NFC North: Chicago Bears
DETROIT -- Strong outings by Chicago’s defense in wins against Minnesota and Tampa Bay conjured the illusion it might be headed toward respectability.
But what the Chicago Bears really proved Thursday in a 34-17 loss to the Detroit Lions is they are closer to the group that gave up 50 points in back-to-back weeks at New England and Green Bay than the one that forced four turnovers last week in a triumph against the Buccaneers.
"It was extremely disappointing today, and I don’t put it on the defense," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We lose as a team here. We had opportunities here offensively to move the football, to keep drives alive, to keep the defense off the field. We just didn’t play well offensively, [and] we didn’t play well enough defensively to win this game."
Prior to reeling off 474 yards of total offense, including 390 through the air, the Detroit Lions hadn’t scored a touchdown since Nov.9.
"They were going to score eventually," defensive end Jared Allen said, laughing. "You think they’re going to keep Calvin Johnson out of the end zone? Look at the first half [of the season]. They were going through a slump, then they came out. I didn’t want it to be on us. I felt like that first quarter, I felt we had a bead on them. You’ve got to play a full game, and we didn’t do that today. Defensively, we’ll take the credit for this loss. It’s unrealistic thinking you’ll keep somebody out of the end zone for the entirety of the game."
The Bears stormed to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter with Allen scooping up a loose ball after his a strip-sack on Matthew Stafford with 4:26 left in the quarter that set up Jay Cutler's 6-yard scoring strike to Alshon Jeffery.
Despite the Lions holding the ball for more than nine minutes in the quarter, Chicago stuffed the run and held them to 0-for-2 on third-down conversions.
But in the second quarter, the Lions adjusted and Chicago’s defensive floodgates opened up as the home team reeled off 21 unanswered in the second quarter. Similar to how Chicago’s offense attacked Detroit early in the game, the Lions moved to a quicker, more rhythmic passing game that put the Bears on their heels.
Free safety Chris Conte left the game with an eye injury in the second quarter, which only worsened matters as Johnson caught two touchdown passes just before intermission. Rookie Brock Vereen filled in for the injured Conte and the Lions took advantage.
The Bears also made the mistake of leaving rookie Kyle Fuller, who missed practice all week because of a knee injury, in single coverage against Johnson, who finished the game with 146 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches.
"I was pretty excited," Stafford said of Chicago’s decision to play Johnson one-on-one. "We had an aggressive game plan when it came to that. They had shown it on tape that they were going to do it. They were successful against Tampa doing it, rushing with five guys and getting after the quarterback. Our guys up front did a heck of a job, and every time we dropped back to throw, it seemed like good things were happening, so we continued to do that."
Johnson wasn’t the only Lion doing damage. Golden Tate caught eight of the 10 passes thrown his way for 89 yards, and Joique Bell rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Chicago has given up 140 points in its past three road games; outscored 31-7 in the second quarter in New England, 28-0 in the second quarter against Green Bay, and 21-0 Thursday against the Lions.
"We’ve still got to take it one day at a time. In this league, it’s week to week. Once you get into the game, your record is out the window," safety Ryan Mundy said. "You look at the Lions, they didn’t score an offensive touchdown the last few games and they lost their last two games. But that’s a hill of beans when it comes to this game, because this is a new game."
So what’s next for Chicago’s embattled defense? Defensive end Willie Young said quitting isn’t an option, nor is showing frustration.
"It’s about figuring out how to come back next week and beat Dallas," Young said. "I can’t speak offensively, but defensively we’ve got to make corrections. If we were to throw it in the tank, then next week, Dallas will do the same thing that Detroit just did to us. I can look at these guys' eyes and know they feel the same way. We’re never down. We could’ve easily given up late in the game. We could’ve laid down. But we’d never do that; too much pride on the defensive side of the ball."
Kyle Fuller, a cornerback, had been injured Sunday against Tampa Bay, and it seemed like there was a good chance that the first on-field meeting of the Fullers might not happen on Thursday. But Kyle ended up active, and the Fuller brothers lined up across from each other for a few plays.
And when they did, Corey did exactly what he said he was going to. He laughed.
“It was a lot of fun,” Corey said.
Corey said Kyle was talking, trying to get quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw at him toward the end of the game for a real Fuller vs. Fuller moment. That didn't happen, but it still became a nice moment for a family that had custom jerseys made for the occasion and planned on spending Thanksgiving dinner at Corey’s place in Michigan on Thursday night -- Kyle included.
Corey, who talks trash with his brother often, got his teammates involved as well. Johnson, who was Fuller’s assignment a good portion of the game, had 11 catches for 146 yards. After the game, Johnson was asked if Corey had asked Johnson to apologize to his brother for having a big game on him.
Nah, Johnson said, Corey told him to keep going at him. Johnson did -- but Corey was still impressed what he saw from his brother.
“I did,” Corey said. “I told him to pour it on him. You know, for Kyle to travel and cover Calvin Johnson, that’s big. That says a lot for a rookie.
“So he can only get better. So he had a great year. I actually think he did a pretty good job today. He was just covering Megatron, and he didn’t get the name Megatron for nothing.”
"No frustration, no frustration," Young said. "I'm not frustrated one bit. You have to be a professional. If you get frustrated, to me that's like being a wimp."
Quick conversation: Cornerback Tim Jennings and defensive end Jared Allen stood in one corner of the locker room discussing different aspects of the game. The conversation wasn't animated, and it appeared the two were talking strategy.
Marshall cuts it short: Receiver Brandon Marshall spent less than two minutes addressing the media at his locker in the aftermath of the game, and the tenor of his remarks were of extreme disappointment as opposed to anger. Marshall caught six passes for 42 yards.
Young, who left the Lions in free agency during the offseason, was actually one of the more well-liked players in the Detroit locker room during his four years with the Lions, but, yeah, Young thought Stafford might be trying to fete him just a little bit.
“Absolutely, yeah,” Young said, laughing. “Yeah. He’s buttering me up on that one. Matt Stafford, man, he was a cool guy. He came to work every day, put the work in. Obviously he’s a very talented quarterback. He doesn’t make too many bad decisions, I would say. I know this year he hasn’t been because they’ve been on the winning side of things.
Stafford is smart to try to get on Young's good side, as Young has flourished since leaving Detroit in the offseason. Finally getting a chance to be an every-down defensive end in his fifth NFL season, he is 13th in the NFL in sacks with eight -- two more than he had in his four seasons with the Lions. Considering the Lions could end up starting two rookies on the offensive line Thursday if Cornelius Lucas replaces the injured Riley Reiff at left tackle, and Young could have a big return to his old stadium.
Young was a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State, but ended up as mostly a rotational player until last season, when he played every game after a season-ending injury to Jason Jones. Having had to learn behind Kyle VandenBosch, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Andre Fluellen in various forms helped him as he watched from the sidelines.
“Don’t get it wrong now, is it tough sitting on the sidelines, not playing, knowing that you have what it takes to be a player, yeah, it’s tough, it’s real tough,” Young said. “But I was able to figure out a way to deal with that and take everything that I could from the game, from the sideline standpoint. It just bettered me as a person and obviously as a player.”
It’s a progression Lions players expected when Young received more snaps, especially after he made the leap from 11 tackles in 2012 to 47 in 2013, which helped set up his free agency move.
Young said Tuesday he didn’t know if the Lions made him an offer during free agency or if they even called his agent to inquire about his services. He just knows his agent told him he was headed to Chicago on a new deal.
When asked about Young and free agency, Lions coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t say whether or not he had wanted to bring Young back this season or not, but complimented his pass rushing ability.
His old teammates, though, saw exactly what Young could do from the beginning and figured this type of leap might come from him.
“Everybody saw what he could do from the jump,” Fluellen said. “I’m actually not surprised at all. He has a special talent and he has a really good attitude for the game.
“I’m not surprised at all.”
The Detroit Lions broke their Thanksgiving Day hex last season when they annihilated NFC North foe Green Bay. At the time, the Lions looked like a team potentially heading for the playoffs after stopping a two-game skid.
The Lions didn't win a game the rest of the season.
This season, the Lions face a Chicago Bears team that has won two straight and, much like Detroit, has a bunch of offensive talent currently failing to meet expectations. Does one of these teams break out Thursday?
ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down what could happen in this divisional Thanksgiving clash.
Rothstein: Chicago has a ton of offensive talent on paper, but this team has not put up the offense that one would think. What has been the main culprit here?
Wright: A few things, but the main issues throughout this team's struggles have been quarterback Jay Cutler, who has a penchant for committing turnovers, and the play calling. Cutler leads the league in giveaways, and in all but one of this team's losses this season, the quarterback turned over the ball multiple times. Yet in all but one of the team's victories, Cutler didn't throw an interception. So there's definitely a correlation there, as the Bears are 3-10 during Marc Trestman's tenure when they finish on the negative side of the turnover margin and 1-4 when the turnover margin is equal. Obviously, the Bears could minimize Cutler's exposure to potential turnovers by leaning more on the ground game with Matt Forte averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. But what happens is the Bears too often abandon the running game for the pass, which is understandable given all the weapons on the outside. Once the Bears start throwing it all over the yard, Cutler starts turning it over and opposing defenses capitalize (opponents have scored 82 points off Chicago's turnovers), which in turn makes it impossible to rededicate to the ground game because by then the offense is usually trying to overcome a deficit.
What's your take on the perception that Jim Caldwell has been too conservative, and do you see him loosening up some with this team trying to snap a two-game skid?
Rothstein: It's interesting because he wasn't at all against Miami, when the Lions attempted two fake punts in a half. Since then, the offense has looked completely out of rhythm, passes are getting dropped again, Stafford is under duress and Calvin Johnson is going through only the second three-game stretch of his career where he has caught less than 50 percent of his targets. But being at home cures a lot of things for Detroit typically, and that alone should help. Theoretically.
Switching to defense, what has gone into Willie Young's success with Chicago? He was emerging with Detroit, but how has his game grown?
Wright: You've been around him, Mike. You know the type of guy he is. Young's ascension is a product of the work he's put in, and the Bears just happened to bring him aboard at the perfect time in his career. Obviously it helps Young to have a veteran such as Jared Allen around to teach him some of the nuances of the game. But Young has also benefited from working with martial arts expert Joe Kim. The Bears brought in Kim as a consultant to work with the defensive linemen on hand-fighting techniques, and that's helped the group as a whole. Throw in Allen's tutelage and Young's own work ethic and you see why he's been able to put together a breakout season.
Can you provide a rundown on what's taken place with the guys Young will face, the offensive line? I know the group has struggled pretty much all season, but Riley Reiff's situation probably complicates things with the Lions looking possibly to start a couple of undrafted free agents at the tackle spots.
Rothstein: Between injuries, a small change in how the team blocks this season and just struggles with personnel, it's gotten really rough for the line. Let's start with the injuries. Right guard Larry Warford -- probably Detroit's best lineman -- is still out with a knee injury. LaAdrian Waddle, the right tackle, is healthy now but has been in and out of the lineup all season with injuries. Reiff, the left tackle, hurt his knee Sunday against the Patriots and his status is in doubt for Thursday. So the cohesion has barely been there. Also, some of the concepts have changed with how they block and how long it takes both the routes and runs to develop due to play calls, so it has put some other pressures on the line.
For so long, the Bears have used Peanut Tillman on Calvin Johnson. Tillman's out. How do the Bears deal with Johnson and Golden Tate now?
Wright: To me, that's one of the most significant concerns for the Bears entering this game. As you already know, rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller's availability for this game is uncertain with him suffering a knee injury in the win over Tampa Bay. Fuller had been playing with a broken hand and a hip pointer prior to his latest setback. Fuller's injury didn't appear to be significant initially. But if Fuller can't go, the Bears would likely go with undrafted rookie Al Louis-Jean, who possesses similar size to Tillman (6-foot-1, 187 pounds). But would you want to put an undrafted rookie on Johnson? Tim Jennings (5-8) would likely struggle matching up with Johnson. So Chicago would be in a tough spot if Fuller isn't able to play. If the Bears are forced to go with Louis-Jean, the corners would probably stay on their respective sides with the defense giving the corner to Johnson's side safety help over the top, along with extra help underneath, whether that's from a linebacker or the nickel.
The Lions have lost two in a row for the first time all season, and surely there's some level of concern starting to creep in internally. This is uncharted territory for 2014 at least, but do you believe the Lions are better equipped to deal with this type of adversity now with Jim Caldwell calling the shots?
Rothstein: Theoretically, yes, although the personal foul penalty by C.J. Mosley and then the antics from Dominic Raiola at the end of Sunday's loss to New England did have me questioning whether Caldwell's message is truly getting through. The players still seem to believe in him and in the way he goes about things, which is always trying to stay calm and not showing signs of panic. This helped earlier this season when Detroit had three straight come-from-behind wins in October and November to help put them in this position. It's why Thursday is so big. Lose three straight and thoughts of another free fall might be more than just percolating around the edges.
Cutler extended his NFL lead in turnovers (18) by fumbling on a strip-sack by Gerald McCoy in the first quarter. Tampa Bay converted the turnover into a touchdown to take an early lead.
On the positive side, Cutler didn’t commit multiple turnovers or throw an interception for the first time since Oct. 12, and it’s no coincidence that in all but one of the club’s losses this season the quarterback turned over the ball multiple times. Aside from the turnover, Cutler didn’t put up stellar numbers (season-low 130 yards passing with a passer rating of 87.0), but he played well enough to lead the team to victory.
On six first-half drives against the Buccaneers, Chicago’s offense generated 68 yards and three first downs, with one of those coming by way of a roughing-the-kicker call on the team’s second possession.
Bears coach Marc Trestman called the offense’s performance in the first half “very poor because of the mistakes that we made.”
Of the club’s six first-half possessions, three went three-and-out and one ended in a Cutler fumble the Buccaneers converted into a touchdown. Receiver Brandon Marshall was flagged for illegal-block penalties on two of those drives (one was declined), and he was flagged for false start on the team’s second play from scrimmage.
Cutler finished the game with one touchdown pass and a passer rating of 87.0 after absorbing three sacks in the first half and producing a passer rating of 65.0.
“What was a positive was the way we came out in the second half and took advantage of the turnovers,” Trestman said. “We got the ball in the end zone. I think that was the positive part of the day for Jay and our entire offense, that we were able to push it in. Everybody was taking turns. It wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We got out of sync. But we hung in there. Again, defensively getting the turnovers and being able to push the ball into the end zone was the most favorable part of the day offensively for Jay and for all of us. The penalties, the things that we can control, are the things that we’ve got to continue to work on. We will in various ways. Those are the things that take away from your opportunity to move the football, stay in sequence, do the things you want to do with your entire offense. When you’re in sequence and you’re not hurting yourself, certainly you have opportunities to do more things.”
Now the Bears plan to use the next day and a half to absorb a stripped-down game plan headed into Thursday’s contest at Detroit with just a four-day turnaround. Several of the team’s coaches returned to Halas Hall Sunday night to jump start the game plan installation process.
Trestman called the short turnaround “a challenge” but pointed to the staff’s “experience in putting game plans together and knowing how much information guys can handle going into a game without practice time.”
The Bears plan to put in the game plan on Tuesday, hold several meetings and walk-through sessions the same day and board a plane Wednesday for Detroit.
When the NFL first introduced Thursday games, Cutler said he “liked them because you got the weekend off,” which was “kind of like a mini-bye.”
Now, Cutler said the turnaround for a Thursday game is more difficult.
“As you get older, it gets harder,” Cutler said. “I think the older you get, the harder it gets game planning-wise, physically, just getting your body back to where it needs to be for game time.”
Briggs suffered his injury in the second quarter, and athletic trainers escorted the veteran to the locker room just before intermission. The club later announced he wouldn’t return when the Bears hit the field to start the second half.
Just minutes later, the Bears announced Fuller was out for the game.
A seven-time Pro Bowler with a contract set to expire at the end of the season, Briggs, 34, has already missed three games due to a rib injury.
Briggs currently earns $4.75 million in base salary from a three-year extension signed back in 2012, and there’s a chance the linebacker won’t be back after this season, a situation the veteran expects. Briggs has missed a total of 10 games over the past two seasons. He missed seven outings last year due to a fractured shoulder.
Fuller came into Sunday’s game tied for eighth in the NFL with three interceptions, which is first among rookies. Fuller has contributed 46 tackles and six pass breakups through 11 games and was credited with six tackles against the Buccaneers.
Despite breaking his right hand and suffering a hip pointer during the team’s Oct. 19 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Fuller hasn’t missed any games.
Forte finished with a game-high 89 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the 21-13 victory, but the offense managed to put together scoring drives of only 58, 13 and 15 yards. The Bears scored 14 of their 21 points off turnovers provided by the defense.
Forte said penalties and a lack of attention to detail hurt the Bears all afternoon. The Bears have still not scored above 28 points in a game this year.
“It was all on us,” Forte said. “Penalties ... backing us up first-and-15 and not executing little nuances of the plays. If all 11 aren’t on the same page, sometimes the play can work but most times it won’t work. Halftime we came in and Kyle [Long] wrote on the board, ‘execute and no excuses.’ Don’t make excuses of why we didn’t do this or why we didn’t do that, just go out there and execute the plays and drive the ball down the field.”
Penalties continue to plague the Bears. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was flagged three times in the first half, twice for illegal blocking (the Bucs declined one of the illegal blocking penalties) and once for a false start.
Marshall offered no explanations for why the Bears looked so sluggish, but he did throw a bouquet at the defense for its four-turnover, five-sack effort.
“Man, they won the game,” Marshall said. “They did a great job today. We’re really proud of them. They did a great job.”
CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears' 21-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
1. Defense is the backbone of the team: Sounds crazy, right? We’re talking about the same defense responsible for surrendering 50-plus points consecutive weeks to New England and Green Bay. Certain people even accused the defense of giving up three weeks ago at Lambeau Field. Guess what? The defense is the team’s strength. Look it up. Week 12’s four-takeaway, five-sack effort versus the Bucs is another example of the defense willing the Bears to a win. With the exception of Green Bay (both games) and New England, the Bears defense has shown up every week. The victory over Minnesota -- that’s on the defense. The road win at New York -- the work of the defense. The Bears haven’t scored more than 28 points in 11 games. Yet, the team still finds itself 5-6. That’s actually a remarkable accomplishment, given the putrid offensive output. Here’s a question you never imagined asking yourself: Where would the Bears be without the defense? Scary stuff.
2. Now... about that offense: The offense is a wreck. Zero first-half points against the 2-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Trailing 10-0 at halftime? Are you kidding me? Even with the benefit of amazing field position almost the entire afternoon, the Bears managed to score 21 points. There needs to be a full-scale offseason investigation to figure out why the offense is broken. The group looks lethargic. Is it the play calling? Is it the quarterback? Is it the work of moody skill position players? You cannot pin this colossal failure on the injuries to the offensive line. Did fill-in left guard Brian de la Puente have a tough time against Gerald McCoy? Absolutely. But even when the offensive line appeared to settle down after halftime, the Bears still couldn’t mount a drive unless the defense gift-wrapped field position deep inside Tampa territory. The Bears had one respectable drive to begin the second half. One drive! How much deeper can the offense sink? We’ll find out over the final five games.
3. Yellow flags everywhere: It doesn’t help the underachieving offense that somebody seems to commit a penalty every drive. Instead of first-and-10, it’s first-and-15. Instead of second-and-1, it’s second-and-10. Brandon Marshall hurt the Bears in the first half with a pair of illegal blocking penalties and one false start. The Bears (six penalties for 45 yards) actually won the penalty battle over the Bucs (nine penalties for 87 yards), but let’s keep in mind that Tampa is 2-9 for a reason. The Bears lack discipline. This is another area of the team that isn’t improving. The focus is not where it needs to be.
4. Feed Matt Forte: Forte is the best player on offense. Why only five carries in the first half? Just another example of the Bears forgetting about one of the most versatile tailbacks in the league. Forte did catch four passes for 25 yards in the opening 30 minutes, but haven’t opposing defenses caught on to Jay Cutler constantly checking down to Forte? You know what teams haven’t picked up on? Running the ball, because the Bears rarely do it with any consistency. Forte finished the game with 89 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts. He is one of the few bright spots for an offense that is struggling to forge any sort of identity, outside of being dysfunctional.
5. Stephen Paea makes contract push: In the final year of his original rookie contract, Paea is second on the team with 6.0 sacks. Paea dominated the interior of the Bucs offensive line, sacking Josh McCown twice and forcing a fumble that McCown eventually recovered. Paea is another homegrown talent, developed by the team that drafted him in 2011 in the second round. Organizations love to reward their own. Even though Paea wasn’t drafted by current general manager Phil Emery, the defensive tackle has done enough to warrant a new deal. Paea is incredibility fast, strong and athletic. His issue is staying healthy. We are finally starting to see what Paea can do when he avoids injuries. He seems like a smart investment, as long as the price is reasonable.
“We were challenged, offensively,” Cutler said. “Defensively, they were playing really good football. They just had to sustain that. Offensively, Marc [Trestman] challenged us. The players, we challenged each other. We knew if we continued down this road, we were going to lose this game. We didn’t want that to happen.”
Asked to elaborate on how the team was challenged, Cutler said, “Verbally, we questioned guys. Made sure everyone was in this for the right reasons. Made sure when we left that locker room, everyone’s mind was right on what we wanted to accomplish.”
The Bears obviously responded well to the halftime challenges.
The offense marched 58 yards on six plays in the team’s first possession of the second half, with Cutler finding Alshon Jeffery for a 2-yard touchdown to cap the drive and put the club’s first points on the board.
Still, the Bears finished with a season-low 204 yards on offense and converted on just 25 percent of third downs. Matt Forte scored a pair of touchdowns late off turnovers forced by the defense to lift the Bears.
“To me, it was very easy,” Trestman said of his first-half assessment of the team. “Dropped balls, penalties, tipped balls, all of that. As I said to the guys at halftime, there was no one guy. We passed it around to everybody. You can’t be efficient playing football that way, especially when you are dropping footballs and you have penalties. When we get over that, we’ll move the ball effectively and efficiently, but we have to get over that. And we did.”
Week 12 Report Card: Bucs at Bears
About the only positive is Jay Cutler didn't throw an interception. Cutler completed 17 of 27 pass attempts for a paltry 130 yards. The Bears had one completion for more than 20 yards (26). Only five passes total gained 10 or more yards. Cutler's protection was just OK. Tampa recorded three sacks (one forced fumble/recovery). Ugly.
Matt Forte had a strong second half to finish with 89 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Forte carried the ball only five times in the opening 30 minutes. Marc Trestman prefers to throw the ball. We get it. But maybe the reason the Bears keep falling behind every week is because Trestman forgets about Forte. Forte is the best player on offense. Take the ball out of Cutler's hands and give it to Forte. The Bears will be better off for it.
Josh McCown passed for 341 yards (25-of-48), but he also had two balls picked off (Chris Conte and Ryan Mundy). McCown was sacked five times and rarely seemed comfortable in the pocket. The Bears experienced a couple of breakdowns -- McCown hit on big pass plays to Louis Murphy (54 yards), Vincent Jackson (40 yards), and Mike Evans (19-yard touchdown) -- but forcing four turnovers made up for the errors.
The Buccaneers don't have an effective run game. That's largely because the Bucs' offensive line is poor, a group the Bears' front-seven exploited throughout the entire afternoon, despite Lance Briggs leaving early with a groin injury. Tampa gained only 66 yards rushing on 22 carries (3.0 yards per carry), and never appeared to challenge the Bears in the trenches.
The Bears have enough talent to rout Tampa. Why was it so close? The offense is horrible, a direct reflection of Trestman. The head coach passed on a chance to run one more play before halftime. He declined. Credit goes to Mel Tucker and the defense for saving the day (four takeaways and five sacks). However, the Bears lack the focus and discipline to beat quality opponents. Sunday's win against the Bucs did nothing to change that assessment.
Although the Bears constantly harp about forcing turnovers, several players in the locker room said they expected to gobble up more takeaways as the weather worsened.
As the game progressed Sunday, the rain began to fall harder and the Bears forced three turnovers in the third quarter alone -- four for the game.
Kromer stays late: Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer stayed in the locker room and met for several minutes with tight end Martellus Bennett before going over to offensive linemen Jordan Mills and Kyle Long. Bennett appeared to be discussing better ways to get open for Jay Cutler.
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: Fox
The records scrub away some of the shine for Sunday's matchup at Soldier Field between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, but the storylines involved remain interesting for what should be a competitive contest.
First off, there's the obvious with Lovie Smith coming to town to coach against his former team, which is led by former Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown. But even with the Bucs owning a 2-8 record, they're just two games out of first place in the NFC South.
The Bears, meanwhile, are looking to win back-to-back contests for the first time this season since Weeks 2 and 3.
Remember, the Bears fired Smith after a 2012 season in which he led the team to a 10-6 record. The club hasn't recorded a double-digit win season since, and doesn't appear to be on the way to doing it this year, either.
Bears reporter Michael C. Wright takes a look at the matchup with Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinkas:
Wright: Pat, the Buccaneers are coming off a big road win at Washington, and I've long thought they were a much more talented team than the record indicated. Obviously, it's probably too late to save the season. But how's the atmosphere out there coming off this win, and what's the next step for the Bucs?
Yasinkas: The atmosphere is a lot better than you would expect from a 2-8 team. That's mainly due to the fact the Bucs are only two games behind Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South. And, you're right, this is a talented team. If the Bucs can put that talent together down the stretch, they could end up being a playoff team. It may sound crazy, but they're not far off the pace in the NFC South.
I thought last year's strong finish by Chicago would carry over into this season. But it hasn't. What's gone wrong for the Bears?
Wright: Where do I start? I think people put too much faith in the offense, expecting it to perform at the same level or better than it did in 2013. But what folks don't understand is the Bears sort of caught teams by surprise last season because opponents didn't know exactly what to expect out of a Marc Trestman offense. Opponents adjusted in 2014 to what the Bears put on film in 2013, and they've had trouble coming up with a sufficient counterpunch. On the other side of the ball, the Bears revamped the front four, but haven't received the production commensurate with the investment. The Bears miscalculated what the staff would be able to get out of the linebacking corps, which has struggled, not to mention the secondary.
Surely, there's quite a bit of disappointment about Tampa Bay's record, especially when considering how the Bucs have squandered fourth-quarter leads five times this season. Why haven't the Bucs been able to hold leads, and overall, what's the thought out there regarding the job done so far by former Bears coach Lovie Smith?
Yasinkas: The Bucs have had their share of disappointing losses. They've blown five fourth-quarter leads and the reasons for that are collapses by the defense and an inability by the offense to protect a lead. That has been very disappointing and you can make a strong case that the Bucs should have a much better record than they do. Fans aren't very pleased with what Lovie Smith has done so far. He has been stubborn, sticking to a Tampa 2 defense that may be antiquated and an offense that's conservative. But the Washington game was a good example of what "Lovie Ball" can be when it works properly. Smith's record isn't very good, but he's not on the hot seat. Ownership believes he can show some promise down the stretch and turn things around with another offseason.
There has been a lot of talk about Jay Cutler's future in Chicago. Does he have one?
Wright: Boy, that's a good question that I'm not sure I can answer at this point. Obviously with the contract, Cutler is sort of handcuffed to the team for the next couple of seasons. But if Cutler doesn't improve down the stretch, I could see the Bears looking for ways to cut ties (a trade perhaps?). The Bears gave Cutler a $126.7 million contract, and he certainly hasn't produced at the level you'd expect a player making that type of money. So if the arrow isn't pointing up for Cutler at the conclusion of the season, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the Bears entered 2015 with an open competition at the position or looked to trade him in the offseason.
Speaking of quarterbacks, when Josh McCown left Chicago to sign with the Buccaneers, it seemed like an ideal match, especially when considering how he performed in 2013 as the fill-in for Cutler. Can you give me a rundown as to why has McCown struggled this season?
Yasinkas: McCown admitted recently that he was pressing too much in the first three games. He was trying to make something happen out of nothing and that led to some mistakes. But McCown got five games to sit back and watch while he dealt with a thumb injury. In the past two games, he has been much more efficient. The Washington game was similar to what he did in Chicago last year. If he can continue to do that the rest of the season, the Bucs will be very happy.
I know it's only Year 2, but this league doesn't have much patience anymore. Is Marc Trestman on the hot seat?
Wright: Similar to Cutler's situation, I think it all depends on how the team performs down the stretch. At this point, I don't think general manager Phil Emery is inclined to fire Trestman in part because of the investment in Cutler. Prior to Trestman's arrival, Cutler had played for three different offensive coordinators in three different systems over four seasons. So for Emery, gaining some level of stability for Cutler was important, which is what the GM believed he did in bringing aboard Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Remember, the Bears signed Cutler to a seven-year contract, and Emery doesn't want his quarterback playing in yet another system for another coach. So unless the Bears totally nose dive over the last six games, Trestman's job is safe. Certainly, there will be scapegoats let go at the conclusion of the season regardless of what happens. But I don't think Trestman is on the hot seat. He'll get another season unless things go totally awry.