With the Lions and Falcons, their chief challengers for wild-card playoff spots both winning, the 7-6 Bears saw their postseason playoff hopes diminished in a 13-10 overtime loss to the Broncos.
The Lions and Falcons are both 8-5. The Bears hold a tie-breaker edge on the Falcons, having defeated them in Week 1, but they have done little during a three-game losing streak to cause optimism.
Although the Bears aren't close to being mathematically eliminated yet, the depressing nature of their latest defeat left them little hope of any success for the remainder of the season, starting with the Seahawks at home next week.
Fill-in quarterback Caleb Hanie was much better than he was in the disastrous Week 13 loss to the Chiefs, but he showed little ability to make much more than basic plays and was sacked four more times, giving him 15 in his three starts, all losses.
Since Jay Cutler isn't expected back until the postseason, at best, the Bears are left to face the Seahawks, Packers and Vikings, the last two on the road, with Hanie, rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle or recently acquired Josh McCown.
None of the three instill much confidence.
The Bears' defense played exceptionally well, as expected - that is until it really mattered in the fourth quarter, when it was picked apart by Tim Tebow. That phrase, "picked apart by Tim Tebow," has not been heard frequently despite the Broncos' quarterback's 7-1 record as a starter.
The Broncos failed to score on their first 11 possessions, but the Bears gave up 10 points in the final 2:08 of regulation to spoil what had been a superior effort.
Bears running back Marion Barber, who has been thrust into the starter's role with the knee injury to Matt Forte, rushed for 108 yards on 27 carries and ran hard and pretty effectively for much of the day. But it was his fatal mistakes that doomed the Bears. That's not a good sign, with Forte expected to miss at least one more game and possibly the remainder of the regular season. First, Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds near the end of regulation with the Bears desperately trying to run out the clock. Then, with the Bears driving in overtime, he fumbled, setting the Broncos up for their winning field goal.
The Bears' offense, which clearly is not a threat throwing the ball, misses the big-play potential supplied by Forte, a threat as a runner and receiver.
With 38 rushing plays, including two scrambles by quarterback Caleb Hanie, and just 19 passes, plus four sacks, the Bears have clearly decided they will rely on their run game and allow Hanie to throw only when necessary. A week earlier the run-pass split was 24-24, although that included seven sacks.
UNDER THE RADAR
Rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who got a sack on his first NFL snap in Week 6, had two sacks against the Broncos on Sunday. With veteran nose tackle Anthony Adams getting limited playing time all season because of general ineffectiveness, Paea has seen more action after a slow start and has shown excellent short-area quickness.
--RB Marion Barber picked up 108 yards on 27 carries and scored the Bears' only touchdown, but he lost a fumble in overtime that led to the Broncos game-winning field goal.
--QB Caleb Hanie completed 12 of 19 passes for 115 yards and was not intercepted, but he also missed some open receivers throughout the game.
--RB Kahlil Bell, in his first significant playing time since 2009, picked up 40 yards on nine carries, and led the Bears with five catches, although they netted just 24 yards.
--WR Johnny Knox led the Bears with 37 receiving yards on three catches.
--PK Robbie Gould kicked a Bears-record 57-yard field goal.
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