game, including 13 of their first 14 plays. Behind an offensive line forced to shuffle personnel, the Bears sprung tailback Matt Forte for repeated big gains and punched in from the 3-yard line with less than two minutes remaining on a Marion Barber burst over left guard. The resulting 34-23 advantage and security they have not felt since the opening week of the season.

The defense provided points with a 20-yard return of an interception by nickel back D.J. Moore. That was supplemented by Devin Hesters history making punt return in the second quarter.

A key to the rushing effectiveness Sunday Forte finished with 205 rushing yards on 25 carries, making him just the third back in franchise history to run for 200 yards in a game was adjustments made virtually every series to answer scheming done by the Carolina front seven.

Coach Mike Tice and coach Mike Martz came up with a great run plan, said guard Chris Williams. They knew what they wanted to do coming in. Every time they countered us, we came right back with something.

Difference-making

It was not a dominating win in all areas, although each of the Bears three phases scored at least once. The Panthers and Newton blew through the Bears for 438 yards in three quarters and trailed just 24-23.

Carolina added a field goal in the fourth quarter and a late touchdown on a pass from Newton to former Bear Greg Olsen with four seconds remaining. The Bears overcame that with the Barber touchdown run with 1:23 remaining after Robbie Gould converted from 24 yards.

Carolina finished with 543 total yards to the Bears 317.

I dont really care because we won, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Ill be pissed off when we watch the film but right now, we won, so its not a big deal to me.
Early explosions
With scores from all three phases, the Bears got out to a 24-10 lead in the second quarter. Forte scored on a 17-yard run. Moore went 20-yards to score after intercepting a deflected Newton pass. Hester made NFL history with his 69-yard return of a second-quarter punt for a touchdown, the 11th of his career and most by any player in league annals.

The Forte touchdown was also the first Bears rushing TD of this season.

You get lucky if you can win with two phases, or one phase, said coach Lovie Smith. The best way to almost guarantee a win is if all three phases are working. For us, looking at our history, thats normally been the case, especially when we have at least two.

Newton kept the Panthers at least in the discussion with a pair of short touchdown carries in the first half, the second a 2-yard carry that was followed by an Olindo Mare field goal to bring Carolina back to 24-20 at halftime.

But the Bears were not stopping the Carolina offense, which was trampling the Bears defense. The Panthers totaled 299 yards in just the first half; worse, it came on 100 rushing yards and 199 on Newton passing, meaning the Bears were not stopping much of anything.

The Panthers scored on four of six first-half possessions, one ending in an interception and only one in a punt.
Pound it early

As they had not done in any game this season, the Bears brought the hammer. Every play in the opening drive, for a field goal, was a running play, including a highlight trip around the right side by Forte for 45 yards. Barber marked his first appearance as a Bear by giving Forte the next two downs to rest and picking up 12 yards on the two carries.

Cutler even got into the spirit of things with a third-down carry from an empty backfield. He didnt score but the pattern was being established.

We knew as an offense that we can run the ball, Forte said. We just had to establish that first and continue to do that throughout the game.

Moore continued his mastery of the deflected pass, picking off a ball intended for wideout Legedu Naanee but tipped by linebacker Lance Briggs. Moore reacted out of his zone coverage on the short left to gather in the ball and pick his way through Panthers for a 20-yard touchdown, the second by the defense in four games after Urlachers TD return of a fumble in week one.

The Panthers immediately took advantage of a blown coverage by free safety Brandon Meriweather, who failed to provide deep support behind Tim Jennings after Jennings handed off Steve Smith on a deep route. The 53-yard completion was turned into a touchdown when Newton bootlegged around the right side to score from two yards out.

The Bears opened their game with eight consecutive runs, the last a quarterback draw by Cutler from an empty backfield, to go from their 20 to the Carolina 3, from where Gould converted his seventh straight field goal of the year, from 20 yards for a 3-3 mark midway through the first quarter.

Bad D start

For the second week in a row, the initial problem for the Bears was not their offense, but their defense. The Green Bay Packers started their win over the Bears with an 80-yard touchdown drive after the opening kickoff; the Panthers went 65 yards in 10 plays to set up a 29-yard field goal from Mare.

The drive might have netted a touchdown but for two penalties on former Bear Olsen, who started the Panthers possession with a false start and then was flagged for holding inside the Chicago 10 to push Carolina back out of TD range.

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.

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

[MORE: Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus]

Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

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The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

John Fox could be excused for wondering if someone somewhere is sticking voodoo pins in a Bears doll. If it weren’t for bad luck, the 2016 Bears might have no luck at all. And now things have gotten worse, not better.

The Bears coach has overseen the M*A*S*H unit working to look like an NFL team while dealing with a sick bay situation that some days has made it seem easier to list the Bears who ARE practicing rather than the ones who aren’t.

Besides the injury tsunami that has beset them, the Bears this week are dealing with a flu/stomach virus that has hit as many as a dozen players, some more severely than others, and had one Bears higher-up facetiously (or maybe not) reaching for the Walter Payton Center door handle with his hand covered.

“We've got about six illnesses,” Fox said Wednesday, a list that included rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, right tackle Bobby Massie and fullback Darrel Young for the first time.

Not all of practice was a study of absenteeism. Kicker Robbie Gould capped off Wednesday’s indoor session with a 57-yard field goal, consistent with his standing as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.

Gould has converted a respectable 83.2 percent of attempts in the wind tunnel known as Soldier Field. He has converted 90 percent of his kicks in NFL stadiums with either a dome or retractable roof.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal practiced again on Wednesday wearing don’t-hit-me red jerseys throughout practice, emblematic of their return from preseason concussions. They represent critical elements in the Bears’ passing offense, with Royal signed to put in place a steady veteran for three-receiver packages.

“We’re at a point now where we’re like, 'hey, we’ve got some time here with you guys; let’s get you guys back to 100 percent,’” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We know what they can do on the field. It’s just a matter of us getting into game week and getting them back in the flow.”

How did Royal look coming back from his missed time? “Fresh,” Cutler said, smiling. “As he should be.”