Biggs: 10 thoughts after Bears' loss to Texans
By Brad Biggs
10:20 a.m. CST, November 12, 2012
Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears’ 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday night that ended their six-game winning streak and left questions about the status of quarterback Jay Cutler and the handling of his concussion.
1. A dozen soldiers sat in the front row of the Soldier Field news conference room two hours before kickoff Sunday as part of a concussion awareness program being conducted jointly by the Army and the Bears.
It is ironic the Bears were involved in such an exercise, part of a program the Army and NFL created in August, on the night quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Shea McClellin were lost to concussions. Cutler’s injury was the result of a crushing blow to the head from Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins. More on Dobbins and his explanation of the play in the next item.
In attendance was Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, a much higher-ranking official than these soldiers encounter on a typical day. Ferriter sat next to Bears president Ted Phillips, and also on the panel were former Bears Gary Fencik and Otis Wilson as well as Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a certified clinical neuropsychologist who is the independent physician the Bears use for players with head injuries. She is likely the doctor who will have to clear Cutler for a return to action.
The panel and the soldiers had talked for 45 minutes about the significance of communicating when they have head injuries and the initiative in the Army to have soldiers who have suffered head injuries sit out before returning to battle.
Then, the moderator asked the soldiers to raise their hand if they would notify their superior officers if they had suffered a concussion or head trauma. Not a single soldier even twitched.
The moderator joked they were guilty of insubordination after listening to Ferriter talk about the need to be honest as part of a change of culture needed within military ranks.
“It’s a statement of extreme loyalty,” Ferriter said.
Perhaps that was what was at play with Cutler after he was decked by Dobbins’ illegal hit late in the second quarter and he quickly waved off help. Team doctor Mark Bowen was on the field 11 seconds after the play – I broke out the stopwatch for the replays – but Cutler didn’t come out of the game with a concussion until halftime. What’s curious is the NFL is supposed to be watching closely for concussions since last season when Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy remained in a game after receiving a huge concussion-causing hit from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison. The NFL moved to assign an independent trainer to watch each game with the purpose of ensuring everyone was on the lookout for concussions.
It sure didn’t look like any test was administered to Cutler immediately after the play and there was plenty of time. Bears coach Lovie Smith challenged the penalty called against Cutler on the play – an illegal forward pass. So, there was a period of 4 minutes, 57 seconds between the end of the play that Cutler was hit and the snap of the next play. Along the sideline during the break, Bears assistant equipment manager Carl Piekarski was drying off the handwarmer Cutler wears around his waist. It was drenched when Dobbins knocked Cutler down. There was no huddle of doctors and medical personnel around him.
Cutler completed the series, which ended when he was intercepted by Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson after staring down wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He returned for another possession just before halftime. In total, he had seven snaps after the hit from Dobbins.
“No symptoms until the half,” Smith explained. “He took some shots. We just know, at the half, that’s when he did have symptoms. Whatever the symptoms are for a concussion. I’m going to let the doctors handle that. I just know he couldn’t go back in the football game. I try not to be Dr. Smith very often.”
Extreme loyalty to his teammates? Perhaps. NFL policy prohibits players suffering head injuries from being interviewed after games, something that makes sense. Cutler knew something was up because he gave backup Jason Campbell a heads-up to be ready to play in the third quarter. Everyone acknowledges the biggest hurdle in changing the culture surrounding concussions in the NFL is making players feel like it is OK to come forward with their injury. The league is far from achieving that goal.
Fencik talked about suffering one concussion he knows of in a game against the Houston Oilers following a collision with running back Earl Campbell. He was back on the field in a matter of minutes.
“I felt an obligation,” Fencik said.
More than two decades later, players say the same thing.
“It’s a tremendous challenge,” Fencik said. “Because it’s your job. You go down for a play and a guy five years younger than you, (making less money) replaces you. You lose your job.”
Wilson said he didn’t suffer any concussions in his career but said he was “dinged” on occasion.
“I gave (concussions) out,” Wilson said with pride, the same kind of emotion Dobbins seemed to be beaming with afterward.
Then, in a more serious tone, Wilson talked about former teammate Dave Duerson, who committed suicide, and recounted how Duerson would forget how to get to O’Hare Airport or not know directions downtown.
“Lingering effects haven’t hit me yet,” Wilson said.
Cutler isn’t in jeopardy of losing his job but there is a very real stigma associated with concussions in the NFL and that isn’t going away any time soon.
“We want to get rid of the warrior mentality,” Phillips said. “It’s going to take years to get cultural change we need.”
It was evident, following this seminar that it’s going to take considerable time for change to be achieved in the military because there wasn’t a soldier in the room interested in being one to come forward about head injuries.
2. Texans inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, who replaced Brian Cushing after Cushing was lost for the season with a torn ACL, likely will receive a fine from the NFL for his helmet-rattling hit on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
“I don’t think so and I hope not,” Dobbins said afterward when asked about the prospect of a fine.
“I hit him in his chest,” Dobbins said. “I did not hit him in his head. Nowhere near.
“It was good that he was out. You always want to take the quarterback out of the game.”
It’s not good for the NFL when quarterbacks are out of the game and that is what happened Sunday in three cities as the Philadelphia Eagles Michael Vick and San Francisco 49ers Alex Smith were also lost to concussions.
Dobbins hit Cutler when they were in the open field. He came up as Cutler worked to make a throw and had an entire body to aim at.
“You want to try to aim for the hip, you get the legs, the body goes down with them,” Dobbins said. “But with him, he was trying to deliver the ball so I really tried to hit him up high so I can mess up the throw as well.”
He missed the chest. Dobbins hit Cutler above the shoulder pads and now he’ll likely pay.
3. There is one problem for the Bears and the NFL when it comes to promotion of the idea they are pro-active in the promotion of player safety. When it comes to money, the line blurs. I reported in detail in January how former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was denied an injury protection benefit as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement after the team’s independent neurological consultant, Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, recommended Hillenmeyer no longer play football because of the lingering effects of his fifth NFL concussion.
The Bears denied Hillenmeyer’s claim and he eventually went to arbitration over what was a $900,000 claim – half of the base salary he was due to earn the next season.
"It makes me sick to see (the league) claim it is driving concussion research and putting player safety first," Hillenmeyer told me.
"The whole system is designed to do one thing: make owners money. ... The fact that a case as black and white as mine can't even get resolved is indicative of a much, much deeper truth. Owners know what the game is doing to players, but once they fully acknowledge it, the gig is up."
Pieroth, who was at the pregame seminar conducted by the Bears and Army, wrote in her medical report on Hillenmeyer: “Hunter is a very bright young man with an unfortunate history of multiple concussions from football. Given this history, his apparent increased susceptibility/vulnerability to concussions, increased recovery time, and position as a linebacker, it is my recommendation that he consider retirement from professional football.”
That right there is what will make players, especially younger, less established ones, from ever coming around in what the NFL hopes will be a changing culture for concussions. The financial risks for them can be severe, immense. They’re not interested in thinking big picture.
I believe Phillips when he says he wants to “get rid of the warrior mentality.” But when stories like this become public, it’s sometimes hard to believe clubs are always acting with the same interests in mind. Worse, it makes you wonder if it’s a bigger issue that takes you back to the league. The NFL can’t reject legitimate monetary claims by players the independent concussion specialists say should not play football again and then promote partnerships with the Army aimed at increasing awareness and education.
4. What’s next for the Bears at quarterback? It could be a “Monday Night Football” duel between Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick. A long week will help the Bears and 49ers as they sort through the issues facing starters Jay Cutler and Alex Smith and the hurdles they must clear to return to game action.
Cutler missed one week in 2010 after he suffered a concussion against the New York Giants. This is the third concussion of his NFL career, including one with the Denver Broncos. According to a team source in 2010, Cutler suffered one concussion while playing at Vanderbilt. A 2004 story in the Tennessean documented three concussions for Cutler in college.
General manager Phil Emery signed Campbell at the outset of free agency for a situation like this, giving him a $3.5 million, one-year contract. The move was fueled by the collapse last season when Caleb Hanie went 0-4 in place of Cutler after a broken hand sidelined him.
Campbell completed 11 of 19 passes in the second half but for only 94 yards, with 45 coming on one completion to Brandon Marshall. In difficult rainy and windy conditions, the Bears needed the big play and they couldn’t get it. But Campbell said he got a feel for the action after basically being relegated to running the scout team in practice. The Bears, like every other team, give nearly all of the first-team practice reps to the starter.
“I’d be more comfortable,” Campbell said when asked what it would be like if he started vs. the 49ers. “Tonight was my first reps of the season. If I have to be out there next Monday against the 49ers, I will be ready to play. I will compete my butt off.
“Might have to go next week against another head-hunting defense. So, it’s the job you’ve been given and opportunities. You’ve got to go out there and make the best of it.”
The Oakland Raiders were 4-2 with Campbell as their starter last season before a broken collarbone cost him the remainder of the season. He was clicking in Hue Jackson’s offense and in the early juncture of the season the Raiders were the team to beat in the AFC West.
“He makes smart decisions and he’s got a big arm,” said running back Michael Bush, a teammate in Oakland. “Good quarterback, man.”
Given his position, Bush thought Campbell did as best as he could against the Texans, a highly ranked defense.
“I think he handled it the best way he could,” Bush said. “No turnovers.”
Said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher: “That’s why we got Jason. We’re better off now than we were last year at this time. If something were to happen to him, hopefully he will be back soon. Jason did a good job. (It’s) a tough situation throwing the ball in those conditions. It can’t be easy. I thought he came in and did a good job for us.”
He’ll have to do better if he’s needed against the 49ers but given a week, he should be in position.
5. Enough quarterbacks and concussions. General manager Phil Emery and the front office are ramping up for a December scouting meeting that lays the groundwork for their draft preparation. Emery has maintained his goal of hitting the road regularly to see college talent so he’ll be up to speed in the process. Emery’s roots are in the college scouting ranks and he’ll probably never stray far from that.
There will be considerable work for the Bears when the offseason arrives when it comes to their own roster as well and those decisions will help shape the direction the club takes in free agency and then the draft. Four starters on defense are in contract years – middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, strong-side linebacker Nick Roach, defensive tackle Henry Melton and defensive end Israel Idonije. Cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and D.J. Moore, who have split the nickel back role (a 12th starter in coach Lovie Smith’s estimation), are also in contract years. Dan Pompei recently documented how cornerback Charles Tillman will be entering the final year of his contract in 2013 – set to earn a base salary of $7.95 million with a $50,000 workout bonus to push the total to $8 million. That kind of pay day could promote an extension.
The bump in the contract of defensive end Julius Peppers is also worth exploring. Peppers, who had his sixth sack of the season in the loss, is set to earn a base salary of $12.9 million in 2013 with a $100,000 workout bonus. His salary-cap number will be $16,383,333 -- $4.2 million more than it is this season.
Take a look at the numbers for Peppers:
Base salary/cap number
2012: $8.9 million, $12,183,333 million
2013: $12.9 million, $16,383,333 million
2014: $13.9 million, $17,383,333 million
2015: $16.5 million, $19,683,335
Those are big numbers the Bears will have to account for next season. It’s conceivable the Bears could look for a restructuring to spread some of the money out and reduce the cap number, but that would require two things. First, they would have to commit to a guarantee with Peppers. Second, they would only push off a cap issue with the player, they wouldn’t erase it. The Bears’ style under salary cap manager Cliff Stein has been to avoid doing that. Peppers’ value to the defense is immense. He’s the motor on the defensive line and this is the reality of the massive contract that was needed to lure him in free agency back in 2010.
6. Talk about high standards. Lovie Smith referenced the multiple dropped passes in the game – I counted two by tight end Kellen Davis, one by wide receiver Devin Hester and one by Brandon Marshall. The Marshall drop came in the end zone, the second one he’s had in the end zone this season. He also dropped what would have been a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in a Week 2 loss.
It’s good that Smith is bringing up the drops because they’ve happened too often for Davis and Marshall. But Smith, in his postgame remarks, spread the blame around.
“You can’t miss a field goal like that also,” he said, referring to a 48-yard try by Robbie Gould that went off the left upright at the start of the fourth quarter.
Really? The conditions were rough to kick on and Gould did hit from 51 and 24 yards earlier in the game. He entered as the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history. There were far bigger culprits in the loss. The Bears’ inability to run the football was a big one. Their inability to stop Texans running back Arian Foster at times was another one. Gould missing from 48 yards seems like nitpicking. With the 51-yarder, Gould has now made 10 consecutive tries from 50-plus yards, the second-longest streak in NFL history. He needs one to tie Tony Zendejas, who set the mark from 1988-1993 with the Houston Oilers and Los Angeles Rams.
Getting back to Davis, he is not getting it done for the money. Drops have repeatedly been a problem for him and with the game on the line late, he couldn’t haul in a third-and-11 pass from Jason Campbell that was deep down the middle. Davis injured his back – a problem for him earlier in the season – on the play.
“Jason put in a place for me,” Davis said. “I’ve just got to make a play. It’s very frustrating. That is probably the worst game I have had as a pro.”
Davis signed a two-year contract as a free agent in March. He’s earning $3.5 million this season -- $2.7 million in the form of a signing bonus with a $700,000 base salary and a $100,000 workout bonus.
7. If the Bears are looking for positives to take out of the game – and aside from the injury situation this was far from a disaster – the offensive line did not allow a sack to a defense that entered with the NFL leader in J.J. Watt, who had 10 1/2 sacks.
Right tackle Gabe Carimi was put to the challenge against his former Wisconsin teammate. He got some help and it wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was better than Carimi has had in recent games.
“Without watching the film, I felt this was a really good game for me, personally,” Carimi said. “But there are obviously things that still need correction.”
What made it better?
“I just think I had a better game plan this week going into it,” he said. “Just using my hands more. Getting my head out of blocks. I think I did pretty well overall but there are always things to clean up. Get back out there and take it to San Fran.”
Carimi knows one better showing is not proof that he’s back to the level offensive coordinator Mike Tice thought he was at pre-injury last season, when he called him an emerging talent.
“It’s not over yet,” Carimi said.
Watt and Carimi were not close in college so it’s not surprising that the defensive end wasn’t real complimentary.
“The weather helped him,” Watt said of the slick field. “It doesn’t make it easy when you can’t stand up. They played well. They had a good scheme. We won.”
8. Texans safety Danieal Manning had a fine performance in his first return to Soldier Field since departing as a free agent in 2011. He forced a fumble when he stripped tight end Kellen Davis and he intercepted Jay Cutler.
“Where’s Brad Biggs?” Manning said in the Texans' locker room after the game.
Manning felt I gave him a rough ride during his career with the Bears. One of the problems with Manning when he was with the Bears was he didn’t make enough plays with the ball, even when you consider that can be challenging for safeties in the Cover-2 scheme when they are forced to play so far off the ball. The Bears low-balled and in free agency the Texans stepped up with a $20 million, four-year offer that included $9 million guaranteed. He’s made them very happy and from a distance it looks like he’s finally settled in.
Teammates didn’t always trust Manning when he was with the Bears and that can probably be blamed in large part on the coaches constantly shifting him around and never letting him settle in at one position. I can recall a conversation with a defensive starter after a preseason-ending exhibition at Cleveland in 2008 when Manning looked to be on the outs when it came to the starting lineup.
“Well, that would be a good thing,” the starter told me.
The player liked Manning. He just didn’t believe he could trust Manning in a scheme predicated on gap discipline. The Texans are trusting in Manning and he’s delivering.
9. Tight end Matt Spaeth completed an online auction of football memorabilia last week to help raise funds for the family of William Christopher Pettry, who was murdered on Oct. 7 while in Jacksonville to see the Bears play. Pettry, 42, left behind his wife and three children. Tight end Kellen Davis held a fundraiser at a downtown bar and multiple players were involved in a haunted house fundraiser. Pettry’s death touched many players and quarterback Jay Cutler hosted the family prior to the Carolina Panthers game.
“Anything and everything helps these people out,” Spaeth said. “They were kind of left to fend for themselves, that kind of deal. I was just happy that I could do something. Everything that we did raise will really help.
“For me, I don’t know if I was affected more than other people but I was just in shock that that happened and the story of how it happened. I know we had nothing to do with it but the guy was down there to watch us play. It was like I almost had a sense of guilt to be honest with you. You know? It was weird.”
10. This was the Bears’ fourth prime-time game out of five scheduled with the next one next Monday at San Francisco. NFL rules prohibit teams from being scheduled with more than five games at night but they can be “flexed” into a sixth night game. A source said that Fox has not protected the Packers-Bears game at Soldier Field on Dec. 16 that tentatively is scheduled for a noon kickoff, meaning NBC could choose to move it to the 7:20 p.m. game for a national audience. However, that is unlikely because NBC currently has San Francisco at New England in that slot. That doesn’t mean another Bears’ game might not appeal to the network. It’s also entirely possible the Packers-Bears game could be moved to a 3 p.m. kickoff.
10 a. Players are looking at the calendar and beginning to smile because they know padded practices will be coming to an end soon. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for 14 padded practices per team during the regular season. Eleven of the 14 must be held during the first 11 weeks – with a maximum of one per week. That means after this week, Bears coach Lovie Smith will have three padded practices to use in the final six weeks of the regular season. The guess is the Bears might pass on using one in Week 12, which is a short week coming off the Monday night game in San Francisco. The Bears host the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12 on Nov. 25.
10 b. Former Bears linebacker Dom DeCicco is hoping to catch on with a team soon. He received an injury settlement in preseason after suffering a groin muscle tear but that settlement has expired so he could re-sign with the club. DeCicco will have a workout for the New England Patriots on Tuesday and he previously had a tryout for the Detroit Lions. DeCicco was second on the Bears in special teams tackles with 17 as a rookie last season. He was probably on some emergency lists around the league and what helps him is he could be a special teams fill-in for a player that isn’t necessarily a linebacker.
10 c. The meeting with the Texans concluded the Bears' schedule with the AFC South teams this season. Here is an early peek at what is ahead in 2013, not including the traditional home-and-home matchups with NFC North foes. The Bears will host Dallas, the New York Giants, Baltimore, Cincinnati and the team with the corresponding finish in the NFC South. The road trips will be to Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the team with the corresponding finish in the NFC West. If things finish as is, the Bears would host the Atlanta Falcons and play at San Francisco for the second consecutive season. But a first-place finish in the division isn't wrapped up for any of the teams at this point.
10 d. Left guard Chilo Rachal made 38 starts over the last four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers but just three last season before he was benched. He doesn’t harbor any ill will for the Niners, though.
“It’s another team on the schedule,” Rachal said. “That’s my past. This is my future. They have a great coaching staff there and great players but I am a Chicago Bear. They are another good team on the schedule.”
It’s probably best Rachal doesn’t spend any energy dwelling on what was.
10 e. Cornerback Tim Jennings – dubbed the Hawk before the season began – had his third two-interception game of the season. He leads the NFL with eight picks through nine games. Jennings had seven career interceptions through 85 career games entering this season. The NFL record for most picks in a single season is 14 by Dick “Night Train” Lane with the Los Angeles Rams in 1952.
10 f. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was limited in practice on Friday so he should get more extensive work this week.
10 h. Cornerback D.J. Moore was active and in uniform but did not appear in the game.
Arguing on the internet is like winning the special olympics, even if you win your still messed up.
Restore the roar!
Glad the line played as well as they did, Davis shouldn't be here next year (unless he picks it up dramatically), it's weird to ever say this about a Bears rookie WR but i'm very glad he's gonna be back, I do NOT want Cutler playing the 49ers Monday, we're gonna have a high representation of DLinemen at the pro bowl this year. Bam! my 5 thoughts, and I did it for free so i'm not biased to make a deadline.
I know it's a different era and one can't compare but for Jennings to even be within striking distance of Night-Train is pretty cool.
Arguing on the internet is like winning the special olympics, even if you win your still messed up.
Restore the roar!
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The game was so exciting I feel asleep during the middle of the 3rd quarter.