In this week’s edition, Dickerson rightfully gives receiver Alshon Jeffery some love for his outstanding performance in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota. Dickerson writes:
"Marc Trestman's questionable decision-making in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings obscured Jeffery's brilliant performance in the Metrodome, in which he caught 12 passes for a team-record 249 yards and two touchdowns. In just his second year in the NFL, Jeffery is only the eighth player in NFL history to have two 200-yard receiving games in one season. On the year, Jeffery has 70 catches for 1,109 yards and five touchdowns, not bad production from a second-round pick who some viewed as a malcontent coming out of South Carolina. Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are rewriting the Bears' record book at wide receiver, and the duo has been together for less than two seasons."
Hopefully Jeffery and Marshall can stay together a few more seasons. Let’s not forget Marshall’s deal is up in 2014, and the club would be wise to try to re-up with him before that contract actually comes up on its final season.
-- Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times believes Jay Cutler is the better quarterback for the Bears at this point than backup Josh McCown, which is obvious. But the difference between the two isn’t as night-and-day as you might think. Yes, with McCown under center the Bears are gaining more yards but scoring fewer points than they did with Cutler running the show. But all the variables need to be taken into account when looking at the situation, instead of relying solely on statistics. See, the Bears scored four of their five touchdowns on defense this season with a healthy Cutler starting at quarterback, which skews the scoring average somewhat. With McCown under center, the Bears scored one defensive TD, on David Bass’ interception return against Baltimore. Taking that into account, which means we subtract the defensive TDs and freebie extra-point kicks, the Bears averaged 21.75 points with Cutler engineering the offense and 19 with McCown at the helm. And just two games -- one Bears win and one loss -- this season were decided by two points or fewer.
We won’t even get into comparing the turnover numbers.
When Cutler first went down against the Redskins on Oct. 20, he had completed 3 of 8 passes for 28 yards, with an interception and a passer rating of 8.3, before leaving the contest with 9:56 left in the first half. McCown led Chicago’s offense to 24 points in that 45-41 shootout. Then, when Cutler went down again Nov. 10 at Detroit, the Bears trailed 21-13. So McCown accounted for six of the club’s points in that loss by virtue of an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marshall in the final minute.
If we’re looking at it from the standpoint of physical skill set, sure, Cutler undoubtedly is the man to lead the Bears over the next four games, provided he’s healthy. But McCown certainly hasn’t been a slouch, and he deserves some credit. He’s played well, generating a passer rating of 103.6 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-to-1 that supports that assertion.
-- CSNChicago.com’s John Mullin ponders whether the loss of Cutler to the offense was more significant than the loss of linebacker Lance Briggs to the defense.
"Each team is unique and each offseason definitely has a wide variety of challenges in putting together a team that has the opportunity to win championships," Emery wrote in response to a question. "This coming offseason will be the most challenging of the three due to the fact that we have a high number of Bears players with expiring contracts. It's a great opportunity to use all the resources the Bears have to put together a championship team."
Given the team's situation, however, it must allocate those assets selectively. That's part of the reason Emery continues to say the team won't address contracts until after the season, when it has expended enough time to thoroughly evaluate every player and how he might fit in the future in relation to potential targets in free agency and the draft.
So even though Cutler's body of work this season appears to be incomplete due to injuries, it's not exactly a slam dunk the Bears would use the franchise tag on the quarterback because of the ramifications it would have on the team's salary cap, which could hurt the team's effort to make additions at other positions.
"The franchise tag is a tool that's available if both parties can't reach an immediate agreement," Emery wrote. "It protects both the player and the team and allows you to continue to negotiate with the player knowing that you retain his rights for the upcoming season, and the player knows he will be paid within the average of the top five players at this position. The franchise tag for the quarterback position has unique challenges because the average comes out to be such a big portion of your cap and your total money available to spend on other players to acquire to help your team."
The franchise tag for quarterbacks in 2014 is projected to fall in the neighborhood of a little more than $16 million, which would be fully guaranteed with that entire amount hitting a team's books next season. So if the team decides Cutler is the team's franchise quarterback moving forward, it would rather work out a long-term deal with him than be forced to apply the tag.
If the team tagged Cutler, it would be on the hook in 2014 for the projected $16-plus million as well as the cap charge of $18.183 million tied to the contract of Julius Peppers if the defensive end's deal isn't renegotiated. The Bears would have to fit in those deals with potential new contracts for defensive tackles Henry Melton, Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins as well as cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson, defensive end Corey Wootton and safety Major Wright provided the club decides it wants to bring them back.
Center Roberto Garza's deal expires at the end of this season, too, as do the contracts of left guard Matt Slauson, kicker Robbie Gould, return man Devin Hester and McCown.
"With the franchise tag being so high for the quarterback position, to use it and not sign the individual to a long-term deal hurts the team because you lose the ability to prorate the amount of guaranteed salary over the length of the contract," Emery wrote. "Proration lowers the salary cap number in relation to that player's contract. Obviously the lower the number in relation to the salary cap, the more players you can sign to help your team reach its goals."
Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 14 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002
The Chicago Bears dropped a spot in the NFC North standings by virtue of their 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and also fell back one place in the ESPN.com Power Rankings from 14th to No. 15, the team’s lowest ranking since the start of the season.
The Bears severely jeopardized their postseason aspirations with the defeat at Minnesota, and the degree of difficulty only increases with the club facing a well-rested Dallas Cowboys team Monday night at Soldier Field. Because of a putrid 3-6 conference record, Chicago more or less needs to win the NFC North to advance to the playoffs.
That’s still possible, but the Bears need the first-place Lions to slip over the next four weeks.
The possible good news is that the Bears could welcome back starting quarterback Jay Cutler and stalwart linebacker Lance Briggs for the matchup against the Cowboys. Briggs hasn’t played since Oct. 20, and Cutler has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain. Bears coach Marc Trestman said the team won’t know about their availability until later in the week, but if they return, it could boost some life into a team mired in a two-game skid.
Despite an awful showing against the run at Minnesota, the Bears did pump up the pass rush in part because of healthier bodies along the defensive line -- a situation expected to improve as new addition Jeremiah Ratliff works back into playing shape. The addition of Briggs should at least bring back some stability in the front seven.
Elsewhere in the NFC North, the first-place Lions moved up one spot to 12th in this week’s rankings, while the Green Bay Packers fell another two spots to No. 19. The Packers have fallen two slots in each of the past four weeks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers out. There’s a chance the quarterback could return for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Minnesota, meanwhile, remained at No. 28 despite its win over the Bears.
The Bears received two 14th-place votes from the panelists, one for No. 15, two for 16th, and one for the No. 19 spot.
While the games remaining on the schedule certainly appear to be winnable, it’s worth pondering how much fight the Bears have left in them. After the loss to the Vikings, the scene in the locker room was one of dejection and regret for missing out on a prime opportunity, and some players even wondered privately whether the defeat ended the club’s season.
For the Bears to have any chance of advancing to the postseason, they’ll need to forget about the disappointment from the past two outings and focus on the task at hand, while knowing in the back of their minds they still might need help to make the playoffs even if they win out.
Lee confirmed later Tuesday afternoon that he's ready to return, saying he was "ready to roll" against the Bears and that he'll return to practice on Thursday.
Lee, who is second on the team with 93 total tackles, suffered a pulled left hamstring during Dallas' game against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 10. He had been projected to miss three or four weeks, but he increased his rehab in an effort to rejoin the team sooner.
Jones confirmed on his twice-a-week radio show on KRLD-FM in Dallas that Lee, who leads the team with four interceptions, will return against Chicago.
"I think I have a great shot for returning next week," Lee said after the Cowboys' victory against the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving Day. "I have to put the work in and go through practice and go through the progressions, but I feel great [and] I should have a good shot."
The Cowboys (7-5) are ranked 27th in the league in run defense and have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns, tied for eight most in the league.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Coming off his first game action in more than a year, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff called his debut Sunday "a good start," but he made it clear he won't be participating in any back and forth regarding his former team, the Dallas Cowboys, in the lead-up to next Monday night's matchup at Soldier Field.
"It's just another game. It's just football," Ratliff said. "I don't get caught up in all that silly rivalry stuff or some payback. The thing is we're here to win, and we're going to give every effort to do that."
Ratliff's ex-teammate Jason Hatcher believes Ratliff is downplaying the personal significance to Monday's game.
"If I leave I'm going to try to come back and beat the crap out of them," Hatcher said. "It's not another football game. He's going to be up for it. He's a great football player. They're going to have their work cut out if he's healthy. He's one of the best interior linemen in the game. Hopefully he'll be healthy and hopefully they can contain him."
Drafted by Dallas in 2005, Ratliff was named to the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons (2008-11) before he was released in October. The Cowboys put Ratliff (who had sports hernia surgery last December) on the PUP list at the start of training camp after he'd suffered a strained hamstring in the team's conditioning run.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said in a radio interview Tuesday that he's sure Ratliff will be inspired to face his former team, although it will be disappointing to see him play against Dallas after he couldn't contribute for the Cowboys this season.
“That’s the decision I made in the best interest of the team,” Trestman said. “It didn’t work out. I recognize that and I accept accountability for that.”
"It’s a tough situation. That’s what kickers are paid to do: to make kicks," long snapper Patrick Mannelly said. "They’re not going to make them all. Unfortunately, he didn’t make that one. But we know the next one he’s going to make.”
The Vikings moved the ball 47 yards on their ensuing possession to win on Blair Walsh's 34-yard field goal, as the Bears fell to 6-6.
The argument could be made that Trestman should have run at least one more play to try to shorten the distance of Gould's potential game-winning field goal attempt. At the same time, the argument could be made that 47 yards was well within Gould’s range.
After all, he’s connected on five field goals throughout his career from distances of 55 yards or more, including 12 consecutive field goals from 50 yards or more headed into Sunday’s game. Gould had nailed all five of his field goals this season from distances between 40 and 49 yards going into the matchup with the Vikings, and over the last two seasons he’s been 12 of 14 from that distance.
Overall, however, Gould is least accurate throughout his career from the 40-to-49-yard range (72.7 percent). Going into Sunday, Gould had made 100 percent over nine years from 20 to 29 yards out, 90.5 percent from 30 to 39 yards, and 78.9 percent from distances of 50 yards or more.
“It’s very simple. Once we got inside the 30-yard line, we were going to kick it,” Trestman said. “We were well within Robbie’s range. We ran the ball on first down and got three [yards]. We were sitting there on second-and seven, and the ball is in the middle of the field. With all the things that had happened throughout the game, including Minnesota’s failure to make a field goal when they went back with penalties, we were in a great position right there to kick it and finish the game.”
Prior to Gould’s miss, Walsh connected on a 39-yard field goal for what should have been the game winner. But the field goal was nullified when officials called Rhett Ellison for a 15-yard facemask penalty. The flag pushed back the Vikings to the Chicago 39, and Walsh’s next try from 57 yards out was wide left.
That sequence played a role in Trestman’s thinking regarding his decision to try a field goal on second down. Trestman also said “because the ball was [spotted] in the middle of the field was really the biggest reason.”
“The decision is not anything I regret,” Trestman said. “I regret that I have to take accountability that it didn’t. ...I don’t regret that I have to take accountability for it, but I do. I made the decision to do it on second down and 7, and we didn’t get it done.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler defended Trestman’s decision.
“I think everyone in this little, cubicle room that we’re in thought that he was going to make the kick,” Cutler said on ESPN 1000’s “The Jay Cutler Show."
"He’s made them time after time after time. I’m not saying it’s Robbie’s fault that we lost, because that’s far from the truth. We felt good about the situation we were in to kick it right there. We would have run the ball again and got 2-3 more yards, so it still would have been a 40-something kick. I stand by the call, I liked the call and everyone on the sideline felt good about it.”
Trestman admitted he second guesses himself “a lot afterwards because I want to be perfect for the guys, and when things don’t work, I hold myself accountable for it because I’m making every decision in the best [interest of the team].” But this wasn’t a case in which Trestman regretted the decision he made a day later.
“We decided that we were in range, and were going to make that kick,” Trestman said. “Because it didn’t work, we’re all asking those questions. I totally understand and I accept that. But as I look back on it, where the ball was, watching Robbie kick all the weeks I’ve watched him, there was no question in my mind that we were going to finish the game right there.”
“Getting better,” Cutler said Monday during “The Jay Cutler Show” on ESPN 1000. “Still got to talk to the doctors, gotta go through some stuff this week. I don’t know. I think if we’re gonna have any shot at playing, I’m gonna have to practice [this week]. I still feel like I’m gonna get back here really soon. I want to play. It’s just the trainers and doctors and going through the scenario we’ve got to go through.”
Cutler missed three consecutive games due to a severe high ankle sprain sustained in the second quarter of a Nov. 10 loss to the Detroit Lions. Veteran Josh McCown filled in for the last three games and produced a 2-1 record, throwing for 1,038 yards and five touchdowns with only one interception.
In those three starts, McCown produced a passer rating of 103.8. On the season, McCown is 3-2 as a starter with an overall passer rating of 103.6, which currently ranks as the second best in Bears single-season history.
McCown passed for 355 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings.
Cutler said he ran on a treadmill Monday, and “felt good about that,” adding that he hopes “there’s no ill effects tomorrow.”
With the team’s postseason prospects on shaky ground, Cutler said that even if the Bears fall out of contention for a playoff berth in the coming weeks, he’d still like to return to the lineup.
“I want to play as soon as I can play. I’ve been out long enough,” Cutler said. “Just want to be able to help the guys be able to win football games, no matter what the situation is.”
Similar to his recovery from a torn muscle in his groin back in November, Cutler underwent a vigorous regimen to return to full health from the latest setback.
The rehabilitation process included Cutler spending copious amounts of time improving mobility in the injured ankle, in addition to doing exercises to strengthen the area. Cutler also used an ARP machine to speed up the recovery process.
Cutler has missed portions of two games already this season, in addition to the three other contests. The quarterback has completed 63 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a passer rating of 88.4.
“I’m not sure where we are right now [with Cutler’s progress],” Trestman said. “He visited the doctor today, and we’ll know more Thursday or Friday. But [his return to the field will] start with some limited work, see how he moves around and we’ll take it from there. It’s still week to week. I’ll know a little bit more in the next 24 hours. I really can’t answer that question right now. I’m not trying to hide anything from you. That’s where we’re at.”
Cutler missed half of the club’s Oct. 20 loss to Washington due to a groin strain, and all of the team’s Nov. 4 upset win over the Green Bay Packers. Cutler returned from the groin injury in a Nov. 10 to the Lions and sprained the ankle.
With his contract set to expire after the season, Cutler admitted last week that his injury history could affect the team’s evaluation of him. Cutler missed time last season due to a concussion and six games in 2011 because of a broken thumb.
Cutler also missed a game in 2010 due to a concussion.
Front four: What a difference a couple of players make on the defensive line. Recent addition Jeremiah Ratliff made his Bears debut, and the team also welcomed the return of defensive tackle Stephen Paea. The Bears started Sunday’s game with Paea and Corey Wootton inside at the tackles with Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside before bringing in Ratliff with 10:57 left in the first quarter. The addition of Ratliff allowed for some creativity with the lineup. At times, the Bears kicked Peppers inside to play alongside Ratliff with Wootton and McClellin outside at the ends. The Bears scored sacks on each of Minnesota’s first three drives, with two coming from Peppers and another one split behind Paea and nickel corner Isaiah Frey. Peppers finished the game with 2.5 sacks.
Run D: The Bears applied pressure to Christian Ponder on passing downs, but the defense’s futility in stopping the run emerged once again with Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson shredding the unit. Peterson gained 60 yards on his first eight carries. With a 33-yard score on his first carry, Patterson became the second receiver to line up in the backfield against the Bears in two weeks and bust a long touchdown run. (St. Louis’ Tavon Austin scored on a 65-yard run on his first attempt of the game last week.) The coaching staff places the blame mostly on missed run fits, but in some cases, players are just being beaten physically by the opponent.
In addition, the staff constantly discusses the need to stop teams from hitting the Bears for large chunks of yardage, yet the defense hasn’t responded. In addition to Patterson’s 33-yard run, Peterson broke a 23-yard gain in the first quarter and finished with 211 yards, averaging 6 yards per attempt.
Jeffery a major factor: Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery produced his fifth 100-yard outing of the season, hauling in 11 passes for 245 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown that made him the club’s first 1,000-yard receiver of the season. Jeffery finished with two touchdowns on the day.
The Bears fantasized in the past about owning a true pick-your-poison scenario with their receiving corps, and it appears they’ve finally made that a reality with Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. This should be an exciting duo for at least the next couple of years; especially if rookie Marquess Wilson blossoms the way the club expects he will, and provides a threat in the slot.