<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Sports]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Wed, 17 Sep 2014 04:57:51 -0500 Wed, 17 Sep 2014 04:57:51 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Barkley Throws "Turrible" First Pitch]]> Wed, 17 Sep 2014 02:11:14 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Barkley_Cubs.jpg

Everyone knows Hall of Fame NBA player Charles Barkley has an ugly golf swing. Now you can add baseball to the sports Barkley has yet to master.

Barkley threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday's Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and let's just say it was a bit outside. Way outside.

As one of the MLB announcers said it, the pitch was "Turrible."

Move over 50 Cent and Carl Lewis, you have company.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orioles Clinch AL East With 8-2 Win]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 22:08:23 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*131/455561388.jpg

The Baltimore Orioles won their first AL East crown since 1997, using home runs by Steve Pearce and Jimmy Paredes to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 Tuesday night before a boisterous crowd of 35,297 at Camden Yards.

With their ninth win in 10 games, the Orioles clinched their second playoff appearance in three years following a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Afterward, the Orioles converged behind second base, fireworks soared in the outfield and streamers sprayed throughout the crowd.

It was Baltimore's ninth AL East title and only its second since 1983, when the Orioles last won the World Series.

The franchise has enjoyed a rebirth under the guidance of manager Buck Showalter, whose 1,254th victory thrust him past mentor Billy Martin into sole possession of 36th place on the career list.

Baltimore is 42-23 in a division that includes the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the free-spending New York Yankees and pitching-rich Tampa Bay. The Orioles led by only four games on Aug. 6 before going on a 27-11 run.

The clinching victory featured an unlikely list of contributors, not at all unusual for a team that often delved deep into its 25-man roster. Ubaldo Jimenez was making his first start in a month; Pearce has morphed from a bit-player to a key starter; and Paredes didn't join the team until Aug. 28.

Pearce provided the Orioles with the lead for good with a three-run drive off Drew Hutchison (10-12) in the first inning. Pearce has 18 home runs this year, one more than he had in 290 games as a part-timer from 2007-13.

Paredes hit a solo shot in the second to make it 4-2. It was his second homer in 10 games with Baltimore.

In addition, newcomer Alejandro De Aza hit a three-run triple in the seventh for a 7-2 lead. De Aza came to the Orioles in an Aug. 30 trade with the Chicago White Sox.

Jimenez (5-9) survived a rocky start to limit the Blue Jays to two runs and two hits over five innings in his third start since July 5. After signing a $50 million, four-year deal in the offseason, Jimenez struggled with his control for much of the season, sprained his ankle in a parking lot before the All-Star break and ultimately lost his place in the rotation.

Pressed into service because the Orioles played a doubleheader Friday, Jimenez issued four walks in the first two innings. But he bounced back to retire his last 10 batters.

Orioles fans have until Friday to register for a ticket lottery online. Winners will be notifed next Wednesday.

Photo Credit: MCT via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Four Tips for Running Your First Marathon]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:51:38 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/NBC_Chicago_Marathon05.jpg Most first time marathoners have done a lot of research about what to expect on race day, so you probably already know about putting band-aids on your nipples, pacing strategies, nutrition, etc.

That being said, here's four common sense tips that you may not have yet come across.
  1. Just finish! If this is your first race, don't get caught up in the details. Just focus on finishing. Completing a marathon is a huge achievement and you should be very proud of yourself when you finish. Have an idea of your pace, but don't pressure yourself to maintain a certain pace. Save that for future marathons.
  2. Don't introduce anything new. This is common sense in many ways. For example, don't try out new shoes or socks on race day. But, also know what beverages and energy sources will be available for you during the race. Do they provide you with Gatorade, but you've been using Powerade on your runs? Will they be providing you with Gu but you have been using Cliff? The small details make the big details. Train like it is race day.
  3. Know the difference between pain and an injury. It is inevitable that you will feel pain and discomfort while running your first marathon. It is important to know the difference between pain and an injury. If it is just pain, push on and continue. An injury would require you to stop. You will know the difference, tune in to what your body is telling you.
  4. Post-race care. I love walking around downtown Chicago the afternoon of the marathon. You can tell who ran the marathon, and it's not only because they are wearing a medal. It's because they are limping, moving very slow, and in a decent amount of pain. The recovery process after a marathon is just as important as the training that you put in before the marathon

Photo Credit: A. Soave]]>
<![CDATA[Five Runner-Friendly Smoothie Recipes]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:39:06 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Smoothies-Generic-Shutterstock.jpg

I'm a smoothie fanatic. It happened a few years ago when I was browsing food blogs and came across a "Green Monster Smoothie" recipe (similar to the Green Smoothie Base recipe below).

I quickly learned that smoothies are the perfect way to pack in extra nutrients for breakfast, for pre-run fuel or as a recovery drink.

But before you jump headfirst into the smoothie world, remember these four smoothie rules:

  1. Use a liquid base. Any milk or milk substitute will work in a smoothie recipe. I'm partial to unsweetened original almond milk. Add one cup for a single serving smoothie. Use less liquid if you like your smoothies thicker (with a milkshake consistency, for example).
  2. Add your greens. Add spinach or kale to smoothies to up the healthy factor and pack more greens into your diet. Both greens blend into the other smoothie flavors and you can't taste a thing. Curly kale is my favorite type to use, with the stems removed.
  3. Use a powerful blender. Make sure you have a blender that can handle ice or frozen fruit. I use the "process" and "chop" speeds the most often, for 20-30 seconds each. When blending an ingredient like curly kale, make sure to utilize the "process" or equivalent speed on the blender a bit longer than usual. Kale is more "woody" than spinach and needs extra blending power.
  4. Experiment with extras. Using frozen fruit and yogurt makes smoothies extra creamy and ice cold. I add unsweetened/raw almond butter, peanut butter, or peanut butter powder (such as PB2) when I'm in the mood for a heartier smoothie. Other extras I like to add include pitted dates, chia seeds, and protein powder.

Celia's Five Favorite Smoothie Recipes
Each recipe makes one 12 ounce smoothie, or two smaller smoothies to share. You can easily mix up ingredients using the rules above to create many different flavor combinations. Happy sipping!

Green Smoothie Base

  • 1 banana 2 handfuls spinach
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup ice

Tropical Green Smoothie

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup frozen mango chunks
  • 2 handfuls curly kale (no stems)
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt

Banana Chocolate Protein Smoothie

  • 1 banana
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 handfuls spinach
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt

PB&J Smoothie

  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter
  • 2 handfuls spinach
  • 1 cup almond milk

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
<![CDATA[Bears Sign Frey, Cut Williams, Draughn ]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:14:05 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/144483986.jpg

With injuries to Charles Tillman and concerns about the team’s wide receiver depth, the Chicago Bears made a slew of roster moves on Tuesday afternoon.

The biggest news of the day was the decision to sign cornerback Isaiah Frey off of the team’s practice squad. Frey played all 16 games for the Bears last season, serving primarily as the nickelback on the roster. He had 62 tackles and two pass break-ups on the year, and he will likely see a big chunk of playing time in the spot with Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller moving to the outside cornerback positions in Tillman’s absence.

The Bears also promoted wide receiver Rashad Ross from the practice squad. This is Ross’ second year in the league, but he spent all of 2013 on practice squads, first signing with the Tennessee Titans and then with the Kansas City Chiefs last year. He also had some kick return experience in his college days at Arizona State, returning 28 kicks for 779 yards and two touchdowns.

In order to make room for Ross and Frey, the Bears cut three players from their 53-man roster, with Shaun Draughn, Chris Williams, and Matthew Mulligan all being let go by the team.

Draughn’s departure wasn’t much of a surprise, considering the poor effort he put forth in the special teams department in Sunday’s win against the San Francisco 49’ers. His missed block on a punt ended up resulting in a blocked punt (and excellent field position for San Francisco) and he also picked up a holding penalty on the game’s opening kick-off.

The Bears’ decision to waive Williams came as more of a surprise. On Tuesday during his press conference, Marc Trestman didn’t exactly show much faith in Senorise Perry as the long-term answer at kick returner for the Bears, and Williams’ proficiency in that area is one reason that the team signed him. Not even giving him the chance to start at the spot indicates that the team isn’t comfortable with him playing at the receiver position, but it’s still an odd bit of timing.

The Bears rounded out their day of moves by signing defensive tackle Roy Philon to the practice squad. They currently have one spot available on the 53-man roster, and three spots available on the 10-man practice squad. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Top 5 Blackhawks Camp Storylines: Crawford's New Contract]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:01:21 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/161*120/494777645.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks will begin their 2014 training camp at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, and as we approach that milestone, we’re going through the top five storylines that fans should keep an eye on as camp begins.

Today, we continue our countdown with a question about goaltender Corey Crawford: Can he live up to his big new contract that takes effect this season?

During the course of GM Stan Bowman’s tenure at the helm of the club, the Blackhawks have been a team that has emphasized paying its defensemen to suppress shots while seeking value deals for the players that patrol the blue paint. We saw that with Cristobal Huet, who was sent off to Europe rather than retained on the NHL roster, and we saw it again with Antti Niemi, whom the Blackhawks parted ways with after he went to arbitration in 2010.

In the case of Crawford however, the team made an exception, signing him to a six-year deal that will pay him an average of $6 million per season through the end of the 2019-20 campaign. Crawford has played some great hockey for the Hawks over the years, nearly leading them to a massive upset of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 playoffs and helping guide them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2013. His numbers last year were a bit down from his impressive 2013 campaign, but a 2.26 goals against average was good enough for ninth in the NHL, so he still was a very capable goaltender.

The question facing Crawford now is a simple one: is he going to be able to live up to the contract that the team signed him to? After all, he’s going to be turning 30 years old in December, and even though he has worked hard on his rebound control and puck-handling, he still leaves something to be desired at times in the crease.

When you look at the players he’s paid similarly to however, you can see why the Hawks opted to give him the money that they did. Sure, you have players like Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Quick that are superior goaltenders (although one can argue that Varlamov is due for some regression, while Crawford has been relatively consistent), but you also have players like Ryan Miller and Cam Ward, who are both older and less successful in their careers than Crawford is.

Needless to say, there is a compelling argument that can be made that Crawford was given too much money by the Blackhawks, especially when considering that players like Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger will be looking for new contracts soon. Even with that being the case, Crawford still isn’t overpaid by that much, and he has proven through the years that he’s capable of excelling whether the defense in front of him is good or not.

The 2014-15 season is going to be a good indication of what to expect from Crawford now that his pockets are lined with fresh cash. Will he still be the same goaltender that carried the Blackhawks past the Minnesota Wild in this year’s playoffs, or will he be the goaltender that was outclassed by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012? Only time will tell. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Boast NHL's Best Playoff Odds ]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:01:39 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/4854038871.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks are a betting favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup next June, so when online sportsbooks put together their odds of the team making the playoffs, they are understandably bullish on their chances.

According to Bovada, the Blackhawks are the favorite of all 30 NHL teams to make the postseason, with 1-to-11 odds that they will. To put that into perspective, if you were going to bet $100 that the Hawks would make the playoffs, you would only win $10 if they did. That isn’t much return on investment, but in the world of sports betting, you don’t exactly swim in cash if you only bet on sure things.

In case you were curious, the Boston Bruins have the second best odds on the board to make the playoffs at 1-to-10. For the teams at the bottom of the pile, the Buffalo Sabres are the longest shot, with 4-to-1 odds of making the postseason out of the Eastern Conference. The Florida Panthers could be an intriguing bet, with 11-to-4 odds of making the playoffs.

Here are the full odds for all seven Central Division teams:

Chicago Blackhawks:

Yes -1100 (1/11)

No +625 (25/4)

St. Louis Blues

Yes -800 (1/8)

No +500 (5/1)

Minnesota Wild

Yes -280 (5/14)

No +220 (11/5)

Colorado Avalanche

Yes -160 (5/8)

No +130 (13/10)

Dallas Stars

Yes -150 (2/3)

No +120 (6/5)

Nashville Predators

Yes +250 (5/2)

No -325 (4/13)

Winnipeg Jets

Yes +250 (5/2)

No -325 (4/13) 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Video: Teuvo Teravainen Makes No-Look Assist to Mark McNeill]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 11:19:07 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*124/480591495.jpg

Over the past few days, the Chicago Blackhawks sent some of their best prospects to the annual Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario. Guys like Mark McNeill, Teuvo Teravainen, and many others hit the ice wearing the iconic Indian-head sweater, playing against rookies from the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Pittsburgh Penguins (in case you’re curious: the Blackhawks ended up losing all three games they played).

On Monday night, the Hawks wrapped up their slate of games in the Great White North against the Senators, and just in case you’re not excited for training camp to start, this video of Teravainen making a no-look pass for a McNeill goal should do the trick:

Neither player is guaranteed a spot on the Blackhawks’ roster when the season begins, but if there are injuries or trades that occur during training camp, both guys could see some ice time. Teravainen is going to be embarking on his first full season in North America this year, and although it would be fun to see him on the Hawks’ roster, it may not quite be that time yet.

Even still though, seeing plays like this is a great reminder of the great skill that he possesses, and he could be lethal when paired up with guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Stick-tap to @CoreyPronman for the heads-up on the video. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Radisson Suspends Minnesota Vikings Sponsorship]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 21:51:53 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/adrian-peterson-indicted_1200x675_328790083813.jpg

The Radisson hotel chain is suspending its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings after star running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse in Texas.

In a statement Monday, Minnetonka-based Radisson said it "takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children."

Radisson says it's suspending its limited sponsorship of the Vikings "while we evaluate the facts and circumstances."

Radisson's sponsorship includes a press banner that is behind those speaking at Vikings news conferences.

Peterson is accused of using a wooden switch to spank his 4-year-old son. The running back says he was using a form of discipline his father used on him as a boy.

A Vikings spokesman says the team has "respectfully honored" Radisson's request.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago

<![CDATA[Tillman To Be Placed on Season-Ending IR]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:10:20 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/178*120/455466232.jpg

The Chicago Bears picked up a statement victory on Sunday night, but they may have suffered a huge blow to their playoff chances despite the triumph. 

Cornerback Charles Tillman, who missed the final eight games of the 2013 season with a torn triceps muscle, reportedly is headed back to the injured reserve list with the same injury, meaning that his 2014 season is over: 

The Bears were forced to make a tough decision with Tillman, as they had already used their "designated to return" IR spot on wide receiver Marquess Wilson before the season began. Kyle Fuller will likely step in at cornerback for Tillman, and it wouldn't be a shock to see the team bring back Kelvin Hayden. 

Obviously the decision for Tillman means that his future with the team is once again in doubt. After some uncertainty following last season, he signed a one-year deal with the team, but after tearing his triceps for a second consecutive year, it's likely that the cornerback could contemplate retirement. The Bears drafted Fuller in anticipation of eventually having Tillman either leave or retire, but no one expected the promotion to come this soon. 

When all is said and done, Tillman is not only a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but he is also an excellent person as well. His charity work has garnered him accolades and awards, but more importantly it's done an incredible service both to children and military members in Chicago and elsewhere. 

Whatever his future path is in the NFL, Tillman's impact in Chicago cannot be understated, and he will be sorely missed both on the field and off if this is the end of the road for him. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Top Five Blackhawks Camp Storylines: Special Teams ]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:32:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/479428817.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks will begin their 2014 training camp at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, and as we approach that milestone, we’re going through the top five storylines that fans should keep an eye on as camp begins.

Today, we begin our countdown with a very simple question: How are the Blackhawks going to line up on special teams this year?

We’ll start out with the group that has more questions to answer, and that’s the penalty killing unit. Last season the Blackhawks started out really slowly in that area, ranking near the bottom of the league in successful kills. Over the course of the season, things improved for the team, but they still ranked 19th in the league in the category.

This season, things are going to be a bit different for the Hawks. Michal Handzus, who finished third on the team in time on ice last season in short-handed situations, is gone, and there isn’t a candidate that’s a surefire bet to replace him on the top line. Joel Quenneville might opt to replace Handzus with a reliable guy like Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa, but more likely he’s going to put someone with Marcus Kruger that’s younger and more eager to make an impression on the coaching staff.

If that’s the case, then two guys immediately come to mind. The first is Ben Smith, who averaged 1:16 of ice time in short-handed situations last season. The other is Joakim Nordstrom, who in only 16 games with the Hawks averaged 1:04 of short-handed ice time per game. Both players have proven that they are capable of playing solid defense, but how they perform in camp and in the preseason will have a big impact on whether or not they’re tasked with this critical role.

Speaking of critical roles (and awkward segues), the Blackhawks’ power play unit could also see some changes this year. With Brad Richards being added to the mix, the team’s top power play line will likely be switched up, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews being the only two surefire contenders for spots. Richards could slide in nicely with those two, but then the question would be how to structure the rest of the group.

Our best guess would be that the Hawks would like to utilize Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith at the point again, with Toews moving to the front of the net and Richards and Kane being out on the wings. That would leave Andrew Shaw to move down to the second power play line, with Nick Leddy and Brent Seabrook serving as point men. The wing spots are certainly up in the air on that line, but Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad could be an intriguing combination in those roles.

Whatever changes may end up occurring on those lines, the Hawks should still have a very potent group after a season in which they finished in the top-10 in the league in power play goals scored. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["Not a Child Abuser": Adrian Peterson Apologizes]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:10:55 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tlmd_adrian_peterson1.jpg

Adrian Peterson is coming back to the Minnesota Vikings two days after he was charged with child abuse for using a wooden switch to spank his 4-year-old son, and the star running back said Monday he is not a child abuser and wants "everyone to understand how sorry I feel about the hurt I have brought to my child."

Peterson, considered one of the best running backs in the NFL, was benched for Sunday's 30-7 home loss to the New England Patriots. He had not commented publicly since news broke on Friday that he had lashed the boy with the switch earlier this summer, causing an unspecified injuries.

"I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser," Peterson said in a nearly 500-word statement issued through his agency and posted to his Twitter feed. "I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury.

"No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that's what I tried to do that day."

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said they had decided to bring back Peterson for practices and Sunday's game at New Orleans "after significant thought, discussion and consideration." The Wilfs said they want to let the legal process play out before making any more definitive decisions on Peterson's future with the only NFL team he has ever played for.

"To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child," the Wilfs said. "At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action. This is a difficult path to navigate, and our focus is on doing the right thing."

Peterson faces an initial court appearance in Conroe, Texas, on Wednesday on a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child, which carries penalties of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said he will try to delay the arraignment until next week after Hardin returns from a vacation out of the country.

Corporal punishment is legal in Texas and non-deadly force against a child by a parent or guardian is permissible. But the punishment is abusive if it causes injury. A blow that leaves a bruise, welt or swelling, or requires medical attention, could be judged abusive. The guidelines also say use of an instrument "is cause for concern."

Hardin said Peterson used a switch because that was the way he was brought up by his parents in Palestine, Texas, and the NFL star agreed.

"I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen," Peterson said. "I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child. I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate."

The Vikings decided not to play Peterson against the Patriots, moving swiftly after a week in which the NFL came under heavy scrutiny for its handling of a domestic violence case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

The Vikings clearly see Peterson's case as different from the 2011 case involving former cornerback Chris Cook, who was accused of choking his girlfriend. Cook was initially suspended by the team before being reinstated with pay. But the Vikings barred him from all team activities, including games, while the legal process unfolded.

Cook wound up missing 10 games and was eventually acquitted. He never faced discipline from the NFL and played two more seasons with the Vikings before signing with the 49ers.

The NFL is looking into Peterson's case, and if convicted he could face a minimum six-game suspension under the league's new tougher domestic abuse policy that was implemented after Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he botched Rice's initial punishment.

The Vikings' decision to reinstate Peterson comes on the same day the NFL announced that three experts in domestic violence will serve as senior advisers to the league. Goodell sent a memo to teams Monday announcing that Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith will "help lead and shape the NFL's policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault."

"I accept the fact that people feel very strongly about this issue and what they think about my conduct," Peterson said. "Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago

Photo Credit: EFE]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks, Capitals Will Appear on "24/7"-Style Show After All]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:18:22 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/475984677.jpg

Last week, HBO revealed that they would not be airing “24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” this season. That meant fans who were looking forward to getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals before their game at Nationals Park on New Year’s Day were going to leave empty-handed.

That all changed on Monday morning, however, when sources told ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside that the television network Epix will be airing a similar show to “24/7” in December. The program will be commercial-free, just like its predecessor, and the show will be available to stream online.

Here’s more from Burnside:

“Not only will Epix, the cable entity that is a collaboration of heavyweight Hollywood film studios Lionsgate Entertainment, MGM and Paramount Pictures, produce four segments leading up to the Jan. 1 game at Nationals Park between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, they will produce another four-segment series that will lead into the Stadium Series game Feb. 21 at Levi’s Field (sp) between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, a source told ESPN.com.”

While the news that the show will be returning has some hockey fans giddy, there are were bloggers who were quick to point out a flaw in the NHL’s plan:

Even if your cable or satellite provider doesn't carry Epix, the Burnside report reveals that all NHL fans will still be able to watch the show. Whether it's streaming it through the network's gaming platform apps or some other method remains to be seen, but more information on that subject will be announced next week.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hampton Compares Cutler, Kaepernick]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:26:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000008821442_1200x675_329355331951.jpg 09/14/14: Dan Hampton analyzes how Jay Cutler and the Bears were able to defeat Colin Kaepernick and his 49ers.]]> <![CDATA[Hampton: "This is Why You Play the Game"]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 11:52:49 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000008821373_1200x675_329357379575.jpg 09/14/14: Dan Hampton reacts to the Bears' suprising 28-20 comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers.]]> <![CDATA[Fans React to Bears' Win Over 49ers]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:26:35 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/fanzone.jpg 09/14/14: Sports Sunday viewers take to social media after the Bears' 28-20 comeback win over San Francisco.]]> <![CDATA[Fuller Makes Big Statement as Bears Win ]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:07:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/171*120/455467708.jpg

The 2013 season was one derailed by injuries for the Chicago Bears, with their defense ending up a patchwork mess that barely missed the playoffs thanks to a breathtaking coverage gaffe by Chris Conte in the final game of the season.

In 2014, Conte has done a great job of redeeming himself, with two interceptions in the first two games of the year, but on a night where the Bears’ offense is getting a lot of praise thanks to the work of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, it was a rookie that stole the show.

Kyle Fuller, who raised eyebrows when he was selected with the 14th overall pick in May’s NFL Draft, ended up picking off two passes in the game, and the Bears scored touchdowns following both turnovers as they registered a stunning 28-20 victory over the San Francisco 49’ers.

What was perhaps so remarkable about the interceptions wasn’t the skill involved with both (which we will get to later), but instead that Fuller was able to tune out all the extra noise surrounding him and deliver after making a silly mistake early in the game.

With the Bears down 7-0 after just a few minutes of play, the 49’ers were once again marching down the field, but looked to be stopped. With the 49’ers pinned in a third and long situation, the Bears picked up back-to-back penalties to extend the drive. First it was Willie Young getting flagged for an offside infraction. Then Fuller, who was out on the edge in one-on-one coverage, grabbed Stevie Johnson’s jersey, and after the pass fell incomplete, the Niners were bailed out and got a fresh set of downs.

After that bone-headed play (which helped San Francisco to extend their lead to 10-0), things went from bad to worse for Fuller. He’d played plenty of corner in the preseason as Tim Jennings lined up at the nickel position, but he was thrust into an even bigger role after Charles Tillman went down with a triceps injury early in the third quarter. That meant matchups against some of San Francisco’s top targets, and alarm bells surely went off in the heads of plenty of Bears fans and observers.

Then, in an instant, that trepidation gave way to optimism. On a throw to the outside shoulder of Michael Crabtree, Fuller was somehow able to work his hand between the receiver’s arms, and when the ball popped loose, the rookie cornerback snared it, and carried it all the way down to the San Francisco six-yard line to give his team the best field position they could hope for.

Even after that play (which helped the Bears to take the lead in the contest), Fuller wasn’t done. On a third-and-12 play, Colin Kaepernick dropped back to pass again, and lofted a ball over the middle of the field for Derek Carrier. Even though he wasn’t covering Carrier on the pass, Fuller read the ball and did what Tillman has done so many times in his career: he attacked. Intercepting the ball, Fuller gave the Bears good field position once again, and when Cutler tossed yet another touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, that was all she wrote as the Bears picked up an improbable win.

No, one game isn’t enough to say that Fuller is going to be the dynamic playmaker that Phil Emery and the Bears anticipate that he will be. He still has plenty of work to do on his game, and if Tillman is out for a long period of time, he will be under an immense amount of pressure to succeed early in his career.

If Sunday night is any indication however, Fuller is not only ready to answer the bell, but he very well could thrive too. He’s got the nose for the football, the drive to reward Emery’s faith, and most importantly of all, he’s got the ability to shrug off a big mistake and do something positive to make up for it.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tillman Injury Dampens Mood After Bears Win ]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:06:28 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/178*120/455466232.jpg

The Chicago Bears single-handedly took their season from the darkness of disaster and dragged it back into the light on Sunday when they knocked off the San Francisco 49’ers by a score of 28-20, but the victory came at a serious cost.

Cornerback Charles Tillman, who missed the final eight games of the 2013 season with a torn triceps muscle in his right arm, re-injured the muscle in Sunday’s victory, and camera shots from NBC showed the veteran cornerback crying on the sideline. The injury kept him out of the second half of the contest, and if his reaction was any indication, it could keep him out for a lot longer than that.

Tillman wasn’t the only Bear injured in the game. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who has been arguably the team’s best defensive lineman in the first two weeks of the season, left the contest with concussion symptoms in the second half, and after going through protocol was diagnosed with a concussion. It’s unclear at this point just how serious the injury is, but it could well mean that either Will Sutton or Ego Ferguson will make their first career NFL start next week against the New York Jets.

Safety Chris Conte, who had his second interception of the season on Sunday on a spectacular diving play, was also injured in the game, suffering a shoulder injury. Conte has dealt with a lot of injuries over the past few months, having offseason shoulder surgery and suffering a concussion against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason, so even though it isn’t surprising that he’s hurt again, it definitely hurts the Bears to have their best safety off the field.

Finally, cornerback Sherrick McManis was injured in the game as well, suffering a quad strain. His injury left the Bears with only two healthy cornerbacks, and safety Brock Vereen got in on the action as he filled in at nickel corner as Kyle Fuller shifted outside for the Bears.

There will be some updates at Halas Hall on Monday when it comes to the injuries, but most of the focus will be on Tillman. The veteran corner signed a one-year deal to return to the team over the offseason, but if this injury proves to be serious, the Bears could be forced to shut him down for the year. They unfortunately do not have the option of placing him on injured reserve with designation to return, as they’ve already used that tag on wide receiver Marquess Wilson, and so if this injury is going to linger, then the team will either have to put him on IR to free up a roster spot or carry him on the 53-man roster until he’s healthy again.

Either way, the Bears’ defense delivered a great performance on Sunday, but it also took some body blows in the victory over San Francisco.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[In His Toughest Test, Cutler Stands Tall as Bears Triumph]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:05:10 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/455466636.jpg

As he lay on the brand new turf at the brand new Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night, one old thought had to cross Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s mind:

Oh no, not again.

Down 17-0 and stuck near midfield with an offense that hadn’t shown any of the potency that it’s become known for, Cutler had just taken a huge shot to the chest from 49’ers defensive end Quinton Dial. The play had drawn a flag for roughing the passer, but Cutler was understandably slow to get up, and with a huge deficit, that may have looked like the nail in the coffin after a lost half of football.

The moment was a perfect metaphor for what had happened the last time Cutler had suited up against the 49’ers in San Francisco. Back in his first season with the Bears in 2009, Cutler came into a Sunday night game and promptly threw five interceptions as the Bears lost 10-6 to San Francisco. It was one of the worst games of his career, and was the icing on the cake on what ended up being a disappointing season for the team.

On Sunday though, just as he has so many times in his Bears career however, Cutler got up, dusted himself off, and went to work. After Matt Forte was stopped for a short loss on first down with 56 seconds remaining in the half, Cutler fired a pass to Brandon Marshall at the San Francisco 26-yard line. With just 18 seconds remaining, Cutler then threw one of the best touch passes of his career, and Marshall’s one-handed touchdown grab not only got the Bears on the board, but it seemed to wake them up as well.

After the half, Cutler once again fired the ball with precision, confidence, and most importantly of all, effectiveness. After the hit from Dial, Cutler ended up 15-of-16 for 138 yards and four touchdowns, and the Bears went from being down 17-0 in a hostile road environment to victors in the span of just two quarters.

In fact, the comeback was not only impressive, but it was downright historic. The Bears have gone down by 16 or more points in 144 road games, and Sunday night was just the third time in those contests that they have actually come back to win. Think about that. The Bears, who were ridiculed all week for losing to the lowly Buffalo Bills (who, by the way, beat the Miami Dolphins and ran their record to 2-0 on Sunday), stormed back and picked up their biggest comeback victory on the road since they came from 20 down to beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2006.

While it would be easy to simply mention that the Bears made it to the Super Bowl that season and move on (they also won the Super Bowl the last time they beat the 49’ers on the road in 1985), that would distract from the facts at hand. No, the Bears and Cutler aren’t defined by the history that they made in this game. No, they aren’t now destined for greater glory because they proved a national television audience (and not to mention a lot of skeptical fans and writers) wrong. What this win proves is that the Bears are a team that not only has the tools to win games in the wide open NFC, but they also are a team that has the resiliency required to bounce back from adversity.

The Bears will face plenty more of that this season. They are a team that has Cutler at quarterback, after all. He is going to make throws that drive fans and coaches nuts, and he’s going to be dismissive about questions after the fact. He is never going to be the prototypical savior of a franchise, full of smiles and goodwill toward the media. He is always going to be that cocky kid who drives some fans nuts, but on nights like Sunday, you can’t help but be reminded of the resiliency and toughness that he brings to the table.

For all of his gifts and his physical attributes, that is the one thing that should never be underestimated, and hopefully won’t be again.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Golfer Wins Trip to Space After Hole-in-One]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 07:13:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/455429326.jpg

An English golfer scored a trip into space by sinking a rare hole-in-one at a tournament on Sunday.

Andy Sullivan made the shot at the 163-yard, 15th hole at the KLM Open in the Netherlands, The Associated Press reported.

XCOR Aerospace, an Amsterdam-based company that sponsored the tournament, offered a 100,000-euro ($129,238) seat aboard a commercial flight into space to the first player to make an ace on the 15th hole, according to Golf.com.

The reward was aimed at promoting the company's space trips, which are set to open to the public beginning in late 2015.

"I'm not sure yet,” Sullivan said when asked if he would take the trip, Golf.com reported. "I'll see what the missus says."

Sullivan finished third at the KLM Open, two shots behind winner Paul Casey.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bears Stun 49'ers 28-20 in Comeback Thriller]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 06:57:19 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/190*120/455464846.jpg

The Chicago Bears trailed the San Francisco 49'ers 17-0 early, but thanks to three touchdown catches by Brandon Marshall and two interceptions from Kyle Fuller, they picked up a stunning 28-20 victory on Sunday night. 

Jay Cutler threw for 176 yards and four touchdowns in the game and Alshon Jeffery had three catches for 47 yards in the contest. The Bears didn't turn the ball over a single time as they picked up an improbable road victory over the heavily-favored 49'ers. 

The Bears got the ball first to start the game, and even with a poor return by Senorise Perry, they were pinned even further back thanks to a penalty by Shaun Draughn. After a three-and-out drive, Perry missed a block on the edge, and Pat O’Donnell’s punt was blocked. The 49’ers capitalized in short order on their ensuing drive from the red zone, as Colin Kaepernick’s pass to Michael Crabtree made it a 7-0 game just three minutes into the contest.

After another failed Bears drive, the 49’ers got back on offense and took advantage of a slew of Chicago penalties to move down the field. Kyle Fuller’s holding penalty, coupled with Willie Young’s offside infraction, ended up giving San Francisco a first down, and Vernon Davis picked up another one a few plays later. Finally though, the Bears were able to calm things down (including an excellent Shea McClellin play to keep contain on a Kaepernick read-option), and after a field goal San Francisco’s lead was extended to 10-0.

The Bears looked to have a first down on their next drive, but Martellus Bennett’s catch was overruled after Jim Harbaugh challenged the call on the field. The 49’ers couldn’t cash in however as Jeremiah Ratliff made a key stop on third and short, and San Francisco had to kick the ball right back.

The next 49’ers drive came to an abrupt halt after Chris Conte picked up an athletic interception for the second week in a row. After Kaepernick locked onto his receiver in the seam, Conte undercut the route and made a diving pick to give the Bears the ball back. Once again though, receivers failed to get open downfield, and a three-and-out was the result for Chicago as the offense sputtered again.

As had been the case on so many drives before, the Bears’ offense went three and out, and the 49’ers very nearly extended their lead. Frank Gore ran for a huge touchdown, but a penalty on Anquan Boldin wiped it out. A few plays later, the Bears’ defense stepped up again, with Jared Allen punching the ball loose from Kaepernick and Danny McCray recovering it.

Once again though, the Bears’ offense struggled, with Brian de la Puente causing a fumble as he snapped the ball to Cutler before he was ready. The third down pass to Alshon Jeffery was incomplete, and after a decent boot from O’Donnell, the 49’ers still had decent field position. In the red zone, the 49’ers picked up a touchdown as Jon Bostic jumped out of his gap, and Gore coasted into the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown run to make it a 17-0 game.

The Bears got the ball back at the two minute warning, and immediately got a great play out of Cutler, who ran for a long first down scamper to get the ball into San Francisco territory. Quinton Dial then was flagged a few plays later for spearing Cutler with a shot to the sternum, and despite the hit, Cutler stayed in the game.

A few plays later, Cutler and Brandon Marshall hooked up for one of their patented spectacular touchdowns. Cutler delivered a perfect high pass to the end zone, and not only did Marshall go up to make the grab, but he did so one-handed, and when he completed the process, the Bears found themselves down just 17-7 as the half came to an end.

The third quarter saw only two drives with both teams going on prolonged trips up the field. The 49’ers began the quarter with a lengthy drive of their own, but the Bears ended up holding them to just a field goal. A stellar play by Willie Young ended the drive as he got a free release around the edge and tackled Gore on a third down play, but another San Francisco field goal made it a 20-7 game.

 The Bears responded to that drive beautifully, engineering a lengthy scoring drive of their own. A couple of 49’ers penalties advanced them down the field, and then Cutler found Marshall and Dante Rosario for first downs. In the early stages of the fourth quarter, the Bears finally cashed in on the efficient work by the offense, as Marshall created separation at the goal line and snared his second touchdown pass of the day to make it a 20-14 game. 

As the 49’ers got going on offense again, the Bears’ defense once again took control of the contest. On an outside pass pattern to Michael Crabtree, Kyle Fuller got inside position and somehow pried the ball loose for the interception. After Fuller was tackled at the six-yard line (and the ball moving to the three following a Kaepernick inappropriate language penalty), the Bears scored on their first play from scrimmage as Bennett got a free release in the corner and snagged a great pass from Cutler. When Robbie Gould kicked the ball through the uprights, the Bears took a 21-20 lead.

On the next San Francisco drive, the Bears’ pass rush came on full force. Lance Briggs made a couple of key plays, and then Shea McClellin and Allen combined to sack Kaepernick. A few plays later, Fuller read another pass perfectly from behind and jumped up to snare his second interception of the game, and just like that the Bears were given a chance to extend their lead.

Alshon Jeffery made a key catch for a first down in the red zone, and just a few moments later, Marshall once again won a physical battle at the goal line, got open, and grabbed a touchdown to put the Bears up by eight points with just seven minutes remaining in the game.

The 49’ers weren’t ready to concede defeat after the double-whammy however, and they slowly moved their way down the field. Kaepernick scampered for a first down after both Allen and Brock Vereen missed sack attempts, and then a penalty on Ryan Mundy gave them another one.

The Bears finally stood tall at the end however, with Willie Young and Fuller each making plays to slow down San Francisco. On a fourth down play with about a minute remaining, the Bears watched as Crabtree got his hands on the ball, but he couldn’t come up with a pass, and San Francisco turned over the ball for the final time. 

The victory could be a tough one to swallow for the Bears, with injuries to Charles Tillman and Jeremiah Ratliff weighing heavily on their minds. Despite those losses though, the Bears are 1-1, joining the rest of the division at that mark, and they’ll have momentum heading into next week’s game against the New York Jets on Monday.  

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Marshall, Jeffery Active for Bears Against 49'ers ]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 18:38:09 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/1586863201.jpg

The Chicago Bears held Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery out of practice all week long, and while a report Sunday morning indicated there was a 75 percent chance that both would sit out the game against the San Francisco 49'ers, news has come out that both players will be on the field: 

The Bears ended up deciding to leave Josh Morgan off the field as he continues to recover from a groin injury, and he will be joined on the sidelines by Roberto Garza, who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, and Matt Slauson, who suffered the same injury. 

OT Charles Leno Jr., DE David Bass, DT Cornelius Washington, and LB Khaseem Green round out the list of inactive players for the Bears. 

The Bears will have a couple of new wide receivers on the field, as practice squad call-ups Josh Bellamy and Chris Williams are both active for the game. Both players were with the Bears during training camp, but both were cut by the team before the campaign began. 


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Three Keys to a Bears Victory Over San Francisco]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 17:52:40 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Giants-Bears-TNF.jpg

The Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49’ers are set to open up the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Sunday night, and while a lot of the focus this week has been on players like Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, there are plenty of other factors that are going to go into the game if the Bears want to be successful.

Without further adieu, here are our Three Keys to Victory for the Bears.

Contain Hyde and Gore (and Kaepernick)

The 49’ers are a team that has decent weapons with Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, but the real straw that stirs the drink on offense is their running game. With veteran Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde, the 49’ers are capable of running the ball effectively, and that area was the Bears’ Achilles heel last season.

This time around, the Bears do have players capable of stopping the run. Lamarr Houston established himself as a solid run-stopper during his time with the Oakland Raiders, and Jeremiah Ratliff had an excellent first game of the season for the Bears despite the loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Those two will be crucial, but equally important will be the linebacking corps. With Lance Briggs, Shea McClellin, and Jon Bostic coming on and off the field, the Bears have to make good reads in that area, or else the 49’ers are going to use their arsenal of running weapons (including quarterback Colin Kaepernick) to run roughshod over the Bears.

Establish Balanced Attack Early

The Bears ended up getting really pass heavy on their play calls at times during the game against the Bills, but that is to be expected to some extent. With a bevy of talented weapons and a head coach known for molding the passing game, the Bears are generally going to be a pass-first team, but they have to avoid becoming too one-dimensional on that side of things.

To do that, Matt Forte is going to need to get some serious work early. Whether it’s designed runs to the outside (Jordan Mills has to find his form as a run blocker for this to work) or trying to get through gaps in the middle of the line (Kyle Long will be critical here), Forte needs to show that he can carry the ball for decent gains, and that should open up the offense for the rest of the team.

This will be especially critical because of the injury concerns facing the Bears at wide receiver. With players banged up all over the place, the Bears have to be able to run the ball, or else Forte and Martellus Bennett are going to be easily swallowed up in the ferocious 49’ers defense.

Improved Pass Rush a Must

In the Bears’ loss against the Bills, the only defensive end that was able to really get any traction in the game was Willie Young. In the team’s nickel package, Young lines up at the end position, with Lamarr Houston kicking inside to the tackle spot, and Young was doing a great job of getting around the edge and disrupting EJ Manuel’s rhythm.

In this game, the Bears will not only need Young to continue to get around the edge effectively, but they will also need Jared Allen and Houston to pitch in during base package plays as well. Allen said all week long that he felt great in the Week 1 loss, but his performance left something to be desired.

Both he and Houston are going to need to be in top form in order to force Kaepernick’s hand in the pocket, and if they can, it could be a long day for the 49’ers’ offense.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Jared Allen Talks Bears, Super Bowl Dreams]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 15:32:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/215*120/jared+allen+int.jpg On Sunday, all eyes will be on Bears defensive lineman Jared Allen, one of the NFL’s all-time sack leaders who earlier this year signed with Chicago and now has grand plans to lead his new team to the Super Bowl. But on the heels of a season-opening loss in overtime, can the Bears bounce back? NBC Sports Josh Elliott sat down with Allen. ]]> <![CDATA[Bears vs. 49'ers: Five Bears Players to Watch ]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 12:42:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bears_Santonio-2.jpg

The Chicago Bears are out on the West Coast Sunday night for a showdown with the San Francisco 49’ers, but while the matchup is going to be a stern test, it can be a winnable game if the Bears play better than they did last week against the Buffalo Bills.

We’ll have keys for the game a little bit later this afternoon, but in the meantime, here are five players that will need to step up in a big way for the Bears:

LB Lance Briggs

Briggs was the subject of plenty of controversy last week, with his decision to miss practice for a restaurant opening and his alleged partying until 4am Saturday morning both contributing to the narrative that he’s a veteran just playing out the string. He didn’t do much to dispel the notion in the game either, completely vacating his gap several times on defense and allowing a 47-yard run to Anthony Dixon in the process.

If the Bears are going to win Sunday, Briggs has to be more disciplined than he was in that Buffalo game, and he’ll have to put the distractions of the past few weeks behind him.

RB Matt Forte

Forte rushed for 82 yards against the Bills (and ended up with 169 all-purpose yards in total, but this week he will need to be an even bigger force against the 49’ers. He’ll be in for a tough test over the middle of the field with Patrick Willis lurking, but with players like Aldon Smith and Navarro Bowman out of the lineup for the Niners, Forte has the potential to still have a big week…and the Bears will need him to.

WR Santonio Holmes

With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery either limited or completely out of the game, Holmes is going to have to really show that he’s up to speed with the Bears’ game plan. He had two catches for 21 yards and was targeted five times against the Bills in Week 1, and all of those numbers could skyrocket with his status as the best healthy receiver the Bears have.

S Ryan Mundy

During the overtime period of Sunday’s loss to the Bills, Mundy was given a gap assignment by Briggs, missed it, and allowed Fred Jackson to scamper for the run that would ultimately set up the game-winning field goal. His first game as a Bear wasn’t all bad, but against a 49’ers team loaded with good wide receivers, and a quarterback who can run at any time, Mundy will have to be in top form at the strong safety position.

DT Jeremiah Ratliff

Speaking of run-stoppers who will need to be on top of their game, Ratliff is going to need a repeat of his Week 1 performance. He was all over the defensive line in that game, stopping up the Bills’ run game and making life miserable for them as they tried to get going. He has been a good addition to the Bears since coming over from the Dallas Cowboys last season, and he’ll need to be in top form again in this one.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cutler in for Biggest Test of His Career vs. 49'ers ]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 12:08:16 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/176*120/tlmd_cutler_contrato_bears.JPG

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is no stranger to criticism after his years in the Windy City, but with a new seven-year contract and a bevy of weapons that would make any other signal-caller jealous in the NFL, things are even more heated this season.

That point was driven home in a big way last week when the Bears were knocked off by the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 action. Cutler had some great throws in the game, but once again it was his penchant for ill-advised throws and poor fundamentals that cost the Bears as they began the season 0-1 before a tough stretch of games.

On Sunday night against the San Francisco 49’ers, Cutler will face what is likely the biggest challenge of his career. No, it isn’t a game with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line (like the 2011 NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers), but the Bears are not only trying to avoid starting the season 0-2, but they’re doing so against an opponent that has had a great deal of success against them over the past three decades.

The San Francisco 49’ers may not be the same team that got to the Super Bowl in 2013, but they have enough of the components of their defense intact that Cutler will be given fits. Linebacker Patrick Willis is a tremendous athlete who could be a key to taking away passing routes to Matt Forte over the middle of the field, and the Niners’ pass rush is going to make sure that new starters Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola are tested sternly on the offensive line.

Complicating things for Cutler is that he may end up missing one or both of his primary receiving targets. Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) haven’t officially been ruled out of the game for Sunday, but even if one or both of them can play, they are going to be extremely limited. Add to that the fact that Josh Morgan won’t be in the lineup, and Cutler will be playing with one arm tied behind his back, so to speak.

Even with those limitations and question marks, this is the kind of game that a quarterback of Cutler’s skillset and paygrade simply has to gut through and win. The Bears have invested heavily in the notion that Jay is an elite NFL quarterback, and he has to repay their faith with a strong performance in this game. Even with his two best weapons either inert or just limited, Cutler still has plenty to work with, and the 49’ers defense is, while good, not elite-level right now either.

If Cutler can come up with a big game on national television, and if he can guide the Bears to a strong showing (or even a victory), it should go a long way toward silencing the growing storm of criticism around him. If he reverts back to bad-Jay and begins to throw balls into spaces they shouldn’t be thrown, then the frustration with him will only continue to grow.

Fan criticism obviously won’t direct personnel decisions, with Cutler guaranteed $54 million over the next three years, but it will cast a pall over the Bears’ season if he continues to struggle in the pocket. The Bears need their leader to play like one, and even without his best weapons, he will need to prove that he’s the man the Bears have told fans that he is.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["75 Percent Chance" Marshall, Jeffery Out Sunday]]> Sun, 14 Sep 2014 12:07:34 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/1586863201.jpg

The Chicago Bears are already facing a really tough test going into Sunday night's game against the San Francisco 49'ers, but if a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter is any indication, things are about to get a lot worse: 

Brandon Marshall, who suffered an ankle injury during the Bears' Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills, insisted all week that he was going to suit up for the game against the 49'ers, but the fact that he hasn't fully practiced has thrown that into doubt. Ankle injuries are always tough for athletes in any sport, and when you factor in the turf issues that the 49'ers have had at their new stadium, the Bears are likely going to take a short-term loss to try to prevent a long-term issue. 

As for Alshon Jeffery, he's in much the same boat as Marshall. He injured his hamstring against the Bills in Week 1, and he missed a good chunk of the second and overtime of the contest. His vertical play ability could be a huge asset against the 49'ers, but with the team's other health woes, it could make sense for the Bears to just play it safe with him too. 

If both players end up out of the lineup, the Bears' receiver rotation will be, in a word, depleted. Santonio Holmes would get the start in that situation, and with Josh Morgan likely out with a groin injury, both Josh Bellamy and Chris Williams would probably start after being promoted from the practice squad. 

Stay tuned throughout the day as we update the situation. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[49ers' New Stadium Features "Mundane" Visitors' Locker Room]]> Sat, 13 Sep 2014 11:38:52 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/VISITOR-LOCKER-ROOM-VO---00000709.jpg

The Chicago Bears will likely face several challenges on the field during Sunday's match against the San Francisco 49ers, but the team could also face a hurdle off the field as they head for the locker room.

According to NBC Bay Area, the visitors' locker room at the new Levi's Stadium is specifically designed to make the visitors feel blah.

Features include a divided locker space to hinder team communication, beige walls and carpeting, and low ceilings to make for what Levi's Stadium Project Executive Jack Hill calls "mundane finishes."

"We want these guys to be calm and underwhelmed," referring to the visiting team.

The 49ers' room, however, features plush red carpeting, 10-foot-tall walnut-wood lockers with 3,600 square feet of open space.

While the visiting team's locker room is underwhelming compared to the home team, Hill said the room couldn't be too uncomfortable since the stadium is set to host Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

Challenging visiting team's with lackluster locker rooms isn't an uncommon tactic in sports.

The University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium has been making headlines recently for its decades old "pink locker room"-- the walls, the floors and even the toilets are painted pink for visiting teams. The room has sparked outrage among some students and faculty who call it sexist and discriminatory.

While the beige-hued space at Levi's Stadium is intended to impact the opposing team, Hill said it isn't all the bad.

"It's still a great locker room," he said. "A lot of teams that see it would take it for their home locker room."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Bulls Unveil New Chicago Training Center]]> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 20:37:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bulls+training+facility.jpg

For the first time in more than 20 years, the Chicago Bulls are ready to practice downtown.

The team on Friday cut the ribbon on its brand new training facility, which sits just steps from the United Center. Bulls players will now practice in their hometown after years in north suburban Deerfield. 

Partnering with Advocate Health Care, the team built a facility twice as large as the old one with two full-size basketball courts and expanded locker and weight rooms.

"It's the updated technology that is all throughout this building," John Paxson, vice president of Bulls basketball operations, said. "It's the areas of rehab for our players that are modern and updated."

It's also a plus for the players because most of them live downtown, which means they no longer have to commute to the Berto Center.     

"Who knows, they may even move to the neighborhood," Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. said. "That's what we're hoping for. This is very exciting for the West Side."

Judging from the growth of new restaurants and nearby apartments being renovated, the new practice center is one more sign of West Side rejuvenation.

"It's already on the rise," one resident said.

The Blackhawks are planning a similar practice rink nearby.

"It's remarkable what it's like out here compared to what it was 20 years ago," Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "This is just another step forward, and there's much more to come."

Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com]]>
<![CDATA[Patrick Kane Teams Up With LeBron James For Commercial]]> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 19:30:29 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Kane_parise.jpg

Patrick Kane, LeBron James and McDonald's. It's happening, and fans could be loving it by the end of the month.

The Blackhawks star joined the NBA heavy hitter and NASCAR's Jamie McMurray to film a commercial for the Oak Brook-based burger chain.

The premise of the ad hasn't been released, but McDonald's told Chicago Business Journal the commercial will be lighthearted with the three athletes "having fun, joking around and hanging together."

Considering Kane has professed his fandom for James in the past, it should be fun to watch.

Apparently the commercial was shot in Cleveland to promote McDonald's latest Monopoly game.

McDonald's has struggled lately to attract younger generations to its burgers and fries. This week, the company filed a federal trademark registration for the term “McBrunch,” indicating a possible new meal program for the world’s largest hamburger chain.

AKane-LeBron combo could have an impact.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bears Cut Fales, Fiametta as Roster Moves Continue ]]> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 16:56:33 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/453981648.jpg

The Chicago Bears are in the midst of trying to shape their roster for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, and on Friday afternoon, they made a couple of moves to make room for several anticipated promotions:

Fales, who made the team out of training camp after being drafted by the Bears in the sixth round of May’s NFL Draft, suffered a shoulder injury and wasn’t active for the Bears in Week 1, and hadn’t practiced with the team during the regular season. Fiammetta also wasn’t participating in practices with a hamstring injury, and he too wasn’t active in Week 1 of the season.

Hayden, who was a back-up cornerback on the team, played in the 2012 season with the Bears, but missed the entire 2013 campaign. He too wasn’t active in the Bears’ Week 1 loss against the Buffalo Bills.

As for who could come up to replace these three players, the Bears are expected to sign center Taylor Boggs and wide receiver Josh Bellamy off the practice squad. The team’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries, with Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson both ruled out for Sunday’s game. Brian de la Puente will start at center, and Michael Ola will start at left guard, but adding Boggs to the mix will give some cover both to the starters and to back-ups Eben Britton (assuming he’s active) and Charles Leno Jr.

As for Bellamy, his presence will be needed if the Bears are without either Josh Morgan, who was listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game, or Alshon Jeffery, who is questionable but did practice in limited fashion with the team on Friday. Brandon Marshall is also dealing with an ankle injury, but he is expected to play against the 49’ers.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>