- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The last time Bruce Arians visited the Chicago Bears, he thought he was getting their head coaching job.

Funny how that worked out.

Arians is doing just fine in Arizona after being turned down by Chicago, and with the Cardinals visiting the Bears this week, an old story line returned to the forefront.

“I was (surprised),” he said. “When I left, I said, ‘I don’t think anything could’ve been any better throughout the whole day.’ And I didn’t look back thinking I did anything wrong in any way. It was just their decision.”

Arians seemed like a logical choice to replace the fired Lovie Smith as Chicago’s coach when he interviewed at Halas Hall in January 2013. After all, he had just led Indianapolis to a 9-3 record filling in on an interim basis after Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and was selected the AP Coach of the Year.

He thought the interview with chairman George McCaskey and general manager Phil Emery went well, said he felt “very comfortable” and praised Chicago as a “great organization.” But the Bears made a decision that backfired in a big way when they hired Marc Trestman from the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes over Arians.

Chicago went 13-19 the next two years, including a 5-11 mark last season that resulted in major changes.

The Bears hired GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, hoping to restore credibility, and the team did hang in last week before falling to Green Bay 31-23 in the opener. Still, it was a loss.

Arians continues to roll along, with fans in Chicago wondering what might have been.

He was voted the Coach of the Year again last season for leading the Cardinals to an 11-5 mark and a wild-card spot. And after last week’s win over New Orleans, he is 22-11 in Arizona.

“It was a day I felt went very well and they made a decision and I went on with it,” Arians said.

Here are some things to look for as Arians’ Cardinals take on the Bears:

RUNNING CHANCE: Andre Ellington sprained his right knee late in the opener. If he can’t go, Chris Johnson figures to move into the starting lineup. Signed last month, he is looking to show he still has the burst that made him a three-time Pro Bowl player in Tennessee after rushing for 663 yards last season with the New York Jets. Rookie David Johnson would back him up.

“I think he’ll take advantage of this opportunity and try to shine again and show everybody that he’s back to what he was,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I think he’ll be dangerous.”

UNDER (NO) PRESSURE: While the Bears hung in against Green Bay, they also gave Aaron Rodgers all the time he needed. They did not even register a quarterback hit, let alone a sack last week.

“I take that extremely personally because that’s something I love to do, hit quarterbacks,” outside linebacker Jared Allen said.

PALMER PRODUCTION: Carson Palmer made quite a return last week, throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns after last season got cut short by a torn ACL in his left knee.

The Cardinals believe they can compete with anybody as long as their quarterback stays healthy, and he sure looked sharp against New Orleans. The time off also allowed him to work on his right shoulder, where a dead nerve sidelined him for three games last season.

While Palmer’s ability to stay healthy remains in question, there is no doubt the Cardinals generally come out on top when he is in the lineup. He is 14-2 in his past 16 starts with seven consecutive wins. A victory this week would make him the first Cardinals QB with eight in a row since Ray Mallouf reeled off 10 straight in 1948.

BALANCING ACT: The Bears promised more balance on offense after relying heavily on the pass last season, and they delivered against Green Bay. While Jay Cutler threw 36 passes, Chicago ran 33 times with Matt Forte going for 141 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

“The biggest thing is No. 22 (Forte), knowing where he is on the field,” Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said.

STRONG START: At 32 and without a 1,000-yard season since 2011, Larry Fitzgerald is off to a good start. The eight-time Pro Bowl pick caught six passes for 87 yards against New Orleans.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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