Deafening cheers or errie silence. That was the either or result of what the crowd reaction at Soldier Field would be just seconds after the ball left the foot of Bears kicker Cody Parkey on what turned out to be a do or die field goal attempt with the Post Season on the line. Shortly after the thudding sound of Parkey’s foot meeting the ball the winner was eerie silence as the ball doinked off the left upright and than the cross bar and out towards the goal line for the crushing missed field goal that would have likely clinched the winner and advance the Bears to the divisional round of the playoffs.
How cruely ironic that the Bears last offensive possession of the season was a missed field goal hitting an upright. The 6th one of the season for Parkey. I can’t say this for certain but that has to be the most by a kicker in NFL history in one season.
The other side of this is that this is the biggest weakness of the team. If you have the youngest roster in the NFL coming off a 12-4 season in the first year of your new head coaches reign with what looks like a franchise Quarterback on your roster on a rookie deal and kicker is your biggest issue 32 out of 32 teams take that all day.
Now, there appears to be visual evidence that the kick was slightly tipped which caused it to vear left. Even though the video does show it being tipped at the line if it was a kicker with a stronger leg and had better technique there may have been a higher trajectory to avoid the tip or more power to offset the tip and keep it true. Either way this bridge has been burned in my opinion and no way can the Bears justify bringing Parkey back. This fan base would burn down Halas Hall!
There are some interesting options from the college Bears might be able to woo in college free agency. The top guy appears to be LSU’s Cole Tracy who the Bears may have to use a late draft pick on which is unlikely since the Bears have no 1st and 2nd round picks this season. Unless they acquire a bunch in trade downs it’s highly unlikely the Bears use one of their five picks to get Tracy.
However, they do have a good chance to get Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship or Utah’s Matt Gay. Both have hit around 88% of their kicks and have 50 yard plus Range although you wonder how much of that aids Gay’s distance in the thin mountain air of Utah.
Another interesting name to look out for is San Diego State’s John Barron II who has a booming left leg and has hit nearly 87% of all his kicks.
This may be the season to need a kicker because not only does the college ranks offer a fertile crop of prospects but free agency has some extremely interesting names. Stephen Gatkowski, Adam Vinitari, Sabastian Janikowski and Robbie Gould will be on the market. Some of the most legendary names in NFL history are on this list. Guys who have hit big field goals in big games. So there are a few options. I will note that the Bears are unlikely to spend on a big multi year deal given the lack of cap space and the 9 million dollar cap hit from Parkey should they choose to cut him which is highly likely.
The second biggest story of this contest was the injuries. The top one of course was All-Pro Safety Eddie Jackson coming into the game. He did end up dressing but never got into the game. Obviously, some gamesmanship on the Bears part. While Dion Bush and Adrian Amos played well Jackson is the type of player who can make game changing plays as well as force teams to account for him in their game plans.
Then there was the mysterious Trey Burton groin injury that Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy did not identify with what type of groin injury or it’s degree of severity. Only saying that Burton woke up in pain and informed the team at 5 am. Of course this led to speculation on Twitter and elsewhere among Bears fans that Burton had an axienty attack as he did earlier in the year against the Giants when the Bears ran their version of the Philly special Oompa Loompa. You can tell it affected their game plan as the Tight Ends they did have had very little plays run for them.
Although it has been awhile now, the Bryce Callahan injury may have played a big part in the loss too. On what turned out to be the winning touchdown Eagles receiver Golden Tate caught a simple out route with Sherrick McManis on the coverage. Mcmanis actually had a good game and has filed in admirably for Callahan but one has to believe playing man up on Tate, that play is covered like a blanket with Callahan in the coverage and it forces Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles to look elsewhere with Bears linemen breathing down his neck.
By the way, in regards to that game winning drive for the Eagles, it was greatly aided due in part to a short field. I know the missed field is significantly bigger but Parkey wasn’t the only kicker to fail the Bears in this loss. On the ensuing punt Bears Punter Pat O’Donnell hit a poor 36 yard punt putting the ball near midfield giving the Eagles a short distance to score a touchdown with nearly 4 minutes to go. Looked like he was trying to be to precise with his punt trying to hit it out of bounds to prevent a return. Not sure in that case that was the way to go. Perhaps just hauling off and punting the life out of it and punting it as far as you can may have been the way to go.
Getting back to the injury issue, perhaps the most impactful may have been the injury Bears Quarterback Mitch Trubisky sustained on a first half scramble. While pulling up going out off bounds he tweeked his heel according to Matt Nagy. This limited Trubisky who did not run the ball in any capacity after that play. Trubisky confirmed it did in fact affect him but he continued to play through it. This limited the play calling as Trubisky’s mobility is a huge part of his game.
In any event Trubisky played well particularly in the second half. He played very well in the 4th quarter with the game on the line making some incredible throws from the pocket. The most incredible being a perfectly lofted touch pass down the right sideline for a 29 yard completion that put the Bears in field goal range. He than completed an 8 yard pass to Allen Robinson to get the Bears in an even more manageable field goal attempt. In that very same quarter Trubisky engineered what was at the time the go ahead Touchdown to put the Bears ahead 15 to 10.
He did have a slow start as the Bears managed a merger 30 yards of offense in the 1st quarter. In large part due to poor play from Trubisky. He also narrowly escaped two picks. One along the sidelines when Trubisky threw late on an out route that was actually caught but Avonte Maddox, but was out of bounds before he could get the second foot down. The other was an Ill advised heave into the end zone that was nearly picked.
However, it was an encouraging performance by the young signal caller in his first playoff game. One of the positives to take out of this game. It’s now all about the off-season and seeing who the Bears add, let go and acquire but the foundation has been laid in what should be an improved team. The youngest roster in the league had gained invaluable experience particularly on offense. Also gaining playoff experience has to help. The defense figures to continue to be dominant with or without Vic Fangio. The continued development of the running game on offense will be among the most anticipated events during training camp. This one hurts but it’s a pain that may be of benefit to the team moving forward. You always remember the pain more than the pleasure. The Bears can only hope that pain leads to the learning experience needed to propel them to the acquisition of the Lombardi trophy.