Extremely Offensive

LAKE FOREST -- Win, and they're in. If only it was that simple for the Bears. A victory over visiting Tampa Bay on Sunday means a guaranteed playoff spot for Chicago. However, if the struggling offense doesn't come around -- and quickly -- it could mean another tough day at the office, and some more finger-pointing on the sidelines.

   "We're just focusing on what we need to do to win football games," quarterback Jim Miller said. "That's our job as players and coaches in this organization. So far we've done that nine times this year.

   "We believe we have a winning formula here, and we're going to stick with it."

   The bottom line is, the Bears' offense has been pathetic for three weeks, and hasn't produced more than a touchdown, ironically, since a 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay on Nov. 18.

   Since that win, the Bears (9-3) have managed just one touchdown per game. Last week it finally caught up in a 17-7 loss to Green Bay when defensive players were questioning offensive coordinator John Shoop's play-calling.

   "That whole thing, quite honestly, was blown way out of proportion," Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "I was on the sideline and I didn't even know anything happened. I got home and my wife said somebody said something on TV about it, and I told her she was crazy, nothing happened.

   "It wasn't until Monday morning, I found out about all the trouble we had on our sideline, and I'm working it all day long."

   Last week against the Packers, the Bears lost their grip on first place in the NFC Central. They managed just 11 first downs, 189 yards of total offense and got just 139 yards through the air by Miller.

   The last time Chicago showed any signs of offensive life was against the Bucs in Tampa. Miller threw for 228 yards, including a career-high 165 yards and three TDs to Marty Booker. The Bears scored 17 points in the third quarter of that game, but have managed just 33 points in three outings since. The Bucs (7-5) haven't lost since that game, winning three straight.

   "I don't think they should be too frustrated," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said of the Bears. "They've got nine wins and I think they're playing pretty well. They had a couple of games where they didn't score as many points as they'd like, but I think they're playing good football, and that's the thing you always look at.

   "When you play good ball good things will come. We've played a lot of low-scoring games -- we haven't won as many as they have -- but sometimes that's the way it goes. I know the fans and the players want to see points scored, but I always think the wins are the most important thing."

   Booker, the team's main weapon since Marcus Robinson was lost for the season, was held to two catches against the Packers and three against the Vikings two weeks ago.

   Miller is the NFL's worst-rated passer on third down with just a 46.6 percent rating. He's completed just 52 percent of his passes (46 of 88) on third down for 340 yards at a dismal 3.9 yards per attempt. To make matters worse, the Bears are 25th in the NFL in total yards per game, 24th in rushing yards a game and 22nd in passing.

   Tampa Bay's defense is second in turnover margin (plus-13), fourth in pass defense and ninth in total defense.    In other words, it's not going to be easy.


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