I don't know how I didn't have a heart attack in the fourth quarter of the Bears' game against the Panthers on Sunday. Especially on the last drive. Especially when Robbie Gould lined up to attempt a 41-yard field goal to win the game, after he missed a field goal attempt earlier in the quarter.

But, he nailed it to give the Bears their sixth win, and the Soldier Field crowd went wild (as did I, of course):


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The Bears (5-1) and Panthers (1-5) meet on Sunday at Soldier Field, and the two teams released their injury reports following Friday's practice:

Bears Injury Report

Out: WR Alshon Jeffery (Hand)

Probable: QB Jay Cutler (Ribs; Full Participation); TE Brody Eldridge (Illness; Full Participation)


Panthers Injury Report

Out: DE Antwan Applewhite (Thigh)

Doubtful: DE Thomas Keiser (Elbow; Did Not Practice)

Probable: DT Dwan Edwards (Hand; Full Particpation), TE Ben Hartsock (Calf; Full Participation), DE Charles Johnson (Hip; Limited Participation), CB Captain Munnerlyn ((Leg; Full Participation)


When Ndamukong Suh threw Jay Cutler into the ground on Monday night, it immediately looked like Cutler may be missing quite a bit of time. Thankfully, the Bears' quarterback only suffered bruised ribs, and was able to play through pain in the second half. However, the ribs clearly limited his effectiveness, as he was inaccurate on some throws. What was particularly noticeable was how short he was on a few throws, something that we rarely see from the rocket-armed quarterback.

But, Cutler had full participation each of the last two days, and will make the start against the Panthers on Sunday. How effective Cutler will be is anybody's guess, but ABC7's Rafer Weigel tweeted on Friday that Cutler "was making good throws from what we saw at practice." And when asked by a fan if Cutler was wincing or appeared to be feeling any pain, Weigel said, "Not at all. Seems fine." So, that's encouraging news.

Alshon Jeffery appears to be the only Bear that will miss this game, and we knew that would be the case as he recovers from a fractured hand. Expect him to miss the game against the Titans next week as well, but hopefully he can return for the Sunday night showdown against the Texans at Soldier Field in week 10.

For the Panthers, defensive end Antwan Applewhite is out, and defensive end Thomas Keiser is doubtful. Both players are backups, but it still makes the Panthers' depth at the position and issue. With that in mind, the team signed rookie defensive lineman Nate Chandler, an undrafted free agent, to the active roster from the practice squad.

H/T: Chicago Tribune

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Lance Briggs: Not Stopping 'Til I Get A Ring- In a radio interview with 670 The Score's Laurence Holmes, Lance Briggs said, "Peanut asked me, ‘How many (years) would you like to play?’ I said, ‘Maybe three or four, then we walk away from it’ but I also said, ‘We gotta get a ring.’" (CBS Chicago)

Ron Rivera: This Year's Bears Team Will Be Better Than 2006 Bears Team- Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was the Bears' defensive coordinator when they went to the Super Bowl in 2006. And he thinks this year's Bears team will be better than that one.

This is what he told 670 The Score's 'The Mcneil and Spiegel Show:

"This Bears football team may be as good, if not better, and they’re going to be better, I believe that, than what we were in ’06 just because of the players they have. I think what they do offensively is very conducive to the style of play that coach Smith wants. I think that their defense, playing the way they are, with that defensive line setting the tone and the linebackers cleaning it up, and then the defensive backs make a play, they’re a formidable opponent."  (CBS Chicago)

Bears Vs. Panthers Game Preview- Jeff Hughes with an outstanding preview of the game. (Da Bears Blog)

Bears Vs. Panthers Game Preview- Adam Oestmann also with an outstanding preview of the game. (Chicago Bears Huddle)

Bears Not Looking Past Smith, Panthers- Lovie Smith: "Carolina, last year, gave us all we wanted. Was a tough game. In fact they onside kicked at the end of the game so it tells you what type of football game it was. Our defense had been playing good football throughout the year, Carolina put over 500 yards on us last year. So it’s a big test." (ESPN Chicago)

Durkin's Playbook: Defending Newton's Zone-Read Option- Dan Durkin with an excellent breakdown of the zone-read option that the Panthers have been using this year. (CBS Chicago)

Know Your Opponent: Carolina Panthers- Dan Durkin with an in-depth look at the Panthers. (CBS Chicago)

Analyzing The Panthers' Defense For Week 8- Matt Eurich breaks down the Panthers' defense. (Bears Backer)

Smith's Superior Stats No Tall Tale- 5'9, 185-pound Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has put up huge numbers against the Bears in his career. Dan Pompei explains:

But Smith is a different animal. In three games against the Bears since 2005, Smith has 34 receptions for 568 yards, including an eight-catch, 181-yard performance last season when the Bears held on for a 34-29 victory despite surrendering 543 yards of offense.

Opposing wide receivers have 118 100-yard receiving games against the Bears since 1990, including the postseason. Smith owns three of the top-10 efforts, including his 212-yard, two-touchdown performance in the 2005 divisional-round playoff meeting. (Chicago Tribune)

Bears/Panthers: Five Players To Watch- Matt Eurich gives his five Bears players to focus on in Sunday's game, with some great explanations for each choice. Here are the players: Gabe Carimi, Earl Bennett, Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman, and Matt Forte. (Bears Backer)

Bowen's Breakdown: Marshall's Touchdown Vs. Lions- Matt Bowen with an awesome x's and o's breakdown of Brandon Marshall's touchdown vs. the Lions. (CSN Chicago)

CCS Film Room: Bears' Three Red Zone Passes- The Bears' decision to throw the ball three times on from inside the five-yard line on a third quarter drive against the Lions on Monday night infuriated many Bears fans, including myself. Adam Dyson goes to the tape to break down the plays and try to figure out why the Bears didn't just, say, hand the ball to goal-line beast Michael Bush. (Chi City Sports)

Bears Explosive Gains Report Vs. Lions- Your Boy Roy takes a look at how the Bears' offense performed vs. the Lions. (Chicago Football Talk)

Four Downs- Jeff Dickerson, Michael C. Wright, Scott Powers, and Jon Greenberg give "fact" or "fiction" responses to four Bears topics. Here are the topics: The Bears should be concerned about Cutler's ribs on Sunday; Panthers coach Ron Rivera is right, this Bears team is better than the 2006 Super Bowl squad; A year later, with no Mike Martz, trading Greg Olsen to the Panthers was a mistake; The 2012 Cam Newton is a lot closer to reality than the 2011 version. (ESPN Chicago)

Evaluating Shea McClellin's Progress- Kay Paradiso examines the progress of rookie Shea McClellin. (Windy City Gridiron)

Expert Picks- (ESPN Chicago)

Expert Picks- (CBS Chicago)

Tweet Of The Day
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1. Keep Calvin Johnson from going off.

Megatron only has one touchdown on the season, but we know that he's going to break out with a monster performance any time now; he's the best receiver on the planet.

When the Lions beat the Bears on the Monday night game last October in Detroit, Johnson had five catches for 130 yards, with one of those catches being a 73-yard touchdown for the game's first points.

But when the Bears beat the Lions 37-13 last November at Soldier Field, Johnson had seven catches for 81 yards. Those appear to be solid numbers, but no so much when you factor in that Matthew Stafford targeted Johnson a whopping 19 times. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was superb in coverage. The Bears will need Peanut to play at a similar level tonight, and some safety help will be needed as well. Megatron is the only major weapon in the Lions' offense, and you can't let him beat you.

2. Establish the running game early.

The Bears have arguably the best 1-2 punch at running back in the league with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, but the numbers don't say that, at least yet. Both running backs have been banged up for much of the year, but looked good against Jacksonville, and should be close to full health now. Additionally, offensive coordinator Mike Tice hasn't called run plays as much as he should in some situations, most notably the Green Bay game. He admitted that this week (excerpt via Chicago Tribune):

"There was a guy that was calling plays in Green Bay who didn't call the run enough,'' Tice said, poking fun at himself. "That was part of the problem. Hopefully, he's not showing up this week.''

The Lions have a very good front-seven, but Forte has had plenty of success against them in the past. If the Bears can run the ball with success early in this game, it will open up more for the passing game, and that could really cause issues for a Detroit defense that is expected to be without two of their top three cornerbacks tonight (more on that below).

3. Test the Lions' depleted secondary. 

Lions cornerback Jacob Lacey has already been ruled out for tonight's game with a concussion, and cornerback Bill Bentley is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury. As I alluded to earlier, they're two of the Lions' top three cornerbacks. The Lions are so concerned about their cornerback situation that they signed cornerback Justin Miller off the street today. He hasn't played in an NFL game since 2009.

The Bears are of course without rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, their most productive receiver behind Brandon Marshall. And Marshall will surely be covered by Chris Houston, a regular starter at cornerback for the Lions. However, with very capable veteran receivers Devin Hester and Earl Bennett (returning from a hand injury) active, the Bears should have the opportunity to make big plays on these very suspect cornerbacks.

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Bear Down On The Bears-Lions Gameday Links

Posted by Matt Clapp | 10/22/2012 01:50:00 PM


Bears-Lions Monday Night Football at Soldier Field tonight! Get ready for the NFC North showdown with some outstanding info from these links:

What To Watch For: Bears-Lions- Michael Wright with a position-by-position breakdown of tonight's game, and a prediction of the winner. (ESPN Chicago)

Tice Vows He Won't Abandon Run Game Vs. Lions- Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, on himself: "There was a guy that was calling plays in Green Bay who didn't call the run enough. That was part of the problem. Hopefully, he's not showing up this week.''

Vaughn McClure, the writer of the article, adds, "True, the Lions' front seven is one of the best in the league and they have allowed less than 100 rushing yards per game (96.4). But Matt Forte has enjoyed great success against the Lions in his career, with 678 rushing yards on 135 attempts and four touchdowns in eight games." (Chicago Tribune)

Bears-Lions: Top 5 Matchups- Boomer at Bear Goggles On provides the top five matchups, in his opinion, for tonight's game. They are as follows: Devin Hester vs. Lions' special teams, Jay Cutler vs. Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril vs. Gabe Carimi, Brandon Marshall vs. Louis Delmas, and Calvin Johnson vs. Peanut Tillman. Hard to argue with those choices. (Bear Goggles On)

Stormy Weather Could Impact Bears-Lions Game- Boomer: "The weather forecast for kickoff is 50% chance of storms, but at the very least, the field should be plenty sloppy with steady rain falling in Chicago throughout the day." (Bear Goggles On)

Here's How Bears Can Beat The Lions' Blitz- Matt Bowen with outstanding x's and o's analysis as always. (Chicago Tribune)

Bears Can Contain Johnson- More great stuff from Matt Bowen, as he breaks down (x's and o's style, of course) how the Bears can contain Lions superstar wide receiver, Calvin Johnson. (Chicago Tribune)

Detroit Free Press Lions Beat Writer Dave Birkett (AUDIO)- Da Bears Blog talks with Lions beat writer Dave Birkett, previewing tonight's matchup. Highly recommended listen. (Da Bears Blog)

Know Your Opponent: Detroit Lions- Dan Durkin gives you everything you know about the Lions in this terrific write-up. (CBS Chicago)

Lions Have Been No Match For Cutler- Brad Biggs: "The quarterback is 5-1 as a Bears starter against the Lions and has a career 105.0 passer rating against them in seven starts overall. It's his best passer rating against any opponent with a minimum of four starts, just ahead of the 100.8 he has posted against the Vikings."

"As much as Cutler has struggled against the Packers with a 1-7 career record, he has owned the Lions in throwing 10 touchdowns with just one interception. Even in the loss at Ford Field last season, he was sharp, completing 28 of 38 passes for 249 yards and one score." (Chicago Tribune)

Webb A Building Block One Week At A Time- Brad Biggs writes about the progression of the Bears' much-criticized left tackle, J'Marcus Webb. (Chicago Tribune)

Devin Hester Primed For A Monday Show- Sam Householder: "Devin Hester, the greatest returner in the history of professional football, has seven total TDs on Monday Night Football and they break down as so: two receiving, two kick returns and three punt returns. That would say that he has one touchdown every 1.28 Monday night games he plays.

Now compare that to his performance on Sundays: 21 touchdowns in 89 career games: one TD every 4.24 games. Now yes, there are more games on Sundays than Mondays and returns (or any other touchdown) can be hard to come by, but clearly Hester shows up in prime time." (Windy City Gridiron)

Extra Time Off Should Help Brian Urlacher- Jeff Dickerson explains how Brian Urlacher may look better now that he had the bye week to rest his left knee. (ESPN Chicago)

Seriously, The Cutler Story Is Over, People- 110 % agree with everything Adam Hoge has to say in this article about the media's obsession with the Jay Cutler attitude/bad teammate crap. (CBS Chicago)

Bears' Chris Conte, Major Wright Are An Outstanding Cover Twosome- Mark Potash writes about how well the Bears safeties are playing in the team's defensive scheme. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Louis Delmas' Energy Fuels Lions Defense- Cutler on Lions safety Louis Delmas: "With him, it’s a different defense. I like the way he plays. He brings a lot of energy. He comes downhill. He’s active in the passing game. He’s a really good player." (Chicago Sun-Times)

Comparing Tight End Production From 2012 To 2011- Your Boy Roy takes a look at how the Bears' tight ends are producing this year with Mike Tice as offensive coordinator, as opposed to last season when Mike Martz (who hates using tight ends in the passing game) was the offensive coordinator (Chicago Football Talk)

How Have The 2012 Chicago Bears Rookies Performed So Far?- Dave Gilbert examines the performance of the Bears' 2012 draft class thus far. (Windy City Gridiron)

Expert Picks- ESPN's experts all picking the Bears. Feels weird. (ESPN)

Expert Picks- Jason La Canfora is an official Bears hater, and he's admitted that he's not a believer in this team, yet anyway. He's picking the Lions, and he also picked the Bears to lose at home against the Rams, a game the Bears of course won 23-6. (CBS Sports)

Expert Picks- All of the Tribune writers pick the Bears. (Chicago Tribune)

Expert Picks- All of the Sun-Times writers pick the Bears. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Expert Picks- Jon Greenberg is the only one from ESPN Chicago to pick the Lions (ESPN Chicago)

Expert Picks- Experts from 670 The Score, WBBM 780, and CBS2 all pick the Bears. (CBS Chicago)

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Lions cornerback Jacob Lacey will not play Monday night against the Bears.


The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions meet for a NFC North showdown on Monday night at Soldier Field, and following practice on Saturday, the teams released their injury reports for the game.

Here they are:

Bears Injury Report 

Out: WR Alshon Jeffery (Hand).

Questionable: CB Sherrick McManis (CB)

Probable: WR Devin Hester (Quad), LB Blake Costanzo (Thumb)


Lions Injury Report

Out: CB Jacob Lacey (Concussion)

Doubtful: CB Bill Bentley (Shoulder)

Questionable: DT Corey Williams (Knee)

Probable: DE Cliff Avril (Back), S Louis Delmas (Knee), TE Brandon Pettigrew ( Knee), LB Stephen Tulloch (Knee), WR Titus Young (Knee), DE Ronnell Lewis (Eye)


While the Bears will be without their #2 wide receiver in rookie Alshon Jeffery, their receivers should still have plenty of opportunities to make plays, since the Lions will likely playing without two of their top three cornerbacks in Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley.

Lacey started at right cornerback for the Lions on Sunday against the Eagles, but left the game with a concussion, and didn't practice all week. As you can see above, he has already been ruled out for Monday night.

Bentley is currently listed as "doubtful" with a shoulder injury. The rookie started three games for the Lions this season.

Assuming Bentley is also out, the Lions will be down to three cornerbacks against the Bears. Either rookie sixth-round pick Jonte Green, or Alphonso Smith (re-signed by the Lions this week) will get the start opposite cornerback Chris Houston. Green's shown promise in his limited playing time, but he's also shown that he's indeed a rookie. The 27-year-old Smith was cut by the Lions in August, and had eight interceptions over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, starting 11 games over that span. He's been known to make some gaffes in coverage and give up the big play (perfect example).

For the Bears, things are looking pretty good health-wise. We knew that Jeffery would be out for the next few games with a fractured hand. So with that in mind, to have Sherrick McManis -- a bottom-of-the-depth-chart cornerback on the team mainly for special teams -- as the only player 50/50 or worse to play, is a situation you can't complain about in the seventh week of the season. Additionally, the Bears signed Zackary Bowman to potentially replace McManis for the game.

You'll also notice that fullback/tight end Evan Rodriguez is not even listed on the injury report, which comes as a pleasant surprise after the Bears signed tight end Brody Eldridge earlier in the week.

H/T: ChicagoBears.Com; Detroit Free Press

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When writing about the Bears and Cowboys inactives for their Monday Night Football game in week four, I had this to say about about the Bears' decision to make offensive lineman Chris Williams inactive for the game:

What's particularly alarming is that Chris Williams is inactive, and is not believed to have an injury. Talk about being in the doghouse. J'Marcus Webb certainly hasn't played well, and one more bad performance could put him on the bench. But, if that were to happen, apparently veteran tackle Jonathan Scott would move in to his place, rather than Williams. I think it's very fair to wonder if Phil Emery will shop Williams before the week 8 trade deadline. The fact that he can't even get playing time on the Bears' crappy offensive line certainly can't look good to teams, but remember that he was a first round pick and looked solid at guard last season for the Bears. Some team may be willing to give the Bears a late-round pick for him. Sure, the Bears would just get a late-round pick back, but that's way more valuable than an inactive tackle in the team's doghouse, and out of the team's future plans (it would appear).

Well, apparently (and understandably) Phil Emery was unable to find any team that would offer even a seventh round pick for Williams, and decided to release the offensive lineman on Tuesday.
Williams was selected by the Bears in the first round (14th overall pick) in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Vanderbilt. Incredibly, right tackle Gabe Carimi is the only first round pick (2011) remaining on the Bears' roster from the Jerry Angelo era (and Carimi's struggling so far himself). This is precisely why Angelo was fired in the offseason.

The 27-year-old Williams started 38 games over five seasons with the Bears, playing both offensive tackle positions, as well as left guard. He went into training camp hoping to beat out J'Marcus Webb for the left tackle position, but failed to do so, and even after Webb struggled mightily in the first few games of the season, the organization still didn't feel that it was worth giving Williams a shot at left tackle. And then when Williams was inactive for the Dallas and Jacksonville games, the writing was on the wall for him to end up off the roster soon.

Williams was only making $1 million this season, so this wasn't a move made for financial reasons. Emery simply made this move to do what he felt was best for the 53-man roster. Had Angelo still been general manager, I fully believe that he would've held onto Williams as long as possible, giving Williams every chance to prove that the draft selection was a good one (or at least not as much of a "bust" pick as it currently appears to be).

Like Williams, Zack Bowman was also drafted in the 2008 draft, as a fifth-rounder out of Nebraska. He started 12 games for the Bears in 2009, intercepting six passes. However, his performance at cornerback wasn't nearly as impressive in the following three seasons, and the Bears let him walk in free agency this past offseason. He then signed with the Vikings in March, but was waived by them in early September.

Bowman was always a solid special teams player for the Bears, though, and that's the reason Emery brought him in.

Two of the Bears' core special teams players in linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (hip) are dealing with injuries that have their availability up in the air for the Monday night game against the Lions. So, bringing Bowman in makes perfect sense, as he could replace one of them on special teams if need be, and could replace McManis at the bottom of the cornerback depth chart on defense. And Bowman knows what the Bears do on defense and special teams more than any other players that are currently available free agents do, so he could step in right away.

The Bears also released defensive end Aston Whiteside from the practice squad.

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After the Bears signed tight end Brody Eldridge on Monday, it was fair to assume that rookie Evan Rodriguez's left knee is still bothersome, especially when Eldridge told Zach Zaidman, "Hope to get into the backfield, play a little fullback. Haven't done that since college, but something that I enjoy."

Fullback/H-back is of course the position Rodriguez (drafted in April as a tight end) was playing before suffering a sprained MCL in week three against the Rams.

But, Rodriguez participated in practice on Monday, a full week ahead of the Bears' week seven game against the Lions at Soldier Field. According to ESPN Chicago's Michael Wright, "Rodriguez ran pass routes during the portion of practice in which the media is allowed to view, and didn't appear to be suffering any ill effects from the sprained left MCL that kept him out of the club's last two outings."

Now, the Bears are going to surely be cautious with their rookie, but the fact that he was able to practice on Monday, and apparently didn't look like his knee was bothering him while doing so, is very encouraging news for his chances to play against the Lions.

Additionally, wide receiver Earl Bennett practiced, and told Wright that his hand feels "pain free" after it caused him to miss the last the last two games. Barring a setback, he'll be the Bears' starting slot receiver (and perhaps play a bit more outside than usual) against the Lions.

The Bears are definitely going to need Bennett with rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery out for 3-5 weeks with a broken right hand. Jeffery obviously sat out Monday's practice, as did linebacker Blake Costanzo, and cornerback Sherrick McManis. Costanzo, a special teams ace, underwent thumb surgery recently, but he expects to practice on Friday, and should be good to go against the Lions. McManis, also a key special teams player, sat out practice due to a hip injury, but no word yet on the severity of the injury.

The main story about the Lions on the injury front is the status of running back Jahvid Best, who's been on the PUP list all season due to concussion symptons. He's eligible to come off the list this week, but apparently his doctors are still debating on whether or not to clear him to play. To me, that sounds like we should consider him "doubtful" to play in this game against the Bears. And the Bears would have no complaints there, because Best ran for a whopping 163 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in the Lions' 24-13 Monday Night Football win over the Bears last season in Detroit.

The Lions could also be without cornerbacks Jacob Lacey (concussion) and Bill Bentley (shoulder), so this could set up to be a very nice matchup for the Bears' passing game.

UPDATE:
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On Monday morning, Vaughn McClure tweeted that the Bears waived running back Kahlil Bell (again), and were expected to sign a wide receiver to take his place on the roster. And that would make sense, given the fractured hand that will keep rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery sidelined for the next three-to-five weeks.

Instead, the Bears signed a tight end to the roster, in Brody Eldridge:
And hey, tight ends serve as receivers too... although we haven't seen that happen much with the Bears over the last few years. That may be a big part of Phil Emery's thinking, as the Bears are really trying to get more out of the tight ends in their passing game (like most of the other good teams are).

The signing of Eldridge certainly didn't come out of left field, though, as the Bears put Eldridge through a workout last Tuesday at Halas Hall.

The 25-year-old was waived by the Rams in August, and that may not have been because the Rams didn't want him on their roster to start the season, but because he was ineligible to play in the first four games of the season, due to a PED suspension.

Eldridge was drafted out of Oklahoma by the Colts in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and started 16 games for them over the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He caught five passes for 39 yards in '10, and nine passes for 45 yards in '11. In college, he never caught over four passes in a season, and had one touchdown. Additionally, his longest reception between the NFL and college is 12 yards.

Yep, the 6'5", 265-pounder has always been your classic "blocking" tight end, and even played some center and left guard as a senior at Oklahoma.

So, about all that stuff I gave you earlier about this signing in regards to the Bears wanting to get more out of the tight ends in their passing game? Well, it's possible the role for rookie Evan Rodriguez could change, and he becomes a weapon in the passing game, which he was drafted to do. Of course, he was doing a solid job blocking in the Bears' h-back role, and the team may not want to mess with him too much during his rookie season.

However,  Rodriguez has missed the last two games with a sprained MCL, and while Lovie Smith's talked as though Rodriguez will be ready to go against the Lions, maybe that's still up in the air. So, the Eldridge signing could also be due to tight end/h-back depth while Rodriguez's health is in question.

But... this signing now leaves the Bears with a whopping FIVE tight ends on the roster (with of course none of them serving as a major part of the passing game, yet), and Matt Spaeth's done a nice job filling in for Rodriguez's role. Maybe Kyle Adams is soon to be the odd man out?

It'll be interesting to see what Emery has to to say about all this.

UPDATE: Zach Zaidman tweeted this quote from Eldridge:
That would certainly lead you to believe that Rodriguez isn't ready to return.

UPDATE #2: Well, Rodriguez was able to participate in Monday's practice.

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In what is a response to learning yesterday that rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has a broken right hand, the Bears added some wide receiver depth to the organization today, with the signing of wide receiver of Kamar Aiken to the practice squad.

To make room for Aiken on the practice squad, the Bears terminated the contract of running back Harvey Unga.

The 6'2", 213-pound Aiken was released last week by the Bills' practice squad, after signing with them in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida. He worked out for the Packers yesterday, and was scheduled to work out for the Patriots today, so other organizations (that have a great eye for talent) were showing interest in him.

Even with Jeffery out, the Bears still have five healthy wide receivers on the 53-man roster, and now have two wide receivers on the practice squad in Aiken and Joe Anderson.

Blake Costanzo has thumb surgery: Bears special teams ace Blake Costanzo underwent thumb surgery, and sat out practice today. However, the linebacker doesn't expect to miss any games (and of course gets the bye week to rest it:
Costanzo has four tackles on special teams, after making 17 special teams tackles for the 49ers in 2011. He signed a 2-year,$1.965 million deal with the Bears in the offseason.

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The only big worry I came out of the Bears' 41-3 victory over the Jaguars with yesterday, was the health of rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery exited the game (and did not return) after injuring his right hand while making a touchdown reception (if you're going to get hurt, that's the way to do it) in the third quarter.

Well, it turns out that the hand is fractured, as feared:

Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery will not require surgery to repair a fracture in his right hand but is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks, according to a league source.
Source: Chicago Sun-Times

So, that sucks. Jeffery had turned into the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Brandon Marshall, and obviously the rookie was only going to improve with more playing time. On the year, Jeffery has 14 catches, 184 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.

The good news is of course that the Bears are on their bye week, and don't play again until Monday night of week six against the Lions at Soldier Field.

Let's assume that Jeffery is out 4-6 weeks. Here's the games he could possibly miss:

vs. Detroit Lions (Monday night, October 22)
vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, October 28)
at Tennessee Titans (Sunday, November 4)
vs. Houston Texans (Sunday night, November 11)
at San Francisco 49ers (Monday night, November 19)

The Lions, Panthers, and Titans are a combined 3-12. They're all teams that the Bears should beat, regardless of whether or not Jeffery is playing.

However, the Bears could really use Jeffery against the Texans and 49ers, who are arguably the top two teams in the NFL right now. So let's hope he can return for those games.

The Bears expect to have Earl Bennett and Evan Rodriguez back for the Lions game, and certainly Bennett's return is key with Jeffery out.

Hester will surely start in place of Jeffery and see an increase in snaps (which could mean more Eric Weems in the return game), with Bennett and in the slot (and he could move outside more than usual, too).

Expect Sanzenbacher to continue to be active on gameday, and remember Weems is a wide receiver as well. So, with Marshall, Hester, Bennett, Sanzenbacher, and Weems, the Bears have five capable receivers. And they can also do things like spread Forte out wide while using Bush at running back, use more of the tight ends in the passing game, etc.

I keep seeing people suggest that the Bears sign a free agent wide receiver, but I personally don't see anybody out there that's worth signing for a few weeks, as long as Bennett is healthy (see a list of Rotoworld's top available free agents for yourself).

Keep in mind, the 2011 Cutler-led Bears went 7-3 with this receiving corps: Roy Williams, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, and Dane Sanzenbacher (and also keep in mind that the tight ends rarely saw the ball in Mike Martz's offense). Brandon Marshall alone still makes the Jeffery-less group a much more dangerous one.

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The Bears and Jaguars meet Sunday at Jacksonville's EverBank Field, and following practice on Friday, the teams released their injury reports for the game.

Here they are:

Bears Injury Report 

Out: FB/TE Evan Rodriguez (Knee).

Questionable: WR Earl Bennett (Hand; Limited Participation)

Probable: RB Matt Forte (Ankle; Full Participation), DE Julius Peppers (Ankle; Limited Participation)


Jaguars Injury Report

Out: WR Laurent Robinson (Concussion), LB Daryl Smith (Groin)

Questionable: DE George Selvie (Knee; Limited Particpation)


It seemed possible Evan Rodriguez would be able to go this week, but the Bears are understandably going to play it safe with their rookie, and let his sprained MCL completely heal (and keep in mind he gets the bye week after this game, too). Additionally, Matt Spaeth played well in place of Rodriguez against the Cowboys, and that could've only enhanced the Bears' decision to let Rodriguez rest the knee.

Earl Bennett is "Questionable" for the second straight week, and this time, he thinks there's a good chance he'll be able to go:

How does Bennett's hand feel?

"It went good," Bennett said after practice Friday. "I was feeling a lot better. We'll see what happens this weekend."

Bennett said he thinks he can play against the Jaguars on Sunday.

"Yeah, it's feeling a lot better. I'm able to catch the ball a lot better," he said. "I'm just looking forward to this weekend to see what happens."

And Bears head coach Lovie Smith had this to say:

"Evan Rodriguez will not play this week," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have everybody else available to play. Everybody else practiced in some form I'd say today.
Source: Chicago Sun-Times

So it certainly sounds like Bennett is better than the assumed 50/50 label for a player with the "Questionable" tag. But, if he can't go, Dane Sanzenbacher will be active again and get some playing time in the slot.

Matt Forte was able to suit up vs. the Cowboys, but his ankle was clearly bothering him. Getting full participation in practice today is a good sign that the ankle is feeling much better, and barring a setback, will be the Bears' starting running back on Sunday.

Julius Peppers has dealt with some bothersome ankle/foot issues for a while now, but it's not believed to be anything that will keep him out of any games. And he'll get some rest with the bye week coming up.

For Jacksonville, they'll be without two solid veterans in wide receiver Laurent Robinson and linebacker Daryl Smith.

Robinson signed a 5-year, $32.5 million contract with the Jaguars in the offseason after reeling in 54 catches and a whopping 11 touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2011. The 27-year-old receiver hasn't had much of a chance to get similar production going with the Jaguars, though, as he's suffered 3 (!) concussions in the last 2 months, with his most recent concussion coming on Sunday (and that's why he won't be able to face the Bears). Without Robinson, Kevin Elliot, Cecil Shorts, and Mike Thomas figure to get more snaps (rookie first-round pick Justin Blackmon is locked in as one of the starting wide receivers).

As for Smith, he hasn't played in a game yet this season due to a groin injury. Backup Kyle Bosworth (16 tackles and 1 interception on the season) is expected to start in his place again.

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This what a No. 1 wide receiver looks like, folks:


Particularly fun watching Brandon Marshall run after the catch.

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It's rare when I can come out of watching a Bears game with zero complaints, but I honestly came out of the Monday night game vs. the Cowboys with zero complaints.

No, it wasn't a perfect game: Jay Cutler had a bad fumble; Kellen Davis had a terrible drop on what would've been a first down;  the Cowboys offense went right down the field like it was a piece of cake to get the momentum going into halftime; Lovie Smith made a boneheaded decision to accept an illegal contact penalty and give the Bears a 1st and 10 at the 34-yard line, rather than decline it for a 2nd and 2-ish at the 27-yard line (and the Bears ended up settling for a field goal).

But it was still pretty damn close to perfect.

A huge win on the road, in primetime, against a very good NFC team (Remember: The Cowboys beat the defending champion Giants on the road).

A statement game.

As has been the case in all four games now, the defense was absolutely tremendous, intercepting five Tony Romo passes (Major Wright twice, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, and D.J. Moore), and returning two of them for touchdowns (Tillman and Briggs). That's half as many times as Romo was intercepted all season in 2011 (10 INT in 16 games).

It all got started with the Tillman pick-six (link to video of the play). With 2:46 to go in the first half and the Bears leading 3-0, the Cowboys faced a 3rd and 9. The Bears brought linebacker Lance Briggs and safety Chris Conte on the blitz, while Brian Urlacher and rookie Shea McClellin also showed blitz as linebackers, before dropping into coverage. This is something we've seen a bit over the last two weeks with McClellin, and something people thought would happen after the defensive end played outside linebacker at Boise State. In front of them, on the defensive line, were Israel Idonije, Henry Melton, and Julius Peppers.

Here's an image of how the defense looked pre-snap (Conte is blitzing off the edge at the bottom right; from top to bottom: McClellin, Urlacher, and Briggs showing blitz):


Lovie Smith/Rod Marinelli's defense usually doesn't use too many linebacker or defensive back blitzes; they like to bring pressure with the front four, and that's certainly worked just fine thus far as the Bears came into week four leading the NFL in sacks. And with that in mind, this defensive alignment clearly confused/surprised Romo, and he panicked when Conte came flying into his face off the edge (although Dez Bryant didn't help the matter by running what appeared to be the incorrect route as well). The result was an easy pick-six for Tillman, a 10-0 Bears lead, and me running around the living room like a kid on Christmas morning.

But, the Cowboys quickly responded as Romo led an impressive drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Miles Austin, to cut the Bears lead to 10-7, and rip the momentum away from the Bears going into halftime.

And that's when Cutler came to the rescue. After struggling badly over the last two weeks, the quarterback put together quite possibly his best half as a Bear.

Cutler was 11 of 12 for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, with some of the throws being remarkable throws that only a few people on the planet could make. One such terrific throw was on this 34-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devin Hester, to cap off a beautiful second half-beginning drive, and give the Bears a 17-7 lead:


It appeared that, again, the Cowboys would soon get those seven points back, after DeMarcus Ware got a strip sack on Cutler, giving the Cowboys the ball at the Bears' 27-yard line.

However, on the very next play, Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton got to Romo, and forced what was ruled an interception (was basically a strip sack, though) that landed in the hands of Lance Briggs. Briggs then put an awesome juke move on a Cowboys offensive lineman, and ran 74 yards into the end zone to give the Bears a 24-7 lead with just over six minutes left in the third quarter.

Here's (crappy, but it's the only embeddable video I could find) video of the play:

.
That would pretty much serve as the knockout blow. Romo would go on to throw a couple more interceptions, and Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (who was fantastic all night: 7/138/1) had the easiest 31-yard touchdown reception you'll ever see:


Former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton led a Cowboys touchdown drive in the final minute against the Bears' second-string defense to make the game look a bit closer, but make no mistake about it: This was just a dominating performance by Da Bears in the 'Big D'.

Game Balls

Offense: Quarterback Jay Cutler.

It's a shame that the national media will focus on Cutler's sideline "incident" with offensive coordinator Mike Tice, because he was outstanding. The quarterback was 18 of 24, for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and a 140.1 QB rating. He was just throwing darts all over the field.

It's funny what Cutler can do when the pass blocking is actually solid, right? It certainly was good last night, and that's not something I expected against the Cowboys and pass-rushing star DeMarcus Ware. The offensive line was certainly "game ball" worthy, as was Brandon Marshall.

Defense: Defensive Tackle Henry Melton.

An absolute monster so far on the season with four sacks in four games from the defensive tackle position. He had one in this game, and as I said earlier, you could've counted the Briggs interception as a Melton sack and forced fumble, because that's pretty much what it was.

Melton is in a contract year, and if he keeps playing at this level, a big payday is on the way.

Extra Game Ball

The Crowd.

That looked like a Bears home game (heck, look at the crowd in the picture at the top of the post for proof), and after the game, many Bears players commented on how awesome it was. Great stuff, and hopefully Bears fans can keep filling up the other road venues like that this year.

Injuries

Running back Matt Forte suited up after being a game-time decision with an ankle sprain, and on his very first carry, limped off the field after aggravating the injury. He came back into the game, and finished with 13 carries for 52 yards. That's still a rock-solid four yards per carry, but he clearly wasn't 100%, and it's fair to question the Bears' decision to make him active for the game. Still, you have to respect Forte for gutting it out.

Julius Peppers and Chris Conte each went to the sidelines with injuries during the game, but both players are reportedly fine.

Up Next

Bears at Jaguars, Sunday at 3:05 PM CT.
TV: FOX (Broadcasters: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa).
Line: Bears -5.5

It's never easy on the road, and you worry about the Bears being too caught up in last night's victory. However, they're significantly more talented than the Jaguars, and it's hard to see second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert doing much against this Bears defense right now. Additionally, the Bears' defensive line should be able to have a big game against a Jaguars offensive line that has struggled in pass protection.

Oh, and the Jaguars' defense only has two sacks on the season, so the Bears offensive line has a good chance of giving Jay Cutler time to throw again.

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Bears Inactives: WR Earl Bennett, OL Chris Williams, DT Matt Toeaina, DT Nate Collins, DE Cheta Ozougwu, OL Edwin Williams.

Cowboys Inactives: OLB Anthony Spencer, NT Jay Ratliff, DE Kenyon Coleman, C Phil Costa, P Chris Jones, S Matt Johnson, LB Alex Albright.

Important players inactive for each team tonight. The good news for the Bears, though, is of course that running back Matt Forte (ankle) is not on that list of players. Lovie Smith even considered Forte a game-time decision as of this morning, but Forte will suit up and is expected to get his regular load at running back. You'll also notice that backup running back (and short-yardage gold mine) Michael Bush is not on that list. However, the Chicago Tribune's Vaughn McClure tweeted this earlier today:
So, yeah, that's something to monitor/be concerned about.

Now, about the players that are actually inactive. Earl Bennett (hand/wrist) being out is a huge loss for the Bears. He's the starting slot receiver, and is a very popular target for Jay Cutler on third down. Just how reliable are Bennett's hands? He leads the NFL in lowest drop rate over the last three years. Expect Dane Sanzenbacher (active for the first time this season) to get a lot of playing time in the slot in place of Bennett (Devin Hester and Eric Weems may see some snaps there as well).

What's particularly alarming is that Chris Williams is inactive, and is not believed to have an injury. Talk about being in the doghouse. J'Marcus Webb certainly hasn't played well, and one more bad performance could put him on the bench. But, if that were to happen, apparently veteran tackle Jonathan Scott would move in to his place, rather than Williams. I think it's very fair to wonder if Phil Emery will shop Williams before the week 8 trade deadline. The fact that he can't even get playing time on the Bears' crappy offensive line certainly can't look good to teams, but remember that he was a first round pick and looked solid at guard last season for the Bears. Some team may be willing to give the Bears a late-round pick for him. Sure, the Bears would just get a late-round pick back, but that's way more valuable than an inactive tackle in the team's dog house, and out of the team's future plans (it would appear).

Defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Nate Collins are inactive again as well. This means only three defensive tackles are active (Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, and Amobi Okoye), again. And that's just fine since those three players are playing their asses off, and the Bears continue to rotate defensive ends inside on passing downs.

For the Cowboys, they're without 3 starters in their front 7, with Anthony Spencer's absence the biggest headliner. Earlier today, it was reported that the Cowboys expected him to play tonight, but apparently he woke up with more discomfort and they're playing it safe with their outside linebacker that is terrific in stopping the run. Still, even though these three players are inactive, pass-rushing terror DeMarcus Ware will be playing, and finding a way (somehow) to prevent him from getting to Cutler is easily my biggest fear going into this one.

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