The Bears announced Tuesday that Clausen will be out, while Gould confirmed that same day he’d miss the remainder of the season.
In other injury news defensive end Jared Allen (ribs) is questionable for Sunday’s game along with cornerback Al Louis-Jean, and defensive end Jeremiah Ratliff (knee).
Defensive end David Bass (knee), defensive tackle Ego Ferguson (ankle), guard Kyle Long (hip) and receiver Marquess Wilson (hip) are probable.
Gould closes out the season missing four consecutive games, while Conte will miss his third straight outing.
“It was just a phone call from my agent. They talked. My position and my age, there’s not much negotiating. So, pretty straightforward,” Garza said.
Garza said the uncertainty currently surrounding the organization didn’t factor into his decision. It’s expected Chicago’s coaching staff will be let go at the conclusion of the season.
“Whether it’s coach [Marc] Trestman or whatever is gonna happen, I want to be a part of this team and this organization,” Garza said. “I believe in the things that we’re doing. Obviously, we have to do them better to try to win more games.”
A 14-year veteran, Garza has started in 175 of 205 career games, racking up 144 starts for the Bears. Garza missed four games earlier this season due to an ankle injury and admitted the time away only intensified his feelings about continuing to play.
After the 2013 season, Garza was unsure whether he wanted to return for 2014.
“[Thoughts of retirement are] always there. Obviously, you want to go out there and be able to do your job. If you can do your job, then you can keep playing,” Garza said. “When I got hurt, those four weeks watching the team practice, it was tough to sit on the sidelines. Right there I knew I wanted to keep going.”
When the Bears signed Brian de la Puente last April to a one-year contract, it was believed he would eventually take over as the starting center. But de la Puente suffered a season-ending ankle injury in November, and Friday’s signing signifies the Bears could be committed to keeping Garza as the starter for at least one more season.
Garza’s extension materialized on Christmas.
“Everybody knows how much I love what I do,” Garza said. “I have to go out there and do my job to the best of my ability, and that is something that football makes you do.”
That seems like ages ago.
Since then, the Bears have dealt with the drama of offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer outing himself as an anonymous source in an NFL Network report, losing receiver Brandon Marshall for the season due to injury, the benching of Jay Cutler only to go back to him due to a mysterious concussion suffered by Jimmy Clausen, not to mention the overall lack of trust between players and the coaching staff, as well as kicker Robbie Gould's recent admission that what’s going on right now is not “the Chicago Bears way.”
The day after this game, win or lose, you can expect the Bears to start the process of upheaval at Halas Hall.
By the way, there’s actually a game to play Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Players talk about filtering out the outside noise, but in Chicago, there’s so much now, that’s basically an exercise in futility.
Quarterback Jay Cutler tossed three interceptions and finished with a season-low passer rating of 55.8 in his last start. By halftime, Cutler had thrown two picks while generating a passer rating of 14.9 on 6-of-14 passing for 56 yards.
Expect more of the same in this one. Nobody will say it, but it’s clear the relationship between Bears coach Marc Trestman and Cutler is damaged. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cutler play a backyard brand of ball where he’s operating outside the confines of the system and slinging the ball all over the yard. In fact, you should expect that.
The pick: Minnesota 21, Bears 17.
Lynch celebrated the score, a career-long 79-yard run, with a backward dive and obscene gesture. He wasn't flagged on the play.
Cardinals defensive tackle Frostee Rucker called Lynch's move "childish" after the game but didn't take offense to the gesture.
Lynch has 12 touchdowns and 1,246 yards on the season.
In other fines:
• New York Giants wide receiver Preston Parker and defensive end Damontre Moore were fined $15,000 each by the NFL for their roles in a brawl during last weekend's game against the St. Louis Rams. Other fines levied as a result of the brawl: Rams DE William Hayes and Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. were each fined $10,000, and Rams LB Alec Ogletree, whose hit on Beckham Jr. continued out of bounds and ignited the melee, was docked $8,268.
The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears square off in what amounts to the Week 17 NFC North undercard, with third place in the division at stake before the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers battle for the division title. The Vikings-Bears matchup will feature the same two quarterbacks as the teams' Nov. 16 meeting, but Teddy Bridgewater and Jay Cutler are headed in very different directions.
Bridgewater has completed better than 70 percent of his passes in each of his past four games and seems to be asserting himself as a solid young NFL quarterback. Cutler, meanwhile, was benched last week in favor of Jimmy Clausen and is starting this week only because Clausen sustained a concussion against Detroit. Sunday could be Cutler's last game with the Bears.
ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discuss Sunday's matchup:
Goessling: Michael, it looks like we’ll see Cutler one more time this Sunday. Is that a good thing for the Bears at this point? He played well against the Vikings last time, but how invested will he be?
Wright: Ben, it depends on how you look at it. Marc Trestman mentioned that Cutler gives this team the best chance to win against the Vikings, which is absolutely true. But to me, Trestman probably irreparably damaged the relationship with the quarterback by benching him. When the announcement was made, I asked Trestman directly about Cutler’s future in Chicago because once you make the type of decision he made, to go with Clausen, there’s no turning back. I still believe that. So if the Bears actually plan to move Cutler this offseason, they’re taking a big risk in playing him against the Vikings in this meaningless game. Cutler’s $15.5 million salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, and if he’s on the roster on the third day of the new league year, the Bears would be on the hook for more than $10 million of his 2016 salary. And guess what? You can’t trade an injured player. So to me, this is a risky proposition. Based on the decision to start Cutler, my guess is the team isn’t planning to move him this offseason. I think the relationship between Cutler and Trestman is broken. So Cutler will be invested, but he’ll also probably be out there doing his own thing as opposed to playing within the confines of Trestman’s system. My expectation is Cutler will play a backyard brand of ball in this last outing.
The teams own similar records, but I’d be willing to bet you the feelings about the future of both these franchises are way different. Minnesota (6-9) has lost its last five by a combined 16 points, while what’s going down with the Bears (5-10) is downright embarrassing. Despite Minnesota’s record, there seems to be some optimism about the future. What’s next for the Vikings?
Goessling: They're 6-9, but after everything they've been through -- losing Adrian Peterson, starting a rookie quarterback, dealing with several injuries on the offensive line -- the Vikings feel as though they're headed in the right direction. The key to the whole thing, of course, is Bridgewater. If he continues to get better, the Vikings will have a young quarterback they can build around for the first time since ... Daunte Culpepper? They got only a few years of franchise QB-level play from him, but that tells you how starved this team has been for an answer at the position. The defense probably needs another offseason of player acquisition, but with the right moves, this could be a top-10 unit next year. That, plus an improving young quarterback, is a nice foundation.
The Bears’ pass rush hasn’t gotten the job done enough this season, and now Willie Young is out, so this looks as if it could be a matchup of resistible force vs. movable object when the Vikings are trying to stop the Bears’ pass rush. Can Jared Allen pick up some of the slack in his return to Minnesota?
Wright: I think he can, and you know he’ll be motivated to play well in front of the Vikings' fans at TCF Bank Stadium. Allen throughout his career has always been a guy who has kind of come on as the season progressed, and it seems as if this season is no different. He’s sitting at 5.5 sacks right now, and it seems very likely he'll finish the season without a double-digit sack total for the first time since 2006. So you know Allen is going to give it everything he’s got to try to get the 4.5 sacks he needs to get to double digits, which you and I both know probably isn’t happening. But that’s not going to stop him from trying. My guess is he’ll draw a little extra attention because the Bears will be forced to play unheralded guys such as Cornelius Washington and David Bass opposite Allen. So he’ll have a difficult time trying to pick up the slack for Young.
Remember Bridgewater’s dreadful pro day workout? That seems like ages ago, and now he certainly seems like the answer at quarterback moving forward. In what areas does Bridgewater need to improve this offseason to take that next step?
Goessling: He's really made some significant strides in recent weeks, particularly with how well he throws downfield. He's completed better than 70 percent of his throws of 15 yards or longer in the past four weeks, which is a huge development for a QB who wasn't hitting anything deep earlier this season. I'd still like to see him be able to manage a higher volume of those throws -- you know Norv Turner would love to make the old "Bang 8" skinny post a staple of his offense again -- and he probably needs to get stronger this winter. He still throws high at times and misses some easy completions, but his improvement even during the past month has been noticeable. Bridgewater wants to be great; he believes he's capable of it and he'll put the work in to try to get there. An offseason of strength training and prep work can only help.
Of the Bears teams you’ve covered, how surprising has the collapse of this one been? I thought they’d be a playoff team; some had them among the NFC contenders. What sticks with you most about what went wrong?
Wright: This is just my fifth season on the Bears beat, but it’s by far the worst I’ve seen it out here. All the internal drama obviously sticks out. But I think what sticks out the most is how badly Bears general manager Phil Emery miscalculated in terms of the contributions this team would be able to get from some of the additions he made. Emery paid big money to sign Allen and Lamarr Houston in free agency and they’ve combined for 6.5 sacks. Houston had never produced more than six sacks in a season, yet Emery billed him as the crown jewel of the team’s free-agent class. Then the Bears went out and signed a bunch of no-name safeties. M.D. Jennings was the most experienced safety of all the signees and he didn’t even make the team. Let’s not even get into the big money paid to Cutler.
Coming off a promising 2013 season, the Bears sold everyone on the notion they’d be a playoff contender. But the fact is that Chicago’s offense in 2013 -- despite finishing second in scoring last season -- wasn't as good as everyone seems to think. They caught teams by surprise because they didn’t know what to expect from Trestman’s offense, but at the core, the unit is flawed. You’ve got three big receivers in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, but not one target capable of taking the top off coverages. So I knew the offense would take a step back in 2014, but not as dramatic as what we’ve seen. On the other side of the ball, nobody expected the Bears to return to the level they’d been under Lovie Smith. But the expectation was the defense would be at least mediocre, which obviously isn’t the case. I’d say about 80 to 85 percent of this team’s problems in every facet are the result of bad personnel moves. So although Trestman and the coaching staff -- deservedly -- take plenty of heat, Emery dealt them a horrible hand from a personnel standpoint.
It’s difficult to get a team up when there’s nothing to play for. But what is Mike Zimmer’s message for how he’d like to see the Vikings close out this season?
Goessling: Zimmer was livid with the Vikings after their 37-35 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday, and I'd be willing to bet they'll be sharper this weekend. He's made it clear that he's not going to go into evaluation mode, that it's still about winning games this season. But at the same time, the Vikings are trying to make decisions about their future and Zimmer has sent the message that players who coast to the finish line won't have as much security as they might expect. I think the Vikings will respond to that Sunday, especially playing at home and facing a team that appears to be in disarray.
Gould confirmed on Monday he’d miss the remainder of the season. The club also held out quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who has already been declared out for Sunday’s game because of a concussion suffered in last Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions.
Defensive end David Bass (knee) and guard Kyle Long (hip) participated in a limited capacity at practice Wednesday along with receiver Marquess Wilson (knee).
Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson (ankle) was a full participant.
With 94 receptions through 15 games, Forte needs just eight more to break the NFL single-season record for receptions by a running back, set in 1995 by Larry Centers (101 receptions). In addition, if Forte gains 13 yards rushing against the Vikings and catches six passes, he’ll join LaDainian Tomlinson as just the second player in NFL history to finish a season with 1,000 rushing yards and 100 catches.
Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long, however, wants to make the record reality for Forte.
“I was gonna butt in there when he was talking about how it’s not important to him,” Long joked. “We’re in the National Football League, and I’m sitting next to a guy who has an opportunity to catch the single most passes in NFL history for a running back in a season. I know I’m gonna be yelling at our quarterback to throw him the ball. Are you kidding me? What a tremendous honor to get to play with a guy like Matt and have an opportunity to be a part of something like that that will stand for a really long time.”
Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t plan to alter the game plan to make sure Forte reaches his milestones. With nothing left to play for, it would be easy for the team to turn its attention to such matters.
“Last games, oftentimes there’s those types of things that are up on the table,” Trestman said. “But I think the primary focus is to do what we have to do on each and every play to win the game, and those things will usually take care of themselves.”
That’s fine by Forte.
“I’m just looking forward to this weekend. I’ve got a chance to do something special this week,” Forte said. “Obviously I’m focused on winning the game first. But on this offense, we’ve obviously this year underachieved, but there’s still room to go out there and improve and finish strong in the last game. It’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s the last game of the season.’ You’ve got to go out there and prove that you deserve to be in the league. We’ve got another chance to go out and play well.”
Signed to a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million last January, Cutler takes over as the starter after being benched last week in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who on Monday was diagnosed with a concussion. In 10 starts against the Vikings, Cutler has thrown for 2,434 yards, 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a passer rating of 98.0.
Cutler declined to speculate on his future, but admitted it will be difficult to generate energy for the season finale with so little to play for and uncertainty about what might transpire as soon as the Monday following Sunday’s outing at TCF Bank Stadium.
Cutler’s 2015 base salary of $15.5 million is fully guaranteed, and another $10 million guarantee for his 2016 salary kicks in if the quarterback remains on the roster on March 12, the third day of the 2015 league year.
"I think you’ve just got to prepare yourself that anything could happen," Cutler said. "That’s kind of what I’m prepared for. I mean, everyone could stay. Everyone could get axed. You just never know what direction it’s going to go. You just have to stay open-minded and know that things happen for a reason."
Asked whether he’s ever come to grips with the human element of what could take place on Monday and the number of people it could affect, Cutler said he ponders such scenarios during training camp.
"You chop [the roster] down, chop it down," Cutler said. "You wonder where those guys go, what happens to them. Some of them never play football again. The situation after the year, it’s gonna be similar. Coaches could leave. Players could leave. I could leave. That’s part of it."
Cutler has called the 2014 season his most difficult as a professional, and admits all the turmoil has conditioned him to "expect the least expected at this point."
"Hopefully, we can make it through the next couple of days without something else happening," he said. "You never know though."
Kyle Long, OG, Second Pro Bowl selection: Long earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection and became the first Chicago Bears offensive lineman to receive the honor in each of his first two seasons with the franchise. Long became the first Bear since Devin Hester (2006-07) to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. According to STATS, LLC, Long hasn’t allowed a sack in 2014, and he anchors a Chicago offense that ranks first in franchise history in completion percentage (65.1), second in passing touchdowns (30), tied for second in completions (373), fourth in net passing yards (3,627) and sixth in passer rating (88.1). Long is part of an offensive line that has helped running back Matt Forte rank No. 3 in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,772).
Who he beat out: Orlando Franklin, Louis Vasquez, T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, David DeCastro, Mike Pouncey, Dan Connolly
Matt Forte, RB: Forte racked up 1,772 yards from scrimmage through the first 15 games, which ties for third in the NFL. But the problem is the Bears refuse to commit to the rushing attack, which significantly affected Forte’s numbers. Arguably the league’s best all-around back, Forte leads the Bears with 94 catches for 785 yards, and he’s just 13 yards shy of reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the fifth time in his seven-year career.
Who he should have beaten out: LeSean McCoy.
Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery generated a team-high 1,099 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 83 receptions, despite playing the majority of the year hampered by nagging injuries. Jeffery has gained 2,887 yards over his first three seasons. Jeffery has already gained the second-most receiving yards by a Bears player in his first three seasons, and he ranks No. 5 in the NFL in receiving yardage since 2013.
Who he should have beaten out: A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton.