Notebook: Bears Go Out Battered and Beaten

CHICAGO - If the Bears had made the NFC championship game in Seattle next Sunday, they might have had a hard time fielding a competitive team.

The Bears came out the bigger losers in terms of both injuries and the final score in a 29-21 playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who was held to 58 receiving yards on three catches, suffered a broken right hand but continued to play in the fourth quarter with the injury. Safety Mike Brown aggravated a strained calf and missed most of the game. Wide receiver Bernard Berrian suffered a hip-pointer on a third-quarter catch near the goal line, which forced him to the sidelines.

And linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had to leave the game with what was believed to be a concussion.

The Panthers lost running back DeShaun Foster to a broken ankle and had several other minor injuries.

"It was smash-mouth football," Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. "We knew that coming in. This is the Chicago Bears and that's their tradition. We can play that kind of football.''

Losing Berrian and Brown might have been the biggest blows to the Bears' chances.

"All of those injuries hurt," coach Lovie Smith said. "Especially losing Mike Brown. You talk about some of the big plays (Carolina had). During the course of the game we had to substitute quite a bit. On our last touchdown that we had (given up), we had some of our down-the-line players in there also.

"But that's just part of the game, too. You need for players to step up when you give them that opportunity. That affected us, but Carolina played better than we did today."

Off on the Wrong Foot
Punts of 19, 13 and 29 yards in the first half by Brad Maynard set the Panthers up in good enough field position to drive for six points. The first one for 19 yards was his first effort of the game and went straight to the right, like a shanked golf shot.

"I definitely wanted to kick it to the sidelines as close as I could," he said.

The intent was to keep Panthers return man Steve Smith from hurting Bears special teams.

"On the first one, the wind was blowing from my left to my right, and in trying to get it to that right sideline I just kind of left it out a little too far right and hit it off the right side of my foot," Maynard said.

Maynard had no real explanation for the 13-yarder that went straight up into the air. The Panthers drove to a field goal after that one He almost was able to down that punt himself.

"I was a little upset and tried to kick it (off the ground afterward) and missed," he said "Luckily, because the ref said if I would have kicked it would have been a flag."

Caught Off Guard
When safety Chris Harris suffered a leg cramp and left the field, little-used defensive back Chris Thompson found himself on the field in a clutch situation and the result was a third-quarter disaster for the Bears.

Steve Smith got tangled up with Thompson and the Bears' cornerback fell. Smith caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme to give Carolina a 23-14 lead.

"I was surprised to even be in the game," Thompson said. "I wasn't even aware that somebody had gone down until I got over there and coaches told me to go to right cornerback and then Steve Smith wound up being out there with me.

"It wasn't a slip by me. My feet got tangled up with his and he wound up keepin' on going and I fell."

"That was a tough thing, too," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said "They went after the young guy. It was a tough play and he failed as well."

Brutally Honest
Linebacker Brian Urlacher wanted to gush about the team's chances to be back in the playoffs next year, but remembered 2001 when they lost to the Eagles at home 33-19.

"We lost the same way. We got beat in our home stadium," he said. "We thought we were young last time, too. We ended up 4-12 the next year.

"I like to think we'll be better next year."

Moving On?
Rivera remains a hot commodity in the head coaching market. He interviewed for the Rams job and could become a candidate now elsewhere, possibly in Buffalo. Now Rivera can interview wherever he wants.

"I was real happy for the opportunity," Rivera said about the Rams interview "If anything else comes about I'll look forward to that.

"They've got to figure up their (other) interviews and they're going to go from there. I guess the only thing I can do is just wait and see what happens."

The superstitious might like Rivera's chances. Lovie Smith got the Bears job after his Rams defense gave up 29 points in a divisional playoff loss to the Panthers. Now Rivera's defense has done the same thing.


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