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Los Angeles Rams honor first responders, victims of recent tragedies at MNF game


LOS ANGELES — More than 3,000 first responders and people affected by the recent tragedies in Southern California were guests of the Los Angeles Rams for their Monday Night Football game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Rams’ training facility is located in Thousand Oaks, California, on the campus of Cal Lutheran, which is less than five miles from Borderline Bar and Grill, where 12 people were killed in a mass shooting on Nov. 7. The next day, the Woolsey Fire began and devastated a region that didn’t even have time to grieve. The fire burned 96,949 acres, killed three people, destroyed 1,452 structures and forced thousands to evacuate their homes in Ventura County and Los Angeles County.

When the Rams’ game on Monday was moved to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from Mexico City due to the poor field conditions at Estadio Azteca, the Rams provided thousands of complimentary tickets to first responders as well as those impacted by the recent tragedies. The Rams said they worked through fire and law enforcement agencies and local organizations to ensure tickets got into the right hands.

“The Los Angeles Rams practice right there at Cal Lutheran University,” Ventura County Fire Department Captain Stan Ziegler said. “Many of our fire department members sneak over there and look over the fence and watch our home team practice. It’s exciting for us to be able to come here. It’s great to make that connection with our hometown team. You would not believe what it means to us.

“Many of our firefighters have been on the road for two weeks. They haven’t seen their families. They haven’t been able to go home. Just to be able to come to the Coliseum and relax and be amongst their brothers and sisters who are firefighters who have been in the battle with them and get a chance to relax and watch a football game and eat a hot dog is just a fantastic boost for our morale.”

The Rams, however, did more than give tickets to the game to first responders and victims.

Karen and Jordan Helus, wife and son of Ventura County Sheriff Sergeant Ron Helus, who was killed in the Borderline shooting, lit the Coliseum Torch prior to kickoff and were joined by Paige Vuksic, Jordan’s girlfriend, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Chris Dunn and Ventura County Sheriff’s Sergeant Kevin Donoghue. A memorial banner with the names of the 12 Borderline shooting victims was positioned in the Peristyle end of the Coliseum.

“It was a devastating night, but when Ron went in there and gave his life, no one else died,” Thousand Oaks police Sgt. Jason Robarts said. “He paid the ultimate price, and it’s great that the Rams are honoring him and his family. The Rams are part of the community in Thousand Oaks, and these past few days have been the toughest physically and emotionally of my career.

“The next day after the shooting, we’re putting on another hat and putting our emotions aside and helping residents evacuate and putting out fires until the department got there. After that was done, it was funeral services, so it’s been a seven-day stretch I’ve never experienced before in my life.”

Dylan and Derek Adler, the sons of Sean Adler, who lost his life in the shooting at Borderline, served as the Rams’ honorary water boys for the game. Sean Adler was a wrestling coach at Royal High School in Simi Valley and a member of the security team at Borderline.

“I didn’t really expect anything,” said Dylan, who is 17 years old and a wide receiver on the Simi Valley High School varsity football team. “I was hoping to get through the memorial and go on with life as best as I can, and for them to contact us and for me to be on the sideline now is amazing. It makes me feel good that other people are looking out for me, and I didn’t expect any of that.”

“This is amazing … once in a lifetime experience,” added Derek, who is 12 years old. “My heart’s beating so fast, I’m so happy.”

Players and coaches from both the Rams and Chiefs wore hats honoring a variety of Los Angeles area fire and law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, LAFD, LAPD, LA County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Ventura County Sheriff. The agency’s logo was on the front of the cap, and the team’s logo was on the side. The game-worn hats will be auctioned off after the game, with the proceeds going to the Conejo Valley Victims Fund and American Red Cross Southern California Wildfire Relief. Game-worn jerseys also will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the relief efforts.

“You can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ziegler, whose son, Jacob, knew two of the victims of the Borderline shooting. “We can see that when our percentages of containment start going up day after day. We know we’re getting a handle on this fire, and it’s just a matter of days. I believe the expected day of full containment is Nov. 22.”

Members of the Cal Lutheran Choir sang the national anthem while first responders and members of the greater L.A. community held a field-size American flag. Cal Lutheran alumnus and former choir member Justin Meek was one of the 12 victims of the Borderline shooting. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard presented the colors during the national anthem.

The Rams also recognized firefighters during the game, and proceeds from the in-game 50/50 Raffle will benefit the Conejo Valley Victims Fund, American Red Cross Southern California Wildfire Relief and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Before the game, Rams Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson was on the field talking to several first responders and those affected by the fire. Dickerson, who lives in Calabasas, was evacuated from his home last week and hasn’t gone home yet due to the air quality.

“I’m still out of my house,” Dickerson said. “My neighbor’s house burned down. Thank God I still have a home, but it was close, but I’m not going to go back for a while. My son has asthma, and it’s really bad near my house, but I had to come tonight. I think it’s great that this game is in Los Angeles. We had the shooting and the fires the day after, and this city has been through so much. It’s great to take a break for a minute, catch your breath, and look around and appreciate what you have.”



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Kareem Hunt’s multiple and many touchdowns matches mark from 1961


LOS ANGELES — Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs became the first player to have at least seven rushing touchdowns and seven receiving touchdowns in his team’s first 11 games since 1961.

Hall of Famer Lenny Moore was the last player to do it, and he did so 57 years ago, for the Baltimore Colts.

Hunt scored on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes in the first half of Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.



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Too much ‘volume’ in Vikings’ offensive playbook


EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Zimmer theorized the Minnesota Vikings may have too much “volume” within their offensive playbook a day after the team dropped its third prime-time game of the season, a 25-20 loss at the Chicago Bears.

Zimmer said Monday he took a closer look at some of the areas where his team has continued to struggle, and why the offense sputtered in Chicago at the hand of miscommunications, a lack of explosive plays, turnovers and broken plays.

While it’s understandably taken the Vikings’ offense time to gel with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s system, Zimmer concluded the amount of plays Minnesota is installing weekly may have an effect on some of its inefficacy.

“Let’s just play football,” Zimmer said. “You run a really good out route, you run the out route. He runs a good curl, you run the curl. You know what I mean? So, maybe we just need to focus a little bit on not trying to trick the other team quite so much.

“You want to add new plays every week and new plays and new plays and new plays. If you’re not executing, it might be the best play in the world. Vince Lombardi might have designed it. But if you can’t execute it, then it doesn’t do you any good. Can’t protect for it or whatever it is.”

Zimmer said postgame that the Vikings’ repeated mistakes with ball security and other areas that lead to turnovers might be because players are not listening, not paying attention or that “they really don’t care.”

Minnesota’s 16 turnovers this season ranks 25th in the NFL, the lowest mark by a wide margin during Zimmer’s tenure with the Vikings. The most turnovers any Vikings’ team has committed since Zimmer arrived in 2014 is 20. The Vikings’ two game-changing turnovers at Soldier Field — Dalvin Cook‘s fumble inside the Bears’ 15-yard line and Kirk Cousins‘ interception at the Vikings’ 11-yard line that was returned from a touchdown — along with other red zone turnovers has irked Zimmer considering how well the Vikings have been with ball security in years past.

“It’s been frustrating at times,” he said. “Like the Saints game, we’re getting down there, we’re getting ready to score and Adam [Thielen] fumbles the ball and he’s pretty good with it. I guess stuff happens sometimes.”

In vowing to find the root of these issues, Zimmer noted a “lack of awareness” from his team on several plays that he pointed out Monday while also going through various channels to make sure he’s still getting through to his players.

“I’ve asked several players if they’re listening to me or not or if they quit listening to me,” Zimmer said. “And not just them. I didn’t ask them ‘Do you?’ but ‘Did these guys stop listening to me?’ and they said ‘No.'”

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Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins break down some of the reasons the Vikings couldn’t pull things together to defeat the Bears.

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Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins break down some of the reasons the Vikings couldn’t pull things together to defeat the Bears.

Zimmer also defended the play of Cousins, who posted his worst quarterback rating of the season (76.5) against the Bears and averaged 5.7 yards per pass on a night when he threw two interceptions. Zimmer noted that Cousins’ first interception at the end of the second quarter was the byproduct of a “miscommunication” between the quarterback and the intended receiver Kyle Rudolph. Zimmer labeled Cousins’ fourth-quarter pick-six as a “misread.”

In 10 games, Cousins has thrown 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In each of the past three seasons, Cousins has thrown a pair of pick-sixes (against the Saints and Bears in 2018) — the longest active streak in the NFL.

Zimmer offered insight on what might be the contributing factor on those plays.

“I really don’t think he is panicking,” Zimmer said. “I don’t think that is the case at all. I think there are times when he wants to get the ball down the field, so he’ll wait for guys to get open and instead of taking a sure thing sometimes. Other than the turnovers, I have a hard time faulting him. This kid is tough, he plays outstanding. He works his rear end off. He is a great team guy. We just need to and, quite honestly, not all of them are on him. Guys are in the wrong spot sometimes, too. That is not just our team, that is every team. I think all of those things combined make it a little bit more difficult.”

Cousins was pressured on 17 of his drop backs, the most of any team in Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus. Zimmer, however, did not believe the amount of pressure Cousins faced played too large of a role in contributing to his passes being picked off.

“I saw that watching the tape, there was a lot of clean pockets in there,” he said. “A lot of clean pockets. Sometimes we hit things and sometimes we don’t. I’d have to think back on the two interceptions if they were pressured or not. I’m not sure I know what pressure is according to whoever is deciding it.”



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Jimmy Graham of Green Bay Packers intends to play through broken thumb


GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jimmy Graham has struggled to make much of an impact without any injuries to his hands. Now he’s going to try to play with a broken thumb.

The Green Bay Packers tight end will experiment with a variety of splints and protective devises this week, coach Mike McCarthy said Monday, in an effort to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in an almost must-win game for the Packers (4-5-1).

Graham broke the thumb in Thursday’s 27-24 loss at Seattle.

The injury occurred in the first half while Graham blocked Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald, and Graham did not return for the second half. Graham has just one reception each in three of his past four games. His lone 100-yard game came in Week 6 against the San Francisco 49ers with five catches for 104 yards. He has two touchdowns in 10 games this season.

“I know he intends to try to go,” McCarthy said after speaking with Graham. “That’s his intention.

“There’s going to be a transition through the practice week and see different splints and things like that. So that’s why you have to work through it.”

Graham was one of four players who couldn’t finish the game in Seattle. One of those, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, won’t be available against the Vikings and perhaps longer. Daniels left in the second half with a foot injury and will miss multiple weeks, McCarthy said.

The Packers already have lost defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3. Without Daniels, the Packers would have only four healthy defensive linemen: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Montravius Adams and rookie Tyler Lancaster. McCarthy said he and general manager Brian Gutekunst have discussed adding another lineman to the roster. Seventh-round draft pick James Looney, who is on the practice squad, is a possibility.

They also worked out veteran defensive lineman Kendall Reyes, a former second-round pick, shortly after Wilkerson’s injury. Reyes, who was with the Jets during the preseason but hasn’t played in a game since 2016, remains available. So is Joey Mbu, a lineman who was in camp with the Packers over the summer and worked out on the same day as Reyes.

McCarthy did not have an update on the other two other players who dropped out against Seattle: safety Raven Greene (ankle) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin). Greene had a walking boot in his locker on Monday.

The four players who did not make the trip to Seattle — receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring), cornerback Kevin King (hamstring), linebacker Nick Perry (knee) and safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) — all will try to practice this week.

King said Monday that he felt much better but admitted that it’s difficult to tell soft-tissue injuries are really healed. He has missed the past two games. Cobb has missed five of the past seven games.

“I’ve never had hamstring issues like this,” Cobb said. “I’ve done everything that I’ve been asked to do. I brought in a [physical therapist] that I work with in the offseason. I’m doing everything I can to get back on the field. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to be able to go out and play and be confident and be able to be myself. If I’m not myself, then I’m hurting this team.”



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Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start Jameis Winston over Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. 49ers


TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start quarterback Jameis Winston this week against the San Francisco 49ers, a source told ESPN on Monday.

Winston stepped in Sunday in the third quarter against the New York Giants after Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions, including a pick-six. Winston finished the game 12-of-16 for 199 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Bucs lost to the Giants 38-35.

“He played better,” coach Dirk Koetter said of Winston’s performance. “He got us into the end zone four straight times. … For the most part, he made good decisions with the football.”

It’s the fourth quarterback change the Bucs have made this year, including when Winston served a three-game suspension to start the season for a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, stemming from an alleged groping incident involving a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016.

Koetter acknowledged that the constant change has been disruptive for both quarterbacks.

“Of course. Both those guys would rather play the whole time,” he said. “How much has it been disruptive to everyone else? That’s difficult to say. Our quarterback play as been spectacular at times and not good enough at times. That’s just the story of where we’re at on offense right now.

“Almost every game, we get some beautiful, beautiful play at quarterback — some great throws, some tremendous decision-making, some beautiful adjustments — but other times, we’ve gotten some bad decision-making which has resulted in turnovers. That’s hurt our team.”

Much has been made about Winston’s $20.9 million option and the risk the Bucs run by playing him, should he get injured, but Koetter said that no one in the front office has directed him not to play Winston.

Koetter also said he was unsure whether the Bucs would get to a point this season where they’d stick to one quarterback.

“You’re asking me to predict the future, and unfortunately I can’t do that,” Koetter said. “I never go into it thinking it’s a week-to-week thing, but I think continuity is a cop-out. We’ve got capable quarterbacks. There’s no reason they can’t play consistent football. I’ve seen them do it. I know they can do it.”



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Chicago Bears forced to quickly turn focus to Detroit Lions


LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Less than 12 hours after the Chicago Bears earned their most important regular-season victory in close to a decade, coach Matt Nagy is already bracing for one of the tightest turnarounds in league history.

“I don’t think there are many coaches or players that have ever been through a Sunday night game to a day game on a Thursday, but that’s what it is,” Nagy said on Monday.

The NFL’s decision to flex Chicago’s Week 11 game against the Minnesota Vikings to Sunday night means the Bears will become the first team since the 1970 merger to play at 1 p.m. ET or earlier on three days rest immediately following a prime-time game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Bears (7-3), fresh off their 25-20 win over the Vikings, have to now play Thursday in Detroit where kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.

“I have not gone back and watched the tape of the Vikings game, so we’re on to Detroit,” Nagy said. “What I saw last night was what I saw. We’re moving on here to Detroit.”

Nagy told reporters that Bears players will report to Halas Hall on Monday afternoon for classroom work and possibly a light walk-through before the team holds a regular practice on Tuesday. The Bears depart for Detroit on Wednesday.

“The No. 1 thing is to make sure these guys are taken care of, see where they’re at physically and then mentally,” Nagy said. “But really we just want to send home the message of ‘here we go.’ It’s right back at it.”

“We want to work smarter, not harder.”

Adding to the scheduling quirk is the fact Chicago just faced the Lions on Nov. 11, a game the Bears won convincingly 34-22.

“We’ll just have to handle what we can handle, prepare as we prepare,” Nagy said. “They’re on a short week, too. To me, there’s no advantage or disadvantage either way.”



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Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson week-to-week with sprained knee


Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson sprained his left knee Sunday but doesn’t need surgery and will be week-to-week, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The rookie, who has been one of the Lions’ most dynamic players this season, injured the knee on a run where he started heading right, saw defenders and cut all the way back to the left side of the field before being tackled near the sideline for a 3-yard gain.

Johnson got up, went to the sideline and was immediately looked at by Lions staff, first on the bench and then on the medical table behind the bench before heading to the locker room for further examination.

Johnson entered Sunday’s game with 103 carries for 554 yards and two touchdowns along with 30 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown. Prior to the injury, Johnson had 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown along with two catches for 10 yards against the Panthers.

The Lions also have Theo Riddick, LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner as running back options.

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.



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Los Angeles Rams activate Pro Bowl KR Pharoh Cooper from IR


The Los Angeles Rams activated kick returner Pharoh Cooper from injured reserve on Monday and placed wide receiver Cooper Kupp on IR in a corresponding move.

Cooper, who was selected to the Pro Bowl last season after averaging a league-best 27.4 yards on kick returns, suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders.

Cooper underwent surgery for his injury and was placed on IR. He handled both kickoff and punt returns for the Rams but Los Angeles has split his duties in his absence with Blake Countess handling the majority of kickoff returns and JoJo Natson handling the majority of punt returns.

Kupp tore his ACL in the Rams’ Week 10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.



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Marvin Lewis questions Lamar Jackson running so much


BALTIMORE — Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis questioned Lamar Jackson‘s longevity after the Ravens rookie first-round pick ran the ball more times than any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

“Quarterbacks don’t run forever in the NFL,” Lewis said after the 24-21 loss in Baltimore. “Sooner or later, they get hurt, and they don’t run the same. But, today, he could run, and he did a good job.”

In his first start, Jackson ran 27 times (includes three kneel-downs at the end of the game) — which were five more than any other quarterback since 1960, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His 117 yards rushing were the most by a quarterback in four years.

Prolific running quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick all suffered at least one significant season-ending injury in their careers. Jackson only took a couple of hard hits in Sunday’s game, but he sustained some big shots in the preseason because he chose not to slide. Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn’t foresee Jackson running the ball as much as he did Sunday going forward.

“I think that’s what Lamar felt that it took today,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t believe it’s going to take that many carries every week. It’s not what we’re going to be shooting for, by any stretch. But, if it takes that many, Lamar will do it. But, no, he took some hits. I think they knew the quarterback was going to run the ball. They were going after him a little bit, as you would expect. That’s something that we have to look at going forward.”

In replacing the injured Joe Flacco (hip), Jackson threw the ball 19 times and completed 13 passes. Flacco isn’t expected to play Sunday, so Baltimore might not have to make a decision at quarterback for two weeks.

If the Ravens stick with Jackson, his running style will cause matchup problems. All six of Baltimore’s remaining opponents rank in the bottom half of the NFL in run defense: Oakland (No. 31), Atlanta (No. 21), Kansas City (No. 22), Tampa Bay (No. 19), Los Angeles Chargers (No. 18) and Cleveland (No. 28).

Jackson, the No. 32 overall pick in the draft, was known for his running ability at Louisville. He ran for 4,132 yards in three seasons, averaging 17.2 rushing attempts per game. According to Pro Football Focus, 73 percent of Jackson’s rushing yards came off designed runs.

“I think that’s who Lamar is when you drafted him,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “Why all of a sudden do you want to change what he does best? Look at what he did today. It was crazy, pretty amazing. He’s only going to get better throwing the ball. The element that he can run is what makes him Lamar Jackson. I hope something never happens, but that’s just the way it is. You have to play to his strengths, especially right now when he’s playing. I don’t worry about that. If you worry about that, then you shouldn’t have drafted him.”



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Bears prove they’re back, assume control of NFC North – Chicago Bears Blog


CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears moved one giant step closer to ending their seven-year playoff drought with Sunday night’s 25-20 win against the Vikings, a victory so meaningful that even skeptics of the Bears’ early success must admit the road to the NFC North title runs through Chicago.

The Bears (7-3) were easy for many to dismiss because they lacked a signature win against a quality opponent.

Well, that narrative is no longer valid.

The Bears are back. Football relevance has returned to Chicago.

“This is a team [Minnesota] that made it to the NFC Championship Game last year, being able to play some good football, they’re good,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “We know that and our guys want to be a part of that, so that’s what we were able to do.”

“I think being able to play four quarters of good football against that team to get the win shows that we’re headed in the right direction.”

The Bears now have an 87 percent chance of making the playoffs and 73 percent chance to win the division, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI).

And the best part: The Bears appear on the verge of building something with staying power. Chicago’s roster is loaded with a nucleus of young players at key positions, and, of course, the Bears also have star pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who tormented the Vikings’ suspect offensive line.

The Bears dominated on defense on Sunday. Dominated.

The Vikings’ offense looked helpless at times as the Bears forced three turnovers. Chicago now has a league-best 18 interceptions this season. The Bears had only 16 combined interceptions over the 2016-17 seasons.

Another encouraging development was the way Nagy outclassed Minnesota’s formidable defense early on with innovative and creative playcalls. Nagy catered to every one of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky‘s strengths. The Bears’ offense often went hurry-up, moved the pocket on designed rollouts to give Trubisky better passing lanes, and attacked Minnesota with misdirection run plays.

The Bears’ offense lost momentum after halftime, but did enough to stake the team to a two-touchdown lead. The defense took care of the rest.

Trubisky made mostly good decisions with the football, although his numbers were average, at best. The 24-year-old quarterback finished the game 20-of-31 for 165 passing yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and 45 rushing yards.

Did Trubisky play his best against the Vikings? Not even close.

But the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft looked better than his Minnesota counterpart, Kirk Cousins, whom the Vikings guaranteed $84 million over three years in the offseason.

The stakes were incredibly high this week in Chicago. The Bears hadn’t played a truly important contest since the end of the 2013 regular season. News stations even sent helicopters midweek to film embattled kicker Cody Parkey‘s late-night practice at Soldier Field — Parkey, by the way, made all of his kicks against the Vikings after hitting the uprights four times the week before.

The city wanted to believe the Bears were for real.

Chicago got its answer on Sunday night.

“We just have to keep it rolling,” Trubisky said. “There are going to be more outsiders and media saying that you guys predicted this all along even though you guys didn’t. No one believed in us except our locker room. We’re going to continue to stick together and become closer and closer and look at it one game at a time. Stay hungry. Stay humble.”

The Bears next have a quick turnaround against banged-up Detroit (4-6) on Thanksgiving followed by another winnable road game against the Giants (3-7).

The Bears are on their way to hosting their first playoff game since 2010.

Believe it.



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