The Bears' playoff prospects were brightened considerably Sunday, and not just by the victory over the Raiders that lifted them to 4-5 thanks to a dominant defense and a rescue mission by demoted quarterback Rex Grossman.
Amazingly, five NFC teams who were ahead of the Bears in the standings lost Sunday: the Lions (now 6-3), Panthers (4-5), Saints (4-5), Giants (6-3) and Redskins (5-4). All five could be teams the Bears wind up battling for a wild-card berth, assuming they're not going to make up a four-game deficit to the Packers in the NFC North.
"You look around a little bit today, and I guess that's good that that happened," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "But everything that happens with us, we control. So what happens on the outside really doesn't affect us a lot. If we take care of business, we know we'll be in good shape at the end of the year."
After 10 weeks, half of the 16 NFC teams are 4-5 or 5-4, and only the 8-1 Cowboys and Packers are better than 6-3.
If the Bears are serious about getting back into the playoff picture, they'll need more defensive efforts like the one they got in Oakland.
The defense registered season bests in total yards allowed (193) and passing yards (80), while forcing three turnovers for just the second time.
"Defensively, that was the best game we've played this year," Smith said. "The way we practiced last week, I had a feeling that the guys would go out and play with emotion, make plays, fly around and do the things that we did."
After Raiders quarterback Josh McCown surprised the Bears with a 24-yard run off an option play on the first play from scrimmage, Oakland had just 169 yards on its remaining 60 plays, an average of just 2.8 yards per snap.
"We didn't get off to a good start," Smith said. "But the guys settled down from that first drive (which resulted in a field goal), and I thought dominated throughout the rest of the game."
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The Bears made a major switch in their nickel package vs. the Raiders, keeping strong-side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer on the field instead of replacing him with nickel cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. as they usually do.
Hillenmeyer responded with a team-high 13 tackles and was instrumental in keeping the Raiders out of the end zone.
"That's a package that we have," Smith said. "Hunter Hillenmeyer has played as well as any of our defensive players, so it didn't make a whole lot of sense to take him off the field when we didn't really have to. (Free safety) Danieal Manning allows us an opportunity to do some different things since he can cover wide receivers, so that's the package that we'll keep up. We may play it a little more. We haven't studied Seattle as much as we need to, and we'll make those decisions later."
If the Bears continue to have success with the same alignment, Manning Jr.'s role diminishes. He played only a handful of snaps vs. the Raiders.
NEWS & NOTES
- Comparing Urlacher to Butkus and Singletary
- "New" Soldier Field vs. "Old" Soldier Field
- Reliving the 61-7 win over Green Bay in 1980
- An excerpt from Cindi Dammann's Tailgating Tales
- Getting to know LB Jamar Williams
All of that plus much more in the latest issue of ...
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