Chicago now stands at 9-6 on the season. Due to tiebreakers, the Minnesota Vikings, who beat the Houston Texans today to move to 9-6, are currently in possession of the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. If the Bears win next week and the Vikings lose, Chicago makes it to the postseason. If they both win, the Bears can still make the playoffs if the Seattle Seahawks lose tonight and next week.
Chicago has won just two games since Week 9, yet they are still kicking in their bid for the postseason. It's not over yet.
-RB Matt Forte left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury. He did not return. He was wearing a walking boot after the game, although he said there's no way he'll miss next week's contest.
-S Chris Conte left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. He did not return.
Keys to the Game
-WR Brandon Marshall caught six passes for 68 yards today. He now has 1,466 yards on the season, which is a Bears franchise record for single-season receiving yards. He surpasses Marcus Robinson's old mark of 1,400 yards set in 1999. Marshall broke the franchise receptions record two weeks, passing Marty Booker's 100-catch total from 2002. Marshall now has 113 catches on the season.
-Marshall was targeted 14 times by QB Jay Cutler. Second in targets was WR Alshon Jeffery, who had four. As usual, Cutler locked on to his favorite receiver for the entire game, whether Marshall was open or not. Jeffery caught just one pass, as did WR Earl Bennett. This is a growing trend that is nearly out of control. Many drives today were stalled because Marshall couldn't get open. Cutler still threw him the ball though, ignoring his other receivers, many of whom had a better shot at making a catch. It's come to the point where, if an opposing defense can shut down Marshall, Chicago's offense has no hope of scoring points.
-Cutler was downright awful for most of the afternoon. He made some decent throws in the second half but overall, he was wildly inaccurate. He overthrew at least three receivers and skipped another pair of passes. Again, these were throws that ended drives when there were receivers open. In Week 16, it appears Cutler is playing his worst football of the year.
-Marshall's touchdown catch, Chicago's only passing score, came on a blown coverage by Arizona's secondary. The cornerback and safety each thought the other was covering Marshall, leaving him all alone in the back corner of the end zone.
-Before the ankle injury, Forte was having a very good game. He rushed 12 times for 88 yards, good for 7.3 yards per carry. He showed good field vision and burst at the second level, continually making defenders miss out in space.
-He was replaced by a combination of Armando Allen and Kahlil Bell. The two combined for 18 carries for 56 yards. If Forte misses any time, Bell and Allen will be called on to do the heavy lifting. It's a situation with which Bell is familiar, as he started the team's final two games last season after Forte and Marion Barber were lost with injuries. He finished 2011 with 79 carries for 337 yards (4.3 avg.), to go with 19 catches for 133 yards and a score.
-The Bears rushed for 153 yards as a team, their third highest total of the season. That was due to an offensive line that dominated Arizona's front seven. On top of that, Chicago's front five allowed just one sack on the day, against a defense that ranked fifth in the league in total sacks coming into the game.
What's even more impressive is that today's starting five was the fifth different O-line combination in the past six weeks. Chicago's starters – LT J'Marcus Webb, LG James Brown, C Roberto Garza, RG Chris Spencer, RT Gabe Carimi – had never before worked as a group in their current lineup. It was a testament to their effort, as well coordinator Mike Tice's willingness to chip on the edge and help with backs and tight ends when necessary. Considering the protection and run blocking, it's disappointing the offense could only score twice on the day.
-Defensively, the Bear scored two touchdowns, which is always a recipe for a Chicago victory. The first score came after a Beanie Wells fumble on the goal line, which CB Zack Bowman recovered in the end zone. The second score came on a 10-yard interception return by CB Charles Tillman. It was Tillman's third pick-six of the season and the ninth interception return of his career, a Bears record.
Chicago now has 10 return touchdowns on the year. That is one score short of the all-time record of 11 set by the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. Since 2005, the Bears are 21-2 when scoring a defensive touchdown, including 6-0 this season.
-The Bears picked up four sacks on the afternoon. One was by Israel Idonije, who started at defensive tackle in place of the injured Henry Melton (chest). The other three belong to DE Julius Peppers, who hasn't had a three-sack game since Nov. 18, 2010. His 11.5 sacks lead the team and are his most in a single season since joining the Bears in 2010.
-The Cardinals have the worst rushing offense in the league and it showed today. The Bears held them to 29 total rushing yards on 19 carries (1.5 avg.). RB LaRod Stephens-Howling was Arizona's leading rusher with 20 yards on 11 carries. It was a strong performance by Chicago's front seven.
-The secondary did allow WR Larry Fitzgerald to have a big day. He caught eight passes for 111 yards, yet he didn't score a touchdown, which is the most meaningful stat.
-Two performances of note go to Idonije and S Major Wright. Both players were physically dominant on the day. Idonije worked over his man for the entire game, while Wright was a force as the extra man in the box.
-Finally, there is the issue of Devin Hester. On offense he has no role. He was not targeted a single time in today's game. As a punt returner, he's getting worse by the game. His tendency toward running backward is borderline ridiculous at this point. It's crazy to say but the player who was once the greatest return man in the history of the game, has now become a liability returning punts.
The perfect example came in the third quarter. Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil boomed a punt that pushed Hester back inside his 5-yard line. Instead of letting the ball bounce into the end zone for the touchback, Hester caught the ball. He then turned around, danced for five yards, then proceeded to turn and run backward. He was tackled at the 3-yard line.
It was arguably the most ridiculous return I have ever seen. Even worse is that those types of returns are becoming commonplace for Hester.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.