Earl Bennett's emerged as clearly the Bears' best all-around wide receiver this year, and today they rewarded the 24-year-old with a four-year contract extension worth $18 million. The contract includes $9 million guaranteed, and will keep him in a Bears uniform through 2015.

Bennett was going to be a free agent in the offseason, so this was a big move for Jerry Angelo and the Bears to take care of. Bennett's improved constantly in his four-year career, and this deal could look like a bargain down the road. At worst, the Bears are going to have a reliable guy that Jay Cutler feels extremely comfortable throwing to for a while, especially on third down.

Still, this move shouldn't be viewed as the Bears feeling they have the "#1 wide receiver" they've been trying to find. Bennett's the best receiver currently on the roster, but the Bears still need to find a big, physical wide receiver that can provide a nice target for Cutler, particularly in the red zone. While many people doubt how much Angelo cares about the position, I really do think the Bears will try hard(finally) to acquire a "#1" via free agency or the draft(where there are plenty of intriguing prospects... I have visions of Justin Blackmon dancing in my head, but he'd surely take trading up in the draft to acquire).

So, with Bennett extended, this is now the list of Bears players that have contracts expiring: Matt Forte, Corey Graham, Caleb Hanie, Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings, Brandon Meriweather, Amobi Okoye.

While Forte's of course getting the most talk of that group, he's the last player I'm worried about the Bears taking care of. They can still slap the Franchise Tag on him the next two years if a contract extension is not worked out(and I still like the chances of that happening in the offseason). He's going nowhere anytime soon.

But I think they'll try to bring back pretty much everybody else on that list, with the exception of Williams(and maybe Meriweather).

Graham is a special teams stud(he should've made the Pro Bowl last season and very well may this season) that has played tremendously at nickelback in D.J. Moore's absence. The 26-year-old has interceptions in each of the last three games.

Hanie is full of talent across the board, and he's shown glimpses of that in his time as a Bear(like in the second half on Sunday). He should only improve as he seasons his game and improves his decision-making at quarterback. There's no reason for the Bears to give up on him now with how much they've worked to develop him, after signing him as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State(I went to school with him there actually).

Idonije is a starting defensive end and offers versatility; he's played plenty of defensive tackle as a Bear and has been a key special teams contributor as well. However, he's 31, and the Bears may be reluctant to sign him to an extension of much length.

Jennings is a starting cornerback that has played very well in his two seasons as a Bear. He's a terrific tackler at the position, something the Bears value out of cornerbacks as much as any team in the league. He's not very big, and he doesn't get many interceptions(just two in 27 games as a Bear), but he's fundamentally sound and fits the Bears' Tampa-2 system well. He's unlikely to find another team on the market that will be as interested in his services as much as the Bears are. And the Bears are thin at this position anyway.

Lastly, I think the Bears are very impressed with what Okoye has done lately, and he's still just 24. He has four sacks on the season, which is a terrific number from a defensive tackle. That's especially the case when he's been a backup all season. However, the Bears also have young defensive tackles that they're high on in Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, and veterans Anthony Adams and Matt Toeaina are at the position as well. If Okoye thinks he can start somewhere else and/or get paid more, he may understandably land with another team in free agency.

So, expect the Bears to try to lock up at least a few more players in the coming months.

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Terrible news to report: Bears rookie right tackle(and first round pick), Gabe Carimi, has been place on Injured Reserve, thus ending his season.

Carimi has been out since injuring his knee in week two, and suffered a setback recently in practice with it. He then had arthroscopic surgery on the knee last Friday, and indications were that he would be out at least a few more weeks.

Well, today the Bears finally decided that it wasn't worth Carimi using up a roster spot, and placed him on Injured Reserve.

Here's more on the decision from Jerry Angelo:
“Given where we are at in the season and the time already missed, this is the best move for Gabe and for our team,” said general manager Jerry Angelo.

“It became tough for us to hold a roster spot given our numbers on the offensive line with Chris going down last week. Both guys played well while on the field. They will continue to rehab and will be ready to go next season. We feel very good about their futures. We also feel good about how the line continues to progress under Mike Tice.”
My hope was that Carimi would be able to go in a few weeks, and that the Bears could slide Lance Louis back to guard, as the team just had to place guard Chris Williams on Injured Reserve in the last few days. Hopefully Edwin Williams proves capable of handling the left guard position.

To take Carimi's roster spot, the team promoted offensive tackle Levi Horn to the active roster from the practice squad. They did the same thing yesterday with guard Ricky Henry as well.

H/T: ChicagoBears.Com

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The Bears got a huge, dominating win yesterday over the Lions at Soldier Field, to improve their record to 6-3, and greatly help their chances of getting an NFC Wild Card spot. If the season ended today, they'd get the first Wild Card spot(#5 seed), ahead of the Detroit Lions(same record, but Bears better record within conference).

However, after the game, they got some very bad news. Left guard Chris Williams, the Bears' first round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, dislocated his wrist in last night's game. He will need surgery on the wrist and is out for the season. It's a major blow to the offensive line, as Williams was really have a good season and improving each week. Additionally, it was nice to see him finally settling in well at a position after struggling as a tackle, the position the Bears drafted him to play.

Replacing Williams as the starting left guard will be another Williams, Edwin. Edwin looked alright in replacement of Chris during last night's game, but it's very much unknown if he'll be able to handle the position well as a starter for the rest of the season.

If Gabe Carimi were healthy, the Bears would likely put Lance Louis(who has been terrific at right tackle) at guard, and start Carimi at right tackle, rather than start Edwin. But, Carimi underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday, and it's unclear if he'll even be able to return to the Bears this season. Regardless, the Bears will surely wait it out, and hope that he can return, rather than placing him on injured reserve.

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Here we are... under four hours away from kickoff in Philadelphia for Bears-Eagles, which is an absolutely huge game for the NFC playoff picture. Here's some links to get you ready for the game...
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The Bears claimed linebacker Jabara Williams off waivers today from the Rams, and he will take the roster spot left by safety Chris Harris, after Harris was released today.

Williams, who is 6'2", 238 pounds, was a seventh round pick by the Rams in the 2011 NFL Draft, and played in two games for them this year. The rookie becomes the sixth linebacker on the Bears' roster, and is expected to be a contributor on special teams. It also sounds like he could be a nice find as a Tampa-two weak side linebacker for the future with his skill set.

In college at Stephen F. Austin, Williams had 411 tackles, seven sacks, and four interceptions. He was a two-time Southland Conference Player of the Year.


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After playing poorly against the Lions in week five, the Bears made veteran safety Chris Harris inactive for their week six game against the Vikings. Angry about this, Harris requested a trade, but Jerry Angelo was unable to find any takers for Harris' services before last Tuesday's trade deadline.

And last week's game against the Buccaneers, the Bears made safety Major Wright a late scratch due to a hip injury, after he was listed as "Probable" to play. The Bears chose to not just make Harris active for this game, but even started him. This gave him a chance to at least show that he deserves to be active weekly, if not starting. And again, he played poorly. He was burned badly for a passing touchdown, and looked very slow in coverage all day.

Well today, the Bears decided to finally move on, as Harris was released. The Bears feel more comfortable with rookie safety Chris Conte(who had an incredible interception against the Buccaneers and overall, looked great over the last two weeks), and second-year safety Wright. They want to be more athletic at the position, and to get their "future" going at safety now with Conte and Wright. Additionally, Harris is not a contributor on special teams, so if he's not going to start, there's more value found in backups that can at least help out on special teams.

Here's some of what Lovie Smith had to say today about Harris' release:

"We'll talk about Chris. Chris Harris helped us win a lot of football games around here. One of the guys.

"But, it is a business, and for us, it's about production. We felt like we had some other options that we felt pretty good about, at the safety position. Had a chance to talk to Chris this morning.

"That's never any fun, when you have to go a different direction again, from one of the guys who's been around here for a while. But we did.

"We're excited about the safeties we do have here. You don't make a move like that, unless you feel good about it, and we do."

Chris Conte we moved him into the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago, we've been very pleased with what we've gotten from him -- as a tackler, just a guy in the middle of the field with a lot of range, we drafted him to some day be our safety. That time is now. The same thing with Major Wright. Major is a good tackler. He's a good player. These aren't veteran players, but they'll get better each rep. We feel like we can play winning football with them. Brandon Meriweather, moving into the third safety slot also. Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters. We still have five safeties on our roster. No team has six safeties on their roster. This is the right thing to do and we'll see how it turns out.

The Bears worked out six free agents at Halas Hall yesterday, including safeties Tom Nelson and Darcel McBath. As you can see in the above excerpt, Lovie pointed out that the Bears "still have five safeties", and "no team has six safeties on their roster", so they may elect to fill out the roster with a player at another position.

www.partybingo.com

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The Bears and Buccaneers have made the trip across the pond to London for the annual NFL game at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

And today, the Bears had practice at the Surrey County Cricket Club. Before practice, some of the players gave a cricket a try.

Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times took a few videos to prove that:

Jay Cutler Vs. Brian Urlacher


Lance Briggs Vs. Brian Urlacher


Peanut Tillman Vs. Brian Urlacher

You could always tell Jay Cutler played a lot of baseball growing up(he was an honorable mention All-State shortstop in Indiana by the way) by the way he throws a football. And you can tell that even more by those nice left-handed hacks he took against Urlacher.

But Peanut... those are Sally swings. Come on man.

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Chris Harris Requests A Trade

Posted by Matt Clapp | 10/17/2011 01:29:00 PM |

Yesterday when I wrote about Chris Harris being inactive, I suggested that it could be because the Bears intend to trade him before tomorrow's trade deadline(and go read that post if you want to see why I thought he could be dealt).

Well, today he's only enhanced the chances he's traded, by REQUESTING a trade:

Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris has formally requested to be traded after being benched for Sunday's 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Albert Elias, Harris' agent, tweeted Monday that the Bears have granted him permission to explore a deal for his client in advance of Tuesday's NFL trade deadline.

On his Facebook page, Harris wrote: "Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do for the sake of yourself and your family."

Now, were the Bears trying to trade him anyway? We may never know, but again, that's what I suggested could be going on. And if they were, it may have been better for Harris' reputation to stay quiet and let things work out. Of course he could've been completely unaware on what their intentions for him were. Lots of questions here.

But, will the Bears find any takers for Harris? That remains to be seen. I think for a 6th or 7th round pick, there's a good chance there's a team out there that would take a chance on him.

The issue is that he's of course a free agent, and there's only 11 weeks remaining in the season. And you have to remember that it's unlikely he comes right in and is a big factor for a team. It would probably take him at least a couple of weeks to get used to the system and/or move ahead of somebody on the depth chart. So then we're talking about two months at most that he'd be much of a factor for a team this season, and with that in mind, would anybody want to give up a draft pick for him?

Additionally, he's been a great fit in the Bears' Tampa-2 system, but he's certainly not a very good fit for the schemes of many teams. Everybody saw him get burned last Monday night and his coverage skills are very much in question these days.

Anyway, we'll know by tomorrow if he's still a Bear. And even if he is, that doesn't mean he's going to play a game for the Bears again. So, things could get awkward.

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Video: Jay Cutler Takes Out Jared Allen With Block

Posted by Matt Clapp | 10/17/2011 02:28:00 AM | , ,

Yes, this was only a one-yard run from Matt Forte, but it would've been even less had Jay Cutler not taken Jared Allen out with a terrific block:


You have to love seeing that from your quarterback.

H/T: ChiCitySports

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The Vikings were kind enough to kick right down the middle of the field to Devin Hester tonight in the third quarter of the Bears' 39-10 victory. And predictably, Hester ran it back for a touchdown:


The 17th career return touchdown for Hester. Pretty decent.

Also, the Vikings punted right down the middle to Hester minutes after that. Had he not slipped up when he caught the ball, he would've been gone again.

I really hope teams never learn.

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Here's video of the beautiful 48-yard touchdown bomb that Jay Cutler and Devin Hester just connected on:


Cutler sure can do some nice things when he has time to throw.


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If you had told me an hour ago that Julius Peppers was active and starting tonight after being listed as "Doubtful" all week, I would've thought for sure that it would be the biggest pregame surprise for the Bears. But instead, it has to do with safety Chris Harris.

I informed you on Friday about the Bears benching Harris and fellow safety, Brandon Meriweather, in favor of safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright. Well, not only has Harris been benched, but he's INACTIVE tonight. And he's not injured(or at least that's what I've read so far).

So, why is he inactive? There's not an answer to that yet, but you can be sure that it will be brought up in the postgame interviews.

Here's a possibility though: The Bears intend to trade Harris by Tuesday's trade deadline.

He's a free agent after the season's over, and Jerry Angelo drafted Wright and Conte in the last two years. And here they are starting tonight. Clearly, the Bears, or at least Angelo, plan on these players being starters going forward.

Chris Harris seems to know that too. Look at these excerpts from the Chicago Tribune on Thursday:

"They are going with their future, and I'm not the future or in their future plans,'' Harris said. "So they have to see what they have in Major and Chris. It's a business, and I will treat it as such.

"We all know I'm not going to be here next year, so that's always a possibility,'' Harris said.
So, it would seem very possible that a trade could be on the way. And if the Bears don't think Harris helps them much this year, it would make sense. Get a draft pick of some sort(probably round 5-7) rather than nothing at the end of the year when they let him walk.

However, from what I've seen since the beginning of last season, Harris is the best safety on the roster. And most people around the team seem to feel the same way still. Yes, he looked very bad against the Lions, but that was his first game back after missing the previous three games due to injury, and against the Stafford/Megatron combo. So I think it's unfair to come to any conclusions solely from that performance.

If Harris has indeed played his last game as a Bear, and Conte, Wright, Meriweather, and Steltz struggle at safety, there's no doubt there will be a ton of criticism headed Angelo and Lovie Smith's way.

As For Other Active/Inactive News:

Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, wide receiver Earl Bennett, defensive end Corey Wootton, and defensive end Nick Reed are inactive for the Bears.

Anthony Adams starts in place of Toeaina at nose tackle, and Wootton and Reed being out must have the Bears thinking Peppers' knee will not be a big issue tonight. Also, it's worth noting that Bennett will apparently be good to go fully in practice this week and could return for the game in London against the Buccaneers next Sunday.

For the Vikings, #1 wide receiver Percy Harvin is active after being listed as "Questionable". Cornerback Antoine Winfield headlines their group of inactives.

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1. Slow down Jared Allen

The Vikings' defensive end has 8.5 sacks on the season, and a whopping 7 in the last 3 games. J'Marcus Webb(who was terrible against the Lions) going up against him scares the crap out of me. The Bears would be wise to bring a tight end or fullback Tyler Clutts to help in blocking frequently to at least slow Allen down, or he may end Cutler's season before the night ends. This is going to be an incredibly difficult task for the Bears, and may be the difference in the game.

2. Prevent Adrian Peterson From Getting 20+ Yard Runs

In a prime time game, I expect Peterson to bring his A-game, and he's coming off a 122-yard, 3 touchdown performance. And he's likely going to get 20+ carries. So, he's going to get his yards, but the Bears can't allow him to hit the home run, like they have frequently allowed to happen against running backs this season(Ex. Jahvid Best's touchdown run on Monday night).

3. Give Matt Forte 20+ Carries

One way the Bears can make it easier to prevent Jared Allen from being a huge factor is just giving the ball to Forte. And why shouldn't they anyway? He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and had 326 rushing yards in the previous two games. He's the offense right now. Until the passing game looks at least average, ride Forte.

4. Big Game From Israel Idonije

Julius Peppers is active and will start, surprisingly(and thankfully). He was listed as "Doubtful" due to a sprained MCL he suffered against the Lions. And when he returned to that game after being injured, he didn't look anything like himself.

So, it's likely that he's still not 100%, and it's hard to expect a big game out of him. The Bears need other players on the defensive line to step up, especially defensive end Israel Idonije. Donovan McNabb is a below average quarterback these days, but he can still wing it if he gets time to throw. Additionally, the Bears will likely load the box frequently to slow down Peterson, so they'll need pass rush from the front four or else McNabb will find holes in the cover-2, which he's done frequently in the past against the Bears.

5. Get Solid Play From Safeties Chris Conte And Major Wright

Not only was Chris Harris benched, but he's inactive(I'll write about that in the next post). Rookie Chris Conte, and second-year player Major Wright start at safety for the Bears. I honestly have no idea how it's going to go, but both have looked poor in coverage so far this year. McNabb will surely test them out early on, and if he has success, will attack them a lot over the rest of the game. Just stick to your assignments and prevent the big play at least, guys.

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After looking terrific in week one against the Falcons, the Bears' defense has been complete crap since. Two of the main problems on the defense have been the lack of a pass rush from the front four, and downright terrible play from the safety position.

Well, I'm not very confident either of those things improve on Sunday. That's because defensive end Julius Peppers is "Doubtful" after spraining his MCL against the Lions(although he returned to play), and the Bears are benching safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather. Second-year safety Major Wright, and rookie safety Chris Conte will replace them in the starting lineup.

The benching of Meriweather is not a surprise. He's struggled to pick up the Bears' defensive scheme since signing with the Bears on September 4th. He's been burned on some big plays, not stayed with his assignment on plays, been hardly impressive in stopping the run game, etc. Oh, he's also been fined for hits the last two weeks and played like a punk.

Harris' benching is shocking to me though. Yes, he played poorly against the Lions. But it was his first game back from injury that caused him to miss the previous three games. And he had the dreaded task of trying to stop Calvin Johnson.

I'm not excusing his play, but I think at least one more game from him as the starter would be fair. If he continued to struggle, sure, demote him to second-string. But this is a guy that was a second-team All-Pro last season, started for the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, etc. Is his play slipping? Possibly. But I still have much more trust in him than Wright and Conte at the time being.

Still, as I wrote about before the Lions game when talking about how the Bears need Peppers to play better, secondary play looks much better when the pass rush is good, which it hasn't been. And with Peppers likely out for the Vikings game, it's hard to see that improving this week. Thankfully, the Vikings' passing attack is very weak, so the Bears may be able to get by without a very good pass rush and/or safety play for this week anyway.

Peppers isn't the only (likely) big loss on the offensive line this week. Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina(knee) is officially out for the game. So with these two out, the Bears are going to need backups to step up and produce. One of of these players is rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who is expected to get around 25 snaps. Additionally, second-year defensive end Corey Wootton is listed as "Probable" and will likely get a fair share of snaps.

In other Bears injury news, wide receiver Earl Bennett is listed as "Questionable" with a chest injury. It was thought he'd miss at least another game or two and I still expect that to be the case, even though he's finally practicing. Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi is still out, but could be back to face the Buccaneers next week in London.

For the Vikings, cornerback Antoine Winfield(neck) is "Doubtful", and wide receiver Percy Harvin is "Questionable", but the Vikings think he'll be good to go. Former Bear wide receiver Bernard Berrian is expected to be active and start after being inactive last week following a couple of missed team meetings.

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If anybody knows how much of a force Julius Peppers is when he plays like he's capable of, it's Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

In week one of last season at Soldier Field, Peppers dislocated Stafford's shoulder on a sack in a 19-14 Bears win. Stafford would not return to game action until Halloween of '10, and re-aggravated the injury in the following game.

Stafford's healthy this season, and he's playing like the quarterback the Lions hoped they were getting when they selected him with the #1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. He's tossed 11 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions, has a 62.1 completion percentage, and a 100.4 QB rating.

However, so far this season, Peppers hasn't played quite as well as he did last year(and that's difficult to do do anyway because he was arguably the best defensive player in the NFL last year). Yes, he has two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and blocked a field goal last week against the Panthers.

But, he hasn't been putting as much pressure on the quarterback as he usually does. The Bears need him to be in the backfield and disrupting Stafford many times if they want to win tonight. Chris Harris is active after missing the last three games and will start at safety, which will be a nice boost to a secondary that's looked bad in the games he missed. However, if Stafford gets time to throw, he will pick the secondary apart, and Megatron will likely put up another double-digit touchdown game(something he's done in every game already).

A great pass rush will hide flaws in the secondary, and Peppers is without question the key to the Bears' pass rush. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn't want to have to blitz Stafford much; he wants the front four to generate pressure. Getting pressure from the front four keeps the linebackers and defensive in their usual coverage assignments, and gives them a better chance to slow down Megatron. If Marinelli has to dial up the blitz from linebackers or defensive backs, receivers are going to be open, and you don't want that against a Lions passing attack that is on fire right now.

So, let's hope Peppers can get a sack or two, and at least get Stafford uncomfortable in the pocket.

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The Bears' safeties struggled greatly in pass coverage the last three games. And don't think for a second that the absence of safety Chris Harris didn't play a major part in that.

Well, Harris practiced for the second straight day(although in limited fashion), and is expected to be able to go on Monday night at Detroit:

So, that's great news, especially since the Bears will have to face the Stafford/Megatron combo.

In other Bears injury news, defensive end Corey Wootton missed practice due to a hand injury after injuring it in practice on Wednesday. He was able to practice yesterday, but today suffered a setback with it and his status for Monday night is very much in question.

Limited in practice were cornerback Charles Tillman(hip), guard/center Chris Spencer(hand), and tight end Matt Spaeth(calf).

For the Lions, former Bear wide receiver Rashied Davis, and safety Erik Coleman did not practice.


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In what I considered a must-win game(You can read why here) today, the Bears were indeed able to win by the score of 34-29 over the Carolina Panthers. It was far from a convincing win, but a win nonetheless. And in the NFL, you'll take a win any which way you can get it.

The main reason they won this game? Mike Martz actually committed to the run! No, seriously.

Matt Forte ran for a career-high 205 yards and a touchdown over 25 carries, and Marion Barber added a touchdown run in his first game as a Bear(He also added a backflip celebration fail).

Forte had several large gains on the ground, with his longest run being 46 yards. He made some great cutbacks to gain extra yardage throughout the game, but the run-blocking was very good throughout the game as well, which was nice to see after the offensive line gave Forte nowhere to run last week against the Packers.

On the Bears' first drive of the game, they ran nine plays which led to a field goal to tie the game at 3-3. All nine plays were running plays. In fact, in the second quarter, when the Bears got to 24 points, they had only thrown one pass in the game. Of course, they weren't just getting those points by running the ball.

With the score 3-3 in the first quarter, defensive back D.J. Moore picked off a tipped Cam Newton pass and returned it for a touchdown to give the Bears a 10-3 lead.

And with the Bears leading 17-10 later in the quarter, the Panthers made the same mistake every team seems to: They punted to Devin Hester. This was soon after he had a 73-yard kick return that would've been a touchdown if he could've gotten a block on the kicker from Chris Conte. Well, got all the blocking he needed on the punt return, and took it to the house for a 69-yard touchdown(You can see video of it here). With the punt return touchdown, Hester set an NFL record for career punt return touchdowns with 11.

So, all of that was fun. But, the Bears struggled in many areas in this game.

Aside from the Moore pick-six, the defense really wasn't that good today. Cam Newton threw for 374 yards(although some of those were in "garbage time"), and he, along with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, combined to run for 169 yards and two touchdowns over 25 carries.

The Bears did do a good job at forcing the Panthers to settle for five field goal tries instead of scoring touchdowns, but still, the constant space the Panthers found in the Bears' secondary and defensive line was troubling. Brandon Meriweather missed an assignment badly that left wide receiver Steve Smith(who had eight catches for a whopping 181 yards) wide open for a 53-yard reception. Chris Harris could not return soon enough.

And offensively, while the run game was sensational, the Bears weren't able to do much at all in the air. Jay Cutler completed nine of 17 passes for just 107 yards, and threw a bad interception to Panthers safety Charles Godfrey on a pass intended for Johnny Knox.

So, it's great to get a win, but the Bears are going to need a much better performance defensively if they want to have a chance to beat the Lions next Monday night.

But, for right now, enjoy the win.


Grades

Quarterback: C-

With only 17 pass attempts, it's hard to take too much away about Cutler's performance in this game, but the interception was a bad one in the fourth quarter in Bears territory. Additionally, he threw off of his back foot and was jumpy in the pocket a few times, which is probably because he's still expecting to get hit, even if he has time to throw. I'd be jumpy back there too with the offensive line he's had to throw behind the last couple of years.

Running Backs/Fullbacks: A

Forte was sensational, and Barber found the end zone. 224 rushing yards was the most rushing yards the Bears have had in a game since 1988.

Tyler Clutts made some great blocks at fullback to create room for Forte.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C

Knox was the only wide receiver with over a single catch. He had three catches for 48 yards, and made a nice jumping catch with a defensive back about to hit him. Something we didn't see much of last year.

Dane Sanzenbacher had a 16-yard catch for a first down, but dropped another third down pass he shouldv'e caught(but it was also a pass Cutler should've set his feet on and tossed in a place where Sanzenbacher would easily catch it).

Kellen Davis and Kyle Adams didn't have a catch. Davis had a drop, but it was on a low throw that would've been a nice catch.

Offensive Line: B+

Maybe it wasn't as good as I graded it, but it sure seems that way after what we're used to seeing. And especially after how unbelievably terrible the run-blocking was last week. Today, it was terrific.

As for pass protection, it was decent. Frank Omiyale got blown up a few times at right tackle, and Lance Louis apparently replaced him at the position for a bit(I'm not totally positive as I was so caught up in everything else going on in the game, but Brian Billick mentioned on the broadcast that Louis was in for at least some plays). But, Cutler had time to throw for the most part.

Defensive Line: D

Cam Newton did an incredible job to get away from pressure on a few occasions when it seemed the Bears were going to get a sack, but still, not getting a single sack against a rookie quarterback in your house is pretty disappointing. And the Panthers ran right through the line with ease all day. This group needs to play much better and is certainly capable of it. The front four are what makes this defense go, and if the quarterback isn't rushed much by them, there will be holes found in the cover-two scheme.

The good news is you know Rod Marinelli will make sure they're busting their asses to improve. And I can't see Julius Peppers letting this continue either.

Linebackers: B-

Lance Briggs or Brian Urlacher tipped the pass that Moore intercepted. Both players made some nice tackles(especially Briggs on a big third down play), but they're better than letting an opposing run game go right through the defense like the Panthers did today. Still, it's hard to stop DeAngelo Williams when he gets through the defensive line at full burst so I'll give Briggs, Urlacher, and Nick Roach a pass here. They're the least of my worries.

Defensive Backs: D

Nobody played well. Steve Smith was routinely wide open, and the safeties had blown assignments multiple times. This was one of the worst games I've seen Peanut play in a few years. If they play like this against the Lions and their Matt Stafford/Calvin Johnson combo? That won't go well. Much improvement is needed here, although I fear that won't happen until Chris Harris returns.

Special Teams: A

Obviously, Devin Hester was amazing. Robbie Gould was two of two on field goals, and Adam Podlesh had a 51-yard punt, as well as two punts inside of the Panthers' 20-yard line.


Game Balls

Offense: Matt Forte

Easiest call ever.

Defense: D.J. Moore

That was not an easy interception. It took quick recognition of the deflection and good hands to catch it. Then a very nice return for the touchdown. He has a nose for the ball and is a very valuable player in this defense.

Special Teams: Devin Hester

Second easiest call ever.


Injuries

Michael C. Wright is hearing that guard(and backup center) Chris Spencer broke his right hand today, and Spencer played in the second half with the injury. I'll keep you updated on that story as more is revealed.

Devin Hester walked off the field in the second half hanging his left arm as though he had a shoulder injury. It sounds like it's nothing serious though and he should be good to go next week.

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With the Bears leading the Panthers 17-10 today in the second quarter, the Panthers had to punt on fourth down. And for some reason which none of us will ever figure out, they chose to kick to Devin Hester, and as is frequently the case, he made the opposition pay:


11 punt return touchdowns for the Windy City Flyer. That's an NFL record. As you probably knew, he already had the NFL record for combined touchdowns on kick and punt returns, and he now has 15 of those. He's pretty good.

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I hate referring to any games this early in the season as a "must-win". But, realistically, today's game against the Panthers at Soldier Field is indeed a must-win for the Bears.

The Bears are coming off of two terrible losses against teams in the NFC(Saints and Packers) that will both likely be in the playoffs. So, those losses hurt for tiebreaking scenarios, both in head-to-head matchups, and conference record.

Now the 1-2 Bears face another NFC team in the 1-2 Panthers. This is a team that went 2-14 last year. It allowed them to get the #1 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, which they used to select quarterback Cam Newton.

On the surface, this seems like a much easier game than any of the previous three the Bears have played so far. And without question, it should be. But the Panthers are definitely not a team to sleep on.

The Panthers went into Arizona in the season opener and kept the game within a touchdown in Newton's NFL debut. In week two, they had a 13-0 lead on a Packers team that just dominated the Bears for all four quarters. And this past week, they finally got into the win column with a 16-10 win over the Jaguars.

The Panthers are a dangerous team, especially with Newton sure to improve(and he's already third in the NFL in passing yards) as the season goes along.

Still, this is a team the Bears need to beat at home(and they beat this team by the score of 23-6 in Carolina last year with Todd Collins starting), or else the season could quickly slip away.

A loss would put the Bears at 1-3, with the Lions to follow in week five for a Monday Night Football game in Detroit. Not only do the Lions(3-0) look terrific right now, but this will be the first game they've played on Monday night in 10 years, so Ford Field will definitely be rocking. And say the Bears lose at home against the Panthers, how are they going to have the confidence(or the offense cleaned up enough) to go into Detroit and win that game? Quite unlikely.

So, lose against the Panthers, and the Bears are looking at a 1-4 start in all likelihood. Win the game, and they're 2-2, with some good vibes headed into Detroit, followed by a favorable home game against the Vikings in week six to follow.

P.S. Hopefully Mike Martz got the memo that Matt Forte ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns over 22 carries in Carolina last year. Maybe the run-blocking will stink as it did last week(I'm not kidding when I say it's the worst run-blocking I've ever seen from the Bears), but call a fair amount of run plays in the first quarter to find that out first.

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It looked like things were getting much better for Bears safety Chris Harris and his hamstring when he had full participation in practice Wednesday, after missing the Bears' last two games, which they of course lost. Well, it turns out that things just got worse.

Harris suffered a setback with the hamstring on Wednesday, and is expected to miss at least the next two games according to Brad Biggs. I'd hope the Bears can get by without him against the Panthers at home on Sunday, but next week's game is a Monday Night Football game in Detroit, against an offense that is tearing it up in the air right now. And that's unlikely to stop anytime soon with the Stafford-Megatron combo.

There is some good news in regards to the safety position though, in that Major Wright is "Probable" after suffering a head/neck injury in week two.

In other Bears injury news, running back Marion Barber(calf) will finally make his Bears debut. Expect him to immediately step in as the backup to Matt Forte, and be the primary back in short yardage and goal line situations. Well, he should be at least, but we'll see what the Bears decide on Sunday.

Also, tight end Matt Spaeth sat out practice and is "Questionable". If he's out, look for undrafted rookie tight end Kyle Adams to get more playing time.

As for the Panthers, cornerback Chris Gamble is "Doubtful", and right tackle Jeff Otah was downgraded from "Probable" to "Questionable".

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Finally, some good news on the injury front for the Bears.

Safeties Chris Harris(hamstring) and Major Wright(head/neck), along with running back Marion Barber(calf), had full participation in practice today at Halas Hall. The fact that they're practicing fully this early in the week is a great sign, and if they can do the same over the next two days, they should all be good to go on Sunday against the Panthers.

The Bears greatly need Harris and Wright back. If Harris played against the Saints and Packers, I don't think a few of those big pass plays happen, so he'll certainly be a major boost to the defense. As for Wright, my guess is that Brandon Meriweather is taking his job as a starting safety, but Wright at least provides depth(which will be nice after seeing how badly Craig Steltz played against the Packers), and the second-year player should certainly get much better.

Barber has yet to play in a game since signing as a free agent this past offseason. He's a terrific goal line and short yardage back. However, with how bad the Bears' run-blocking has been, it's hard to say how big of a factor he'll be in the offense. It's hard to do much as a running back when there's no space to run.

As for the rest of the Bears' injuries to monitor:
  • Tight end Matt Spaeth did not practice due to a calf injury. The severity of the injury is unknown, but I hadn't heard of an injury with him until today.
  • Wide receiver Earl Bennett and tackle Gabe Carimi missed practice, but they were expected to be out for a while.
  • Long snapper Patrick Mannelly was limited in practice with a hip injury.
For the Panthers, cornerback Chris Gamble missed practice today after leaving Sunday's game against the Jaguars due to a concussion. Also absent from practice was right tackle Jeff Otah(back).

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I'm not sitting here trying to make excuses, as even if this touchdown counted, the Bears would've had to recover an onside kick, and then get into field goal range in 51 seconds with no timeouts left. It's quite unlikely that they would've tied the game, but still, it's possible.

Anyway, the holding penalty was called on Bears defensive back Corey Graham(#21), who is an elite special teamer that rarely screws up.

The only possible place where a flag could be thrown from everything I've seen takes place in the first three seconds of the above video, on the left side. You can see Graham touching the shoulder of the Packers' gunner, but it's really difficult to see if there's anything there that would warrant a holding penalty.

Twitter user @cfaris09(give him a follow) sent me a screencap of it:


Maybe he pulled the Packers player down a little bit there(it's difficult to tell), but if it's just based on that little shoulder touch that we can see, it's quite a ticky-tacky call(especially with a minute to go in the game).

Whatever the case, it's a shame that such a brilliant playcall from the Bears' terrific special teams coach, Dave Toub, was ruined over this.

H/T: Black Sports Online

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Here's what the 'Madden 12' simulation on ESPN.Com says will happen in the Bears-Packers game this Sunday:



Fantasy owners would surely be quite happy with Matt Forte's production, especially in PPR leagues.

Whatever the case, I sure hope the 'Madden' guys are right about the winning team at least.

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The Bears' offensive line play was terrible on Sunday against the Saints. That is clear.

However, the play-calling from offensive coordinator, Mike Martz was even worse. He put the offensive line and Jay Cutler in position to fail by calling a whopping 52 pass plays, and just 11 run plays.

Additionally, many of those pass plays called for a seven-step drop from Cutler, and/or an empty backfield, while Saints defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, called for blitzes all over the field. Defenders were in Cutler's face many times before he could even step back to the throwing position. Much of that is on bad offensive line play, but much of it is on the play-calling too.

Martz needs to call plays that suit the Bears' strengths. And right now, the only obvious "strength" on offense is Matt Forte. Jay Cutler certainly can be when he's getting the time to throw and when his wide receivers are getting separation, but neither of those things happened much on Sunday. And again, the time to throw is going to be an issue as long as seven-step drops are a constant in the pass play-calling, unless the pass protection on the offensive line REALLY improves. It's difficult for any offensive line to "succeed" in pass protection under such circumstances, and that's why Martz-run offenses are among the league leaders in sacks allowed yearly.

Forte, however, had a 42-yard run on his second carry of the game in the first quarter, as part of a balanced offensive drive that ended with a play-action touchdown pass from Cutler to Dane Sanzenbacher to put the Bears up 7-0.

And what sets up the play-action? The run game. Forte had five carries on the drive, yet only had five carries for the rest of the game. And what was the score for the rest of the entire game? 30-6, Saints. Don't think for a second that abandoning the run game was not a SIGNIFICANT reason for the Bears' failures over the rest of the game.

Plain and simple, there needs to be more balance on the offense. You would've thought Martz would know that coming into the season after we went through this exact same situation in the first half of the 2010 season. Many more pass plays than run plays were called, and the offense was a mess. Cutler was constantly taking hits from defenders, just like was the case against the Saints.

In the second half of last season, the Bears committed to running the ball. And guess what? They did pretty good:

In the final nine games, they ran the ball more than they passed it seven times. The two times there were more passes? Both of those games were losses. A direct reason why? Maybe not. The New England Patriots pounded the Bears' defense in Week 14. But it's fair to correlate success in the victories with the running game.
Source: Brad Biggs

Well, Lovie Smith said after Sunday's loss that the Bears need to get more balanced on offense. Finally, it appears he may be taking some control of this situation.

And today, Martz actually took the blame for the loss, and says he's going to get back to calling more running plays:


"If you are looking for blame, just blame me," Martz said Wednesday. "It's just one of those things that happened. I did a poor job of coaching."

"What happened, to be honest with you, I got into a two-minute mode too soon," Martz said. "That's one of the things I talked with [Bears coach] Lovie [Smith] about. Going into that fourth quarter, once that turnover came, there's just a lot of things; it's just not simple. But none of them are a justification. We went into that game thinking we were going to run the ball quite a bit, again there are reasons for everything, it's not that we want to do that. Nobody wants to throw the ball that much. It's not fun."

"We need to mix it up a lot more than we did in that game," Martz said. "We had a lot of pressure, more pressure than we probably suspected, and it puts a lot of pressure on some of these protections. We just didn't execute very well in a lot of areas. We just didn't play very well.

"We had one sack going into the fourth quarter, then we got into a throw it, throw it, throw it deal, really sooner than we should have. Looking back, I went back with Lovie and we always re-evaluate the game, what could we do better. In that moment when they are giving certain pressures ... there are a lot of reasons why. None of them are very good."
Added Lovie:
"Our run [to] pass ratio wasn't good enough," Smith said later in the day. "I'm not going to get in to what all happened, the private things we have. I'm sure Mike will tell you the same thing; we'll get the balance back up this week."
We'll see about that on Sunday.

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Today at Bears practice, Lovie Smith revealed some disappointing Bears injury news. Lovie said that wide receiver Earl Bennett, and right tackle Gabe Carimi, are going to be "out for a while".

Offensive line coach Mike Tice went into further detail about Carimi's situation:

“Gabe had a serious injury,” Tice said. “He’s had it before. Hopefully, it’s not going to be forever but it’s going to be an extended period of time. It’s unfortunate because he was really playing good football for us and now you’ve got to replace it. He’s an elite player, so you lost an elite player.”
Source: Chicago Tribune

The Carimi injury news isn't surprising, as I told you on Monday how he reportedly had a dislocated right knee. The specifics of Carimi's injury have been in question since then, though, with some reports claiming he could only miss a couple of weeks. It appears that the official diagnosis is a "knee subluxation"(a partial dislocation of the knee), which he indeed suffered in college as Tice alluded to.

Replacing Carimi for at least this week, will be right tackle Frank Omiyale, who looked very bad in replacement of Carimi against the Saints.

As for Bennett, he's dealing with a chest injury, and I've yet to find a clear diagnosis on what all it entails. Lovie coming right out and saying that Bennett will be out for a while surely is not a good sign though. Look for Dane Sanzenbacher to get much playing time in the slot as he did against the Saints, and to be a frequent third down target for Cutler in Bennett's absence.

As for the rest of the Bears' injuries:

Safety Major Wright missed practice with his head/neck injury, but Lovie made it sound as though it's not a serious injury.

Chris Harris was limited in practice, but his hamstring is feeling better, and he expects to be a game-time decision.

Also limited in practice were wide receiver Roy Williams(groin), running back Marion Barber(calf), and right guard Lance Louis(ankle).


The Packers are dealing with some injuries to key players of their own.

Sunday, they lost outstanding safety Nick Collins for the season to a neck injury.

Today, elite cornerback Charles Woodson(foot), and pass-rushing menace Clay Matthews(quadriceps) missed practice.

Additionally, cornerback Tramon Williams(who missed their games against the Panthers), tackle Chad Clifton, defensive end Ryan Pickett, and cornerback Davon House were all limited in practice today.

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This is our first link dump... get used to seeing them frequently though. And don't hesitate to send me(dabearnecessities@gmail.com) any good Bears or NFL articles you come across.

Bears Vs. Packers
General NFL
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Bears rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi could miss up to a month after dislocating his right knee in yesterday's game against the Saints according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

It's a huge loss for a Bears offensive line that looked exactly like the 2010 Bears offensive line(in other words, crap) yesterday, although Mike Martz certainly didn't help the cause by calling many seven-stop drops for Jay Cutler when the Saints brought the blitz constantly. It's hard for any offensive line to succeed in that situation.

But, back to Carimi- the Bears' first round pick from the 2011 draft was making strides at tackle, and looked like the best player on the offensive line yesterday. And replacement Frank Omiyale looked nothing short of terrible.

Obviously, this is a major concern going into the Packers game, as there's no doubt that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is going to dial up a ton of blitzes like the Saints did. J'Marcus Webb is still very much a work in progress at left tackle, and Omiyale, as I said, looked terrible yesterday. So, Martz needs to help cover up the tackles by using tight ends as blockers frequently on the edges, and better yet, CALL MORE RUN PLAYS AND QUICK PASSES INSTEAD OF SEVEN-STEP DROPS.

As for the other players that left yesterday's game with injuries:

Wide receiver Earl Bennett suffered a bruised chest, and is considered day-to-day.

Safety Major Wright suffered a head/neck injury, but not a concussion. He is also day-to-day. Whatever the case, he was responsible for the Saints' 79-yard touchdown pass yesterday, and will likely be replaced by Brandon Meriweather in the starting lineup this week, if Chris Harris can return from injury.

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The Bears and Saints are each going to be without key players when they square off Sunday(1 PM ET, Fox) at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Starting safety Chris Harris, starting right guard Lance Louis, and second-string running back(as well as short yardage and goal-line specialist) Marion Barber are all listed as "Doubtful" for the Bears. You can already consider them "Out".

Additionally, starting wide receiver Roy Williams, and second-string defensive end Corey Wootton are listed as "Questionable". Williams only practiced once this week(today), and in limited fashion. He'll be a "Game-Time Decision", but I doubt he plays. Wootton injured his knee in the August 13th preseason game against the Bills, and underwent arthroscopic surgery. He's practiced all week though and will likely be active on Sunday.

Harris is dealing with a hamstring injury, but it's not believed to be serious, so he'll likely be back next week in a huge game against the Packers. The Bears have a very capable player in two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather to replace Harris at safety, but he's still not 100% familiar with the defense after signing with the Bears on September 4th.

Additionally, starting safety Major Wright's coverage skills are still questionable in his second year, so a Meriweather/Wright safety tandem right now may give Drew Brees some holes to take advantage of in the Bears' Tampa-2 scheme.

Louis sprained his ankle in last week's game, and Chris Spencer replaced him at right guard. Spencer, who was a starting center/guard for the Seahawks over the last five years, did a solid job as Louis' replacement against the Falcons. A drop-off in production shouldn't be noticed here.

Barber missed last week's game due to a calf strain, and finally returned to practice on Wednesday. Well, he apparently had a setback with the injury. Kahlil Bell will replace him again, but Matt Forte will likely get the goal-line carries that Barber usually would.

You may remember Williams limping off the field after catching a first down in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's win against the Falcons. He suffered a groin injury, and it's still bothering him.

Much of the Bears' fan base would be just fine with Williams being out, and Knox replacing him at the starting "X" wide receiver position. On a turf surface, and against a secondary that was burned by the Packers in week one, getting the speedy Knox more playing time was probably a good idea anyway. However, Williams did play well in week one, catching all four passes thrown his way. He also made a great catch downfield on a third down pass that showed how he brings something to the table that none of the other Bears' main receivers do: Size.

Whatever the case, the Bears' passing game should still be effective in this game, provided the offensive line does the job(which is of course still quite a question mark). And Sam Hurd(Probable) should play after missing the last game. He can replace Williams in the red zone as a target for Cutler with his 6'3" height.

As for the Saints, #1 wide receiver, Marques Colston, will miss probably the next month after suffering a broken collarbone in week one against the Packers. Earlier today, it looked like wide receiver Lance Moore would be joining him on the bench, as Moore was listed as "Doubtful"(groin injury) on in the initial injury report that was sent out to the Bears' media members. But, that report was incorrect; Moore is listed as "Questionable", and it sounds like he's a good bet to play.

Starting safety Roman Harper, and starting cornerback Tracy Porter are listed as "Questionable" as well. Harper had nine tackles and a sack against the Packers. If Porter can't go, Patrick Robinson will probably step in at cornerback, and he looked bad against the Packers.

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Urlacher Returns To Practice

Posted by Matt Clapp | 9/15/2011 04:33:00 PM | , ,

Brian Urlacher returned to practice at Halas Hall today, two days after leaving the Bears to mourn the unexpected death of his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, with family members.

Last night, we passed along the information to you that Urlacher plans to play on Sunday against the Saints, and that seems even more likely now that he practiced with the team. However, this is obviously a day-to-day situation, and his plans could very well change.

His teammates believe that he will be play Sunday, though. Bears defensive end Corey Wootton said this today:
"I think he's definitely going to be playing this one for his mom. I think he is going to have one of the best games of his career."
Source: ESPN Chicago

UPDATE: According to Zach Zaidman, private funeral services for Lavoyda Lenard will be held on Saturday. George McCaskey, Ted Phillips, Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith, Bob Babich, and Lance Briggs will attend it.

Also, Urlacher is expected to practice again tomorrow.

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With Brian Urlacher's mother passing away, the Bears are obviously going to give the star linebacker as much time as he needs to grieve before returning to the team.

But, Chicago Tribune Bears beat writer, Brad Biggs, is hearing that Urlacher plans to play Sunday against the Saints in New Orleans:

Even if Urlacher intends to play at the moment, that could obviously change in an extremely emotional situation like this.

If Urlacher decides against playing, undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco is next in line on the depth chart at the middle linebacker position. However, the Bears would unlikely be comfortable with putting him into that situation so soon, especially against the Saints' elite offense. So, they would likely choose to move starting strongside linebacker, Nick Roach, to middle linebacker for this game, and put backup linebacker Brian Iwuh at the starting strongside spot.

We'll keep you updated as more news about this comes.

Source: Brad Biggs

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Brian Urlacher's Mother Has Passed Away

Posted by Matt Clapp | 9/14/2011 05:00:00 PM | , , ,


I'm very sad to pass along that Lavoyda Lenard, the mother of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, has unexpectedly passed away at the age of 51. This is what I feared was the case when I told you this morning how Brian left the team to deal with a family emergency in Arizona.

Here's more on the horrible news, via the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher lost the person he once called “my heart” when his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, died unexpectedly Monday. She was 51.

“My mother, Lavoyda, unexpectedly passed away Monday at her home in Texas,” Urlacher said in a statement released by the team Wednesday. “My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest. This is a very difficult and emotional time for us and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you.”

Urlacher has been excused from the team to be with family. His status for the game Sunday in New Orleans has not been determined.

"Hopefully, we'll have Brian ready to go this week," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday, while expressing concern and sympathy for Urlacher and saying he could take whatever time away he needs.

Lt. Brent Smith of the Titus County Sheriff's Office said Urlacher's mother apparently died of natural causes.
Our deepest sympathies go out to Brian and all of those that knew Lavoyda.

And please be respectful of this situation when looking at the football side of things with Brian. He should take all of the time he needs to mourn the loss of his mother.

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Update: Brian Urlacher's mother has passed away.

Brian Urlacher has left town due to a family emergency that is believed to involve his mother, Lavoyda, and will likely be away from the Bears for several days according to the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Urlacher rushed out of town Tuesday to attend to a family emergency in Arizona involving his mother, the Tribune has learned.

Urlacher is expected to be away from the Bears for several days and his status for Sunday’s game against the Saints is unclear. Teammates, the coaching staff and members of the front office are aware of Urlacher’s situation but no further information was available Tuesday night.
Horrible to hear, and obviously football should be the last thing on Brian's mind right now. Thoughts and prayers go out to the Urlacher family.

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