Playoff hopes alive after win in Arizona

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Playoff hopes alive after win in Arizona

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chicago's defense outscored Arizona all by itself on a day when the Bears had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Charles Tillman returned an interception 10 yards for a score and Zack Bowman returned a fumble 1 yard for another TD in the Bears' 28-13 victory over the punchless Cardinals.
It was the third pick Tillman has brought back for a touchdown this season and the eighth overall by Chicago, one shy of the NFL record.
Brandon Marshall caught six passes for 68 yards and a TD, breaking the Bears franchise record for yards receiving in a season in the process.
Chicago (9-6) snapped a three-game losing streak and won for just the second time in seven tries. The Cardinals (5-10) lost for the 10th time in 11 games.
To make the playoffs as a wild card, the Bears must win at Detroit in their regular-season finale next Sunday, then have Minnesota lose to Green Bay or have Seattle lose its final two games. The Seahawks were home against San Francisco Sunday night.
Matt Forte gained 88 yards in 12 carries, including a 4-yard TD run, for Chicago before leaving with an ankle injury early in the second half.
Jay Cutler completed just one of his first 11 passes, then went 5 of 5 on a touchdown drive in the final minutes of the first half. He finished 12 of 26 for 146 yards and a touchdown.
It was the defense's dominance of Arizona's NFL-worst offense that determined the outcome.
The Cardinals continued to search for someone to move the ball.
After he threw the interception to Tillman put Chicago up 28-6 on Arizona's first offensive series after halftime, rookie Ryan Lindley was benched in favor of Brian Hoyer, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh 13 days earlier.
Kelvin Hayden picked off Hoyer's pass late in the game and returned it 39 yards to the Arizona 10.
But Adrian Wilson blocked Olindo Mare's 20-yard field goal try and Justin Bethel returned it 82 yards with 1:46 to play for the Cardinals' lone TD of the day.
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, just his second 100-yard receiving game of the season. The first was in Week 3 against Philadelphia when the Cardinals were off to a 4-0 start.
Marshall made a diving grab of Cutler's long pass at the Arizona 14 early in the game, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt threw the challenge flag before the Bears could get the next play off. After the review, the pass was ruled incomplete.
No matter, the Bears scored a moment later anyway.
Chicago pinned the Cardinals deep and, on second-and-11 from the 3, Beanie Wells' right knee gave way and he dropped the ball as he went backside first to the ground. Bowman grabbed it and skidded over the goal line for the first touchdown for the Bears defense since Nov. 4.
Fitzgerald's leaping grab of Lindley's 18-yard pass helped set up Jay Feely's 49-yard field goal that cut it to 7-3.
But Forte rambled 36 yards on the final play of the first quarter and Cutler threw 30 yards to Marshall to the Arizona 4 -- the Bears quarterback's first completion of the game in seven throws. Forte carried it in from there and Chicago led 14-3.
Arizona's defense forced a Bears punt from their 6, and the Cardinals took over at the Chicago 32. But Lindley threw three errant passes, and a fake field goal of what would have been a 50-yard attempt went nowhere.
Chicago soon gave Arizona another chance when Dave Zastudil's punt careened off the Bears' D.J. Moore and bounced into the hands of the Cardinals' Michael Adams. Adams raced to the end zone but, as a muffed punt, it was brought back to the Chicago 36. Arizona advanced to the 18 before Feely's 35-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-6 with 2:18 left in the half.
That was plenty of time for Cutler, who after completing one of his first 11 passes, went 5-for-5, capped by an 11-yarder to a wide open Marshall, to put the Bears up 21-6 with 19 seconds left in the half. The highlight of the drive was a diving grab of Cutler's 35-yard pass by Alshon Jeffery.

'Trader Pace' keeps making Bears draft picks appear

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'Trader Pace' keeps making Bears draft picks appear

The Bears results through the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft could qualify GM Ryan Pace as something of a conjurer:

After turning two picks into one player (Leonard Floyd) on Day 1, Pace went into Day 2 with seven remaining picks in the draft. He made two selections in the persons of Kansas State guard Cody Whitehair in the second round and Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard in the third, and finished the day and headed into Saturday with…seven picks. Eight actually, if you count the 2017 fourth-round pick he added via a round-two trade with the Buffalo Bills.

(So I’m wondering, if I gave him my checkbook, could he maybe turn those lonely little numbers into… . Naah, probably not).

Pace and the Bears started the 2016 draft with two fourth-round picks; by early Friday night had three: the 19th, 26th and 29th picks, Nos. 117, 124 and 127 overall. Add to those their one pick in the fifth round, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Of course, that’s before Pace picked up his magic draft wand for the day’s activities. It’s early yet.

Pace is on record stating his philosophy of staying true to the team’s player rankings on the draft board, rather than succumb to the temptation to fill a need with a lesser player than one with the highest grade available. That was apparent in trades both up and down (twice) in the first two rounds of the 2016 draft.

Throughout those proceedings, the Bears also were aggressively working the phones, according to NFL reporter Aaron Leming, shopping outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, the Bears’ two sack leaders but rendered surplus with the acquisition of Floyd.

The Bears traded up to snag Floyd at No. 9 because of their grade on him, rather than simply use their designated pick at No. 11 and select Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, their next-highest-rated edge rusher. To make that deal Pace parted with the first of his two picks in the fourth round.

After Floyd, 23 more picks went off the board with only one edge rusher (Lawson) selected before Emmanuel Ogbah was chosen by Cleveland with the first pick of the second round. Meaning: Beyond Floyd, if the hope was a pass rusher, the falloff was considerable.

Then, before Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry was taken at No. 35 by the San Diego Chargers, the Bears reportedly tried unsuccessfully to trade up to No. 34 to grab Henry. Pace said that wasn’t really in play Friday night.

“We had some early talks, honestly, before the draft even started,” Pace said. “Nothing really came to fruition.”

But other things did. The Bears traded down from No. 41 to the Buffalo Bills’ spot at No. 49. In the process they acquired not one, but two fourth-round picks: Buffalo’s No. 4 in this draft (117th overall) and the Bills’ fourth-rounder in the 2017 draft.

But the Green Bay Packers then appeared to scramble plans by jumping over the Bears to take Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs. Whether because the Packers had snatched a Bears target or because the Halas Hall draft board did not have a player worth that second-round pick, or perhaps they had designs on Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (taken at No. 46 by the Detroit Lions), the Bears moved down – again.

“When our pick is approaching and we’re realizing that there are a lot of guys here that we like, there is a chance for us to go back knowing that we got enough names that we can still get a good player and pick up some picks. That’s why we did [the trade].”

In exchange for that Buffalo pick at No. 49, the Bears acquired Seattle’s pick at No. 56 and No. 124 in the fourth round.

“I would say, a little bit of [no difference-makers],” Pace conceded. “Also, we just had enough names that I felt like if we could go back they would still be there. At some point in this draft I wanted to acquire more picks.

“This night couldn’t have worked out better for us in regards to that. So I was very happy when we were able to go back and still get the guys that we want and still get these additional picks.”

Bears: Leonard Floyd approves of deep-dish pizza

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Bears: Leonard Floyd approves of deep-dish pizza

Leonard Floyd admitted it'll take some getting used to the Chicago weather.

As for its pizza? He's already on board with that.

The Bears' first-round selection stopped by CSN's studios late Friday night and got his first taste of deep-dish pizza, specifically a Lou Malnati's pepperoni and sausage pie.

Floyd didn't have much to say while his face was stuffed with the deep-dish.

But when he did a live chat shortly after, he confirmed that the Chicago-style pizza was as good as advertised.

"If I had three thumbs I would hold all of them up," Floyd said. "Pizza was awesome, awesome."

It's safe to say he's fitting in to the Chicago lifestyle quite well already.

Check out Floyd's entire Q+A on our Facebook page.

Bears' 3rd rounder Florida DE Jonathan Bullard to add pass rush to front three

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Bears' 3rd rounder Florida DE Jonathan Bullard to add pass rush to front three

The Bears had to cut ties with defensive end Julius Peppers a couple of years ago, only to see him change from a 4-3 end to 3-4 linebacker hybrid for the Green Bay Packers. In the third round of this year’s draft, the Bears added a player whose goal is to emulate Peppers, which would be more than fine with the Bears.

“Julius Peppers is my favorite player,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Bullard was selected by the Bears with the 72nd pick of this year’s draft.

“My oldest brother actually wore No. 90 because of Julius and I wore No. 90 because of my brother but it was actually Julius," Bullard said. "We all watched him play growing up. My brother also played at a D-2 school and I wore 90 in high school.”

No. 90 came available last year when the Bears released defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. It was taken over by Greg Scruggs when he was signed on Dec. 30 for Game 16, but could be Bullard’s in the foreseeable future, particularly if Bullard plays to his self-description.

“I would say my disruption,” Bullard said of his specific strength. “I had a lot of disruption and I make things easier for my teammates to make plays, also.”

They may be very pleased with the progress of Ego Ferguson’s rehab and recovery from season-ending knee surgery but that did not stop the Bears from adding internal pressure on the defensive line with the selection of Bullard.

“We see him as a 3-4 defensive end,” said GM Ryan Pace. “He played defensive end [at Florida], bulked up and played more of a three-technique position for them.

“When you watch tape on him, there’s one thing you can’t coach, and that’s get-off. His get-off is excellent and I think there’s a lot of advantages from just that alone.”

Bullard, 6-3, 285, had 6.5 sacks in 2015 along with 17.5 tackles for loss, good enough to be a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award. He started eight games at defensive end in 2013, then all 12 games in 2014 and 14 his senior season.

“My junior year I started back out at end…but most of my senior year it was 3-technique,” Bullard said.

With the Bears set at nose tackle with Eddie Goldman and defensive end with Akiem Hicks, Bullard is expected to be part of a rotation inside in sub packages, which the Bears operated out of some 60 percent of the time in 2015, per GM Ryan Pace.

“I think because off my versatility,” Bullard said. “I can do whatever you want me to do on your defensive line, inside to outside, quickness to hold the point. So I think I’m going to bring a lot to your team.’’