Bears' backs against the wall

Due to an unbelievably inept offense, Chicago has lost three straight winnable contests and no longer controls its own destiny. Is it possible to find a silver lining from this mess?

It didn't take coach Lovie Smith long to sum up the sorry state of the Bears, who have gone from playoff favorite to postseason long shot in three weeks without injured quarterback Jay Cutler.

"At 7-6 we're on the outside looking in," Smith admitted. "You lose three games in a row this time of the year, you're normally not in a great position. But we are in position still, and that's what we have to keep in mind. We've got to get a win."

Since Cutler won't be back until the final regular-season game at the very earliest, and since running back Matt Forte missed last week, most of the week before and isn't likely to return for another couple weeks, the Bears' prospects aren't good. Even though they will host the sub-.500 Seahawks Sunday, it's hard to imagine them as favorites.

The most demoralizing aspect of Sunday's loss in Denver was the Bears' inability to take control of a game that was there for the winning.

"For three quarters we executed the game plan well," Smith said, "but then, right at the end, we just didn't get it done. We all had something to do and could have something to say about the outcome. I know in a situation like this, you tend to just look at a couple plays here and there, but it was a lot bigger than that. All three phases had an opportunity to make a play there late in the game."


RB Marion Barber
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

But no Bears player in any of the three phases stepped up, which left Marion Barber as the goat. He inexplicably ran out of bounds late in the fourth quarter when the Bears were trying to run out the clock and then fumbled in overtime when the Bears were moving into field-goal range. The turnover led to the Broncos' wining points.

It won't be easy getting over a third straight loss by a total of 15 points.

"I told them it's OK to feel as bad as we felt," Smith said. "It was a terrible feeling in the locker room. We're supposed to feel that way for a while. But then we have to get over it and move on because we've got a lot of football left to go. It's kind of a simple as that. That's how life goes sometimes. The breaks don't go your way. We had our opportunities. We didn't get the job done."

It's hard to find much of a silver lining in an offense that has generated just 426 yards of offense in the last two games. During the same stretch, the Hanie-led offense has converted a ridiculously inept 2-of-26 third-down opportunities.

--Coach Lovie Smith didn't blame the absence of a downfield passing attack for the offensive struggles, but wide receivers caught just five passes, three by Johnny Knox and two by Roy Williams.

"I can't necessarily say that (was a problem)," Smith said. "If you look at our game plan, we got ourselves in position with a 10-0 lead on the road. I think the people we needed to have involved, we had involved. Do we need to get more? Yeah, you could say that. We could have run the ball a few more times. We could have thrown to the receivers a few more times, tight ends, running backs. You could say all that, but we got ourselves in position we wanted to be in late in the game."

The Bears had 36 called runs, plus two scrambles by quarterback Caleb Hanie, who threw just 19 passes and was sacked four times. The Bears might allow Hanie to open up the passing game a bit more because he did not throw an interception Sunday after allowing six in his first two starts. But they will continue to rely on the ground game.

"We wanted to have more runs," Smith said. "And then when we (had a chance), take our shots. We knew they were going to load up on the line. We had opportunities. That game plan worked for a long time, but as far as what we're going to do the rest of the way, each week is a little bit different."

--Although the Bears seemed to dismiss the Broncos' offense in the week preceding Sunday's game, they weren't bad-mouthing quarterback Tim Tebow and Co. afterward.

The defense had a shutout until late in the fourth quarter, but they said they were more concerned with clinging to the lead than blanking the Broncos.

"Nobody underestimated him," safety Craig Steltz said of Tebow. "A lot of guys have played him. Nobody underestimated his ability to run or pass the ball. He's a tremendous quarterback and player for them. It was a battle, and we knew it was going to be a battle until the end. The thought of a shutout never crossed our mind. We just continued to compete. It's a tough loss and I wish we could have ended it different."

--To a man the Bears felt badly for running back Marion Barber, who ran hard all day and picked up 108 yards on 27 carries, but lost a fumble in overtime that killed a promising Bears drive and led to the Broncos' winning points.

"We've all been in that situation at some point in our career," tight end Matt Spaeth said. "He played a great game. We wouldn't have even been in that game or had a chance to win if it wasn't for Marion and the way he played. You can play a great game, but it comes down to one play at the end of the game and then you blame yourself. It's tough and that's kind of I guess something we all wear. That's the dirty part of our job. I feel bad for the guy. But he'll be all right."

PLAYER NOTES


S Craig Steltz
Justin Edmonds/Getty

--DT Henry Melton had one sack for the third straight game, and he has four in his last five games.

--DE Julius Peppers had one sack Sunday and has seven in his last eight games.

--S Craig Steltz, in his first start since 2009, had a sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter.

--PK Robbie Gould booted a personal-best and franchise-record 57-yard field goal and is now 6-for-6 this season on field-goal attempts of 50 yards or longer.

--QB Caleb Hanie completed 12 of 19 passes Sunday, the first time in his three starts that he completed more than 50 percent of his passes, but he was sacked four times, making it 15 sacks in his three starts.

REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS

PASSING OFFENSE: D - QB Caleb Hanie wasn't asked to do much, and he didn't. Hanie wasn't intercepted, and he was an uninspiring 12-for-19 for 115 yards, with no play longer than 19 yards and only five completions to wide receivers. He was also sacked four times for minus-29 yards. RB Kahlil Bell caught a team-best five passes but for just 24 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - The Bears generated 159 yards on the ground on 38 attempts and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Marion Barber ran hard and effectively all day, but he ran out of bounds when the Bears were trying to kill the clock late in the fourth quarter and then fumbled in overtime when the Bears were on the edge of field-goal territory. The Broncos turned the fumble into the winning field goal.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - The Bears made Broncos QB Tim Tebow look awful through three quarters, when he had a passer rating in single digits. After that, he made the Bears' pass defense look sick, leading his team back from a 10-0 deficit in the final 2:08 and overtime. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 191 yards after the third quarter. The Broncos' only touchdown was the result of a miscommunication in the Bears' pass defense.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus - The Broncos picked up 124 yards on the ground but needed 36 attempts to do it, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Tebow led the Broncos in rushing, but his running (49 yards on 12 carries) isn't what doomed the Bears.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Robbie Gould nailed a team-record 57-yard field goal, and Devin Hester's 26-yard punt return set up the Bears' only touchdown. P Adam Podlesh allowed a season-high 73 return yards, which isn't that bad considering he punted 11 times.

COACHING: C-minus - The game plan worked great until the last half of the fourth quarter when the Bears choked away an opportunity to solidify their playoff position because no one came up big when it mattered. But the blame for this one goes to the players. Marion Barber made two critical mistakes and no teammate was able to pick him up.


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