Still in control … barely
The Chicago Bears fell to 8-5 after yesterday's 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. After starting the year 7-1, Chicago has now lost four of their last five. With the Green Bay Packers (9-4) beating the Detroit Lions last night, the Bears are now a game back in the NFC North, with the Packers holding the tiebreaker. Chicago hosts Green Bay this week but even with a victory on Sunday, the Bears will need the Packers to lose again in their final two contests if they are to have any shot at winning the division.
The Bears are still in possession of a wildcard spot, but barely. If the playoffs started today, Chicago would be the sixth and final seed in the NFC and would head on the road to face the Packers. Immediately behind the Bears are three 7-6 teams: the Washington Redskins, the New York Giants and the Vikings. If the Bears win out, they will make the postseason. Yet one more loss, especially this week to the Packers, could knock them out of the playoffs. At this point, there can be no more mistakes.
"We're at 8-5 right now, got a three-game season right now, it's as simple as that," Lovie Smith said today. "As far as the big picture, we control what happens to us but we have to play better football."
If Green Bay wins on Sunday, they will clinch the NFC North.
BM stands for "Beast Mode"
WR Brandon Marshall
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 160 yards against the Vikings. He now has 101 catches on the season, which is a Bears franchise record for catches in a season. Marshall passes Marty Booker, who recorded 100 receptions in 2001.
"Brandon Marshall has been outstanding all year," Smith said. "For him to get the season-reception-total record, it [shows] the type of year he's had."
Marshall has 1,342 yards on the season. Chicago's single-season record for receiving yardage is 1,400, set by Marcus Robinson in 1999. It's safe to say, barring injury, Marshall should have that record locked up by next week. He also has seven 100-yard games this season, which ties him with Jeff Graham (1995), Harlon Hill (1954) and Ken Kavanaugh (1947) as the most in a season for a Bears receiver. Marshall's nine touchdown receptions are just four shy of the franchise record of 13, set by Kavanaugh (1947) and Dick Gordon (1970).
Peterson dominates again
The first Bears game I covered as a journalist came in Week 5 of the 2007 season when Chicago hosted the Vikings. It was Adrian Peterson's first ever game at Soldier Field and he carved up the Bears to the tune of 20 carries for 224 yards and 3 TDs. I remember sitting in the press box saying to myself, "this kid is for real."
Since then, Peterson has been a consistent thorn in the side of Chicago's defense. The trend continued on Sunday, with AP gashing the Bears for 154 yards on the ground. It was a performance made more impressive by the fact Chicago knew the Vikings were going to run the ball early and often, as QB Christian Ponder has been awful recently, yet the Bears could not stop it.
When asked what it takes to tear up a defense, even though they all know you're going to get the ball, Peterson replied: "It's all willpower." He has rushed for 14 career touchdowns against the Bears, the most against any team in the league.
His 1,600 rushing yards leads the NFL. With three games to go, he should approach the 2,000-yard mark for the season, a benchmark only six players in NFL history have reached. Yet, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Peterson's goals are higher than that, aiming at the single-season all-time rushing record of 2,105 yards, set by Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson in 1984 while with the Los Angeles Rams. Peterson would need to average 169 yards per game over the final three weeks to accomplish that feat.
Turnovers tell the story
Chicago's defense held Ponder to just 91 passing yards on Sunday. It was the second time this season the Bears have lost a game despite holding the opposing quarterback to less than 100 yards passing. The first came in Week 10, when they held Texans signal caller Matt Schaub to 95 yards throwing, yet lost 13-6.
In the Houston contest, Chicago turned the ball over four times, which allowed the Texans the field position they needed to eek out a win. Yesterday, QB Jay Cutler threw two interceptions. The first was brought back to the 5-yard line, resulting in an easy touchdown three plays later, and the second was returned all the way for a score. Despite the defense allowing just one scoring drive of six or more yards, the Bears still could not pull out a victory.
Chicago got one turnover in the game on a Major Wright interception, which did not result in any points. Earlier in the season, the Bears were creating turnovers at a record pace and scoring nearly every time they got their hands on the ball. In more than one game, that carried Chicago to a victory. Since those game-changing turnovers dried up, the Bears have crumbled.
Under Lovie Smith, the Bears are 13-34 with a negative turnover margin. Whether it's taking the ball or giving it away, Chicago's success is almost always linked to the turnover battle.
"They had a couple big takeaways that led to 14 points. We had one where we didn't get any points. We just can't have that happen, simple as that," Smith said. "We haven't gotten enough takeaways lately. That trend has to change."
Drops again costly
WR Devin Hester
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
Two weeks ago, WR Earl Bennett was wide open behind the Seahawks defense yet dropped a pass Cutler put right on his hands. The drop ended up costing Chicago the victory.
Against the Vikings, the same story unfolded. In the third quarter, WR Alshon Jeffery undercut a deep pass in the end zone yet let it bounce right off his hands. In the fourth quarter, WR Devin Hester ran a crossing pattern and was open between defenders with nothing but green between him and the end zone. He turned his head before his secured the pass and it fell incomplete. On the next play, fourth down, Marshall dropped a first-down catch for the second time in the contest. Without those drops, Chicago likely wins the game.
"We all let the team down," Marshall said after the game. "I dropped that third down, I have to make that play, that was a momentum play. If we move the chains the game is probably different. I have to do better. I let my teammates down today. I have to make those plays. There was a few plays, that fourth down, Jay put it on me, right on the money and I dropped it. We are in this situation, we have to step-up. Backs against the wall now, we have to win out."
Hot seat even hotter
It seems like a distant memory when Chicago was 7-1 this season. Dropping four of five games has the Bears on the verge of falling out of the playoffs. It would be the second late-season collapse in as many seasons in Chicago. The Bears have made the playoffs just once since reaching the Super Bowl in 2006. Many believe, if Chicago doesn't make the postseason this year, Smith will be gone as head coach.
Smith said today, when the time comes, he expects to be judged by wins and losses.
"I think every day I've been here, each day I think all of us come to work [believing] we're going to do the best job that we possibly can," he said. "All of our futures are tied [to success on the field]. It's all based on wins and loses really, and I'm OK with that."
Tight end anyone?
The Bears signed TE Kellen Davis to a two-year deal this offseason with the expectation that, with more opportunities as a pass catcher, he could turn into a reliable weapon over the middle of the field.
Throughout 2012, he has consistently failed to win one-on-one battles with smaller defenders and has demonstrated rock-like hands. As a blocker, he has made improvement but he's becoming a liability down the field.
Yet who else is Cutler going to throw to? Folks call for Evan Rodriguez to get more touches, which is definitely an option, but don't bank on the former fourth rounder, who is labeled as a fullback on the depth chart, as the savior in the passing game. Besides Davis, there aren't a lot of options, which is why Cutler targeted him eight times on Sunday. Predictably, Davis caught just three of those balls, while dropping a crucial third-down pass late in the game.
"Kellen is a good blocker and he's done a great job blocking, but he would tell you in the passing game, [he needs] just maybe a little bit more consistency in it," said Smith. "But we needed that from our entire team. Kellen is a part of that. Yesterday as a whole we just had some more plays out there to be made in the passing game. Kellen was a part of that."
The Davis experiment should be over after this season. He just isn't the player most expected him to be. GM Phil Emery should be actively searching for Davis' replacement this upcoming offseason.
Injuries piling up
QB Jay Cutler
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports
Against Minnesota, the Bears came into the game without LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring), DT Stephen Paea (foot), CB Tim Jennings (shoulder), WR Earl Bennett (concussion) and G Chris Spencer (knee). K Robbie Gould then tweaked his left calf in warmups.
Cutler also left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a stiff neck, although Cutler said on ESPN 1000 today that he expects to play this Sunday against Green Bay.
Bush came into the game with bruised ribs and took a shot on his first carry that knocked him out of the game. Smith said today it's "nothing major."
McClellin suffered a sprained MCL. There is optimism he can play this week.
Gould said after the game he was fine and could have kicked field goals if necessary. Still, the Bears are taking no chances and will be bringing in three kickers to Halas Hall on Tuesday for tryouts: veterans Billy Cundiff, Olindo Mare and Neil Rackers.
Jennings has a dislocated shoulder and still doesn't have his full range of movement back. He's looking doubtful to play against Green Bay.
Smith did not offer any other news about the injuries today. The first injury report this week comes out Wednesday.
It only takes 18
The Bears are 24-3 the last three seasons when scoring 18 or more points in a game and 12-49 when scoring 18 or fewer. Chicago averaged 29.5 point per game during the first eight games of the season (7-1), yet just 14.4 points per contest over the last five contests (1-4).
The Bears host the Packers this week. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers is 7-2 in his career versus Chicago, throwing 16 touchdowns and six interceptions, with a passer rating of 101. In his career, Cutler has beaten the Packers just once.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.