Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North

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Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North

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

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 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.

John Fox, Bears coaches balancing workload with injury risk as training camp convenes

John Fox, Bears coaches balancing workload with injury risk as training camp convenes

Bears players and coaches have been preparing for 2016 intermittently for the past several months. That said, the 2016 “season” effectively begins on Thursday with the Bears holding their first practice of training camp, one that will be open to the public even though players will work the first two days without pads.

From now until early next year, the Bears will have no more than one day off at a time, save the off-week leading up to no game on Nov. 6, and other than perhaps a bonus day off here and there, such as after the Thursday, Oct. 20 night game at Green Bay, after which coach John Fox may grant his team a couple added days off, depending on the performance in Green Bay.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Pads come on for the first time since last Jan. 3 against the Detroit Lions as of Saturday’s practice. Thus begins the ongoing balancing act for coaches to maximize the amount of productive time within the parameters allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, all in the context of heat and conditions of contact.

“You’ve got to get your team ready for battle and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got guys ready to go to battle with,” Fox said. “So it’s a fine line, getting ready for football.”

The Bears already have had offseason injuries to guard Ted Larsen and wide receiver Marquess Wilson, in addition to a strained hamstring for rookie running back Jordan Howard and veterans like Pernell McPhee (knee) coming off surgery.

“It’s a combative game and injuries are part of it,” Fox said. “You’ve got to have some good fortune, and some good practice habits. That way you’re getting better and more physical, yet not to the point where you’re losing guys. Obviously with the reduction of our offseason and the things we used to do as coaches, I don’t think doing less of that is the right idea.”

[RELATED: Going to Bears Training Camp ’16 in Bourbonnais? Remember these four tips]

Training camp this year includes one of the shortest off-site stretches ever, with 10 sessions at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais and one at Soldier Field on Sat. Aug. 6.

Day, Date, Practice Time (CT)

Wednesday, July 27: Report day

Thursday, July 28: 9:35 a.m. practice (no pads)

Friday, July 29: 11:15 a.m. practice (no pads)

Saturday, July 30: 9:35 a.m. practice

Sunday, July 31: 11:15 a.m. practice

AUGUST

Day, Date, Practice Time (CT)

Monday, Aug. 1: 9:35 a.m. practice

Tuesday, Aug. 2: Off day

Wednesday, Aug. 3: 11:15 a.m. practice

Thursday, Aug. 4: 9:35 a.m. practice

Friday, Aug. 5: 11:15 a.m. practice

Saturday, Aug. 6: 12:30 p.m. Meijer Chicago Bears Family Fest (Soldier Field)

Sunday, Aug.7: Off day

Monday, Aug. 8: 11:15 a.m. practice

Tuesday, Aug. 9: 9:35 a.m. practice/final open practice

Wednesday, Aug. 10: Off day

Preseason Schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 11: Bears vs. Denver Broncos, 7 p.m.

Thursday,  Aug. 18: Bears at New England Patriots, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27: Bears vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 12 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 1: Bears at Cleveland Browns, 7 p.m.

Going to Bears Training Camp ’16 in Bourbonnais? Remember these four tips

Going to Bears Training Camp ’16 in Bourbonnais? Remember these four tips

After covering some 25 Bears training camps spanning both Bourbonnais and Platteville, this CSNChicago.com reporter has gleaned some tips for getting the most out of the fan experience:

Appreciate the effort:

A lot of the young men you’ll be watching are living playing to realize a dream they’ve had since they were as young as some of the youngest fans. They are competing for jobs every day, every snap, and even going against teammates, the effort expended is worthy of the utmost respect. A guarantee: You WILL see something spectacular, whether from a star or some young hopeful who will leave it all and then some on that practice field. Enjoy the moment.

Be polite:

If you want autographs from players, your chances improve with a little courtesy. “Hey, Cutler…” and waving a pen and program at the Bears quarterback does not play nearly as well as “Jay, Jay…” or, if you’re a young fan and really want to stand out, “Mr. Cutler, Mr. Cutler…” Players don’t always get to hear a lot of “polite.” It doesn’t guarantee a signing, but understand that there’s no way players can sign every request and still have fully functioning limbs. And if a player doesn’t stop to sign, it’s not a snub. Most players sign every other day, so this just might be their off day for signing.

Plus, if it’s post-practice, remember that these players have just gone through at least two hours of beyond-max-effort work, wearing equipment that is anything but air-conditioned and weighs as much as a small child, and getting off their feet is a necessary survival skill.

[SHOP: Buy a Jay Cutler jersey here]

Go early:

The folks at Olivet Nazarene University do a truly amazing job of crowd and traffic control, but depending on the size of the crush, particularly on peak days, you may miss some field time getting into the parking lots if you’re getting there close to the start of practice. For another thing, players are typically on the field well ahead of the scheduled start times for practice, so you’ll be seeing players working and getting loosened up if you’re there early.

Understand the cadence and order:

Practices are not continuous scrimmaging and hitting. For one thing, that’s physically not possible, or smart. The Bears have individual sessions, then depending on the day, may come together for a “live” run scrimmage without receivers, followed by a less intense session, maybe some special teams, before or after very live pass-protection and receiver-DB head-to-heads, a break, then finishing with 11-on-11 “team” sessions.

Should the Bears bring Devin Hester back to Chicago?

Should the Bears bring Devin Hester back to Chicago?

The Atlanta Falcons released kick return specialist Devin Hester on Tuesday after just two seasons with the team. 

The former Bear and four-time Pro Bowl selection, who's best known for being one of the NFL's most dangerous return men, is now in the market for a new NFL job. 

So that begs the question, should the Bears entertain the idea of bringing Hester back to Chicago in 2016?

Hester, 33, has an NFL-record 20 touchdown returns over his 10 year career. However, he only had one return touchdown during his two years in Atlanta, and collected just two receiving touchdowns and one rushing score. 

It's safe to say the Bears aren't interested in Hester as a receiver, and who knows how much gas he has left in the tank, but he has certainly made an impact during his time in the Windy City.