Bears Teetering on the Brink

JACKSONVILLE, FL _ The Bears aren't out of the playoff race yet, but they're teetering on the edge after Sunday's 22-3 defeat by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The loss was yet another in a series of reminders that they are merely a young, rebuilding team capable of producing their worst effort at the most inopportune time.

"We had our backs up against the wall, we felt we had to win out and we put an awful lot on this game," coach Lovie Smith said. "But a lot of times when you are building and you are young, things like this happen.

"You have to bounce back from it, remember this feeling."

They still have that opportunity to bounce back thanks, but it's a very small chance. They now trail Green Bay by three games in the NFC North and would need the Packers to lose all three remaining games in order to win the division.

Their wild card chances remain alive, but are incredibly remote because of all the 5-8 teams in the NFC and their own lack of tiebreaker edges.

"I would say that we're probably mathematically still in it," Smith said. "At this point, that really didn't matter. For us, it's about winning this week. We need to pay better and then think about things like that."

Mathematics become irrelevant when the Bears play the way they did Sunday. Quarterback Chad Hutchinson rarely had time to throw, receivers dropped passes, the running game had a season-low 31 yards on only 14 carries, the defense gave up a handful of big pass plays and both the offense and defense wore out officials' arms with 13 penalties for season-high 104 yards.

Making matters bleaker was a pulled left hamstring suffered by linebacker Brian Urlacher. The Bears haven't won without him this year.

"It was frustrating," tight end Dustin Lyman said. "The blame spreads around pretty evenly in this one."

It started when Lyman dropped a third-and-five pass in the open field on the game's first series. It got much worse, as they converted only 2-of-12 third downs.

"That kind of set the tone for how our game went," Smith said.

The defense's biggest contribution to the defeat came in the penalty department on the Jaguars' first scoring drive. Byron Leftwich found Reggie Williams for a 6-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal with 3:18 left in the first quarter after an illegal contact penalty on free safety Mike Green wiped out a third-and-nine incompletion at the Bears' 12, and then a defensive holding penalty on R.W. McQuarters put Jacksonville at the 3 on the next play.

"It was tight," Green said of the officiating. "We didn't agree with a lot of them. But they make the calls.

"It's hard. Every time you make a play there's a flag coming out."

The Jaguars didn't require Bears charity to score all their points. Byron Leftwich's arm produced just enough plays and the Bears' defense seemed to wear out as the game went along. Leftwich completed 25-of-45 for 242 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter over Charles Tillman to seal the win.

"They had their backs up against the wall and they played better than we did today," Smith said. "I think it's as simple as that."

Leftwich hit Smith for 23 yards and Williams for 17 to get the Jaguars into position for a Josh Scobee 30-yard field goal right before halftime, one series after the Bears' only points on Paul Edinger's 42-yard field goal.

In the second half, the Jaguars leaned on Bears penalties again, as a roughing-the-passer penalty against Tillman wiped out a fumble recovery by Brian Urlacher. On the same series, Green got flagged for illegal contact. The Jaguars got a 25-yard Scobee field goal.

Then their defense produced a devastating blow for the Bears when Hutchinson got sacked on a blitz early in the fourth quarter by Daryl Smith for a safety and a 15-3 lead.

The offense did nothing to counter, as the safety was one of five sacks of Hutchinson to set a Bears single-season, 16-game record with 53 sacks allowed.

"They had some different blitzes in," Bears center Olin Kreutz said. "They had some different looks on third down that I didn't see on film all year.

"That's football. Every week every week there's something different for you. We have to identify who's on the field, and identify who we have and pick them up."

What may have been worse than the sacks were the penalties. Tackle Qasim Mitchell got flagged for a false start to leave the Bears in a second-and-10, and was flagged for holding to cause a second-and-25. Tackle Aaron Gibson's illegal use of hands penalty left the Bears in a first-and-20 and tight end John Gilmore false-started.

"We were our own worst enemy out there," said Hutchinson, who completed 17-of-33 for 212 yards and threw one interception. "We started moving the ball and started doing some good things and then we'd shoot ourselves in the foot.

"It's tough to come back from second-and-15 or long downs like that."

It's even tougher to come back from three games behind in a division title race with three left.

"After a loss, you're always disappointed," Kreutz said. "We're not broken. We're not going to put our heads in our (rear ends) and run. We're disappointed in the way we played, the way we performed.

"But until somebody tells us we're out of it we're not going to count ourselves out of it."

On Sunday, their actions spoke louder than those words.

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