Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North


Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
Updated 9:20 PM
By John Mullin

Coach Lovie Smith has made a philosophical point of stressing November as the pivotal month for making a run at the playoffs. His players appear to have been listening as they handled Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 31-26 to finish 4-0 in November and take sole possession of first place in the NFC North with an 8-3 record many outside of Halas Hall thought unlikely at this point of 2010.

Since losing three of four leading into their off week, the Bears have reeled off four wins to position themselves squarely in the middle of any playoff scenarios. In the last 50 years the Bears have reached the playoffs every season in which they have had eight wins by this point of their season.

"I think we've taken steps each week," Smith said. "Even the times that we lost, we found out something we needed to know about our football team.

"I would definitely say our arrow is pointed up. When you win four games in a row the way we have, we talk early about getting in position in October and making that run in November. That's exactly what the guys are doing."
Total team victory

The defense allowed 398 yards, second highest total this season. And Philadelphia's 26 points were the most scored this year.

But five different defensive linemen had at least a share of a sack against quarterback Michael Vick, four sacks total. The combined efforts produced the first interception of Vick this year and handed Vick his first loss as a starter this season.

"I need to take my hat off to the Chicago Bears defense," said Vick, who finished with 333 passing yards and 2 TD passes. "They did a great job with their scheme."

The defense in particular delivered turning-point stops of Vick in the first half, forcing a field goal with a Julius Peppers sack on a play from the Chicago 3 and then intercepting Vick on second-and-goal from the Chicago 4, a turnover that led to a crucial Bears touchdown.

On the interception, defensive tackle Tommie Harris deflected a Vick pass. The ball fluttered into the end zone where safety Chris Harris collected the first interception of Vick all season, two yards deep in the end zone with 2 minutes remaining in the half.

"I made a regular inside move and just got my hand up. I knew he was in an empty backfield so didn't have a lot of options and had to get the ball out quick."

For Vick, "That interception was just deflating to us as a team. It just changes the momentum of the game."

The NFL's No. 2 scoring offense at 28.4 points per game struggled to just one touchdown and four field goals into the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Vick threaded a 30-yard TD pass between three Bears to tight end Brent Celek with 1:48 to play and keep most of the 59,911 in their seats to make sure a game the Bears led since the first quarter did not get away.

Johnny Knox pulled in David Akers bounding short kickoff and the Bears went into their victory formation.
Offensive show

Meanwhile the offense was putting up its biggest touchdown total of 2010. Jay Cutler, matching his career high of four touchdown passes, threw for scores twice to wide receiver Earl Bennett and once to Knox in a first half that saw Cutler complete 7 of 10 passes, avoid any interceptions despite pressure that sacked him four times, and post a passer rating of 152.1.

After the Chris Harris interception and 39-yard return, coming with the Bears ahead just 14-13, the Bears were presented with the ball at their 37. It took Cutler just six plays, one on a 30-yard toss to Bennett who broke tackles to get all the way to the Philadelphia 20. Cutler then found Bennett on a short route to the right side and the game was changed for good.

"To score right before halftime, then get the ball back and go down and try to score again, that's huge," Cutler said. "That's a potential 14-point swing right there."

As if to demonstrate that it was no fluke, Cutler engineered a drive to open the second half that culminated with him firing a pass to tight end Greg Olsen for a nine-yard TD that sent the Bears up 28-13 barely 90 seconds into the second half. A 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the closing minutes pushed the Bears up by three scores at 31-13 and all that effectively remained was settling on a final score.
League matters

It was a day that began with good things happening as far as the Bears were concerned.

The Bears got a pregame gift from the Atlanta Falcons, who defeated Green Bay on a Matt Bryant field goal with 9 seconds remaining. The loss dropped the Packers to 7-4 and left the NFC North door unlocked for the Bears, who finish their season Jan. 2 in Green Bay in a game before which they hope to have their post-season situation secured.

Minnesota gave new coach and former Bear Leslie Frazier his first win as a head coach. In the process the Vikings dealt an NFC loss to a Washington Redskins team that has a tiebreak edge on the Bears but now is fading at 5-6. The New York Giants (8-3) got past Jacksonville to stay atop the NFC East and New Orleans (8-3), another wild-card contender of possible future interest to the Bears, escaped with a three-point win over Dallas.

A whole half

The Bears built a 21-13 lead at halftime on near-perfect play by Cutler, who completed 7 of 10 passes, 3 for touchdowns and good for a rating of 152.1 as he managed to avoid interceptions despite pressure that sacked him four times.

Cutler and the offense had previously scored no more than three touchdowns in any entire game this season, doing that three times (Dallas, Buffalo, Minnesota). They reached that point by halftime with Cutler threading precision scoring passes of 10 yards to Bennett, 20 yards to Knox and 6 yards to Bennett again just before halftime.

D-ing Vick

Vick and the Philadelphia offense proved more than capable of gaining yardage on the Bears but that was nearly all they managed. Akers gave the Eagles the game's first points with a 45-yard field goal but that was the last time the Eagles led.

Vick guided the offense 65 yards in 10 plays and gave Philadelphia its only touchdown of the first quarter with an eight-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin. Akers added a 36-yarder midway through the quarter but that was a bitter consolation prize.

The Eagles owned the ball with a third-and-goal at the Chicago 3 and left Peppers unblocked on a Vick rollout to the left. Peppers instead sacked Vick for a 14-yard loss and a fumble, forcing the Eagles to settle for Akers' kick.

As far as a statement game, "we're not concerned with that right now," Peppers said. "We'll be concerned with that when playoff time comes."

John "Moon" Mullin is'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.

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

FOX insider Jay Glazer confirmed on Sunday that the Bears expect quarterback Jay Cutler will be back from his sprained thumb and able to start against the Minnesota Vikings next Monday night in Soldier Field.

That would put Matt Barkley back where he has been pretty much his entire three-plus-year NFL career. Waiting.

That's the Bears want what every team wants – a young quarterback in the developmental pipeline – is no secret. Ryan Pace is among the NFL executives who speak of drafting a quarterback as much as every year, even if they don’t.

Could the Bears already have that player on their roster?

If Barkley, who was pressed into service when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken arm in last Thursday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, is in fact that player, he might not be surprised. But the rest of the NFL would be.

"I'm confident that no matter where I am or what the deal is,” Barkley said, after going 6-for-15 with no TD’s and two interceptions, “I can play in this league.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

He may be one of the few still holding onto that belief. The Bears picked up Barkley after the Arizona Cardinals discarded him in early September. The Cardinals didn’t see Barkley as even a practice-squad option, which the Bears did and where Barkley was working before Cutler’s thumb injury forced the Bears to sign him to the active roster.

“The [Bears] personnel people thought he was a taller [6-2] guy that stood in the pocket pretty well,” said coach John Fox. “A guy that we thought we could work with, that had some experience and, hopefully, he got a little bit more experience [at Green Bay].”

Barkley has gone from possible No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft to just another touted USC quarterback who failed or were no better than just-OK at the NFL level (Todd Marinovich, Rob Johnson, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez), who has thrown 65 NFL passes, none for a touchdown and six that were intercepted, including two in the Bears’ 26-10 loss last Thursday in Green Bay.

The question for Barkley at this point in his career is whether Chicago is his last stop and/or chance. Fourth-round draft picks have played their ways into prominence (Kirk Cousins in Washington, Dak Prescott in Dallas, even Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Van Brocklin if you want to find Hall of Famers), but Barkley has the added challenge of being on his third team and learning yet another offense after beginning this season running Houston and Philadelphia plays for the Bears’ defense.

Barkley offered no excuses for his poor showing (18.3 passer rating). Sort of.

“It definitely would be more beneficial [to have gotten more snaps before Green Bay],” Barkley said. “I’m not going to say what Coach should do; that’s his decision and you’ve got to deal with what you’re dealt.

“Just since I’ve been here, you know, scout-team reps and trying to put our plays into what we’re seeing on cards, you try to do every little thing you can to get better no matter what you’re doing. That’s no excuse.”