Smith: Playoffs Already Underway

After all that has gone wrong this season for the Bears, they are currently just one game out of a wild card berth. And with five games to go, all against NFC playoff contenders, it's safe to say that the Monsters of the Midway actually control their own destiny down the stretch.

With six losses already, the Bears' margin for error is so slim that they're bringing a playoff mentality to every game – lose and you're out. The overtime victory over the Broncos on Sunday allows them to advance to Sunday's home game against the Giants.

"We feel like we have a second-round playoff game, another home playoff game, coming up this week against a Giants team that's in pretty good position right now, with their [7-4] record," head coach Lovie Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. "In the playoffs, you have to win to keep playing. That's our mindset. It will be a big challenge for us, but the playoffs are normally that way. Each game is a dog fight, and you'd rather play them at home and that's what we get a chance to do."

It's unlikely that the Bears would have to run the table to make the postseason amid such mediocrity in the NFC. A 9-7 record should be more than good enough to take the final wild-card spot. The question is: Can the Bears, who haven't won two in a row all season, go 4-1 down the stretch without their featured running back and with a defense that has lost its swagger?

K Robbie Gould
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images

Three of their final five games are at home, which should help, even though the Bears are just 2-3 this season in the ambivalent confines if Soldier Field. They get the Giants this week coming off a disastrous effort in a 41-17 loss to the Vikings. The Giants also played that game without their top two running backs – Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward – although playing with a third-string running back didn't seem to bother the Broncos much against the Bears.

The Giants currently control the first of two NFC wild-card spots. The 6-5 Lions lead a crowded field in the race for the final berth. But six teams, including the Bears, are one game back at 5-6 – and the Lions have lost three straight.

"To be truthful, I don't know how many teams are there with us," Smith said. "I just know the Chicago Bears are in the playoff hunt, and we control what happens with us by our play."

Of the six 5-6 teams, the Bears have the worst conference record (2-5), which could factor as a tiebreaker. The good news is they still get to play three of the six – the Redskins, Vikings and Saints – and they've already beaten a fourth – the Eagles. They also lost at home to the Vikings.

News & Notes

  • QB Rex Grossman had a 29.5 passer rating through three quarters vs. the Broncos. But from the fourth quarter on he had a mark of 117.0, completing 10 of 14 passes for 108 yards to lead three consecutive scoring drives.
  • RB Cedric Benson is out for the season with an ankle injury that will require surgery. His last two games of the season were his best, with 19 carries for 136 yards and a 7.1-yard average.
  • TE Desmond Clark caught just two passes but they were good for 61 yards, including a 39-yarder on the first play of overtime which set up the game-winning field goal. Since the start of last season, Clark's 13.3-yard average per catch is second in the NFL among tight ends, trailing only San Diego's Antonio Gates at 13.4.
  • WR Bernard Berrian caught just three passes for 24 yards, but his difficult catch of a three-yard TD pass just barely inbounds sent the game into overtime.
  • WR Muhsin Muhammad had just two catches for 26 yards, but he drew a crucial illegal contact flag on Dre' Bly on a 4th-and-9 play late in the fourth quarter that kept the game-tying drive alive.
  • DE Adewale Ogunleye's two sacks give him nine for the season, just one less than his personal best as a Bear in 2005. Ogunleye also has 45 tackles, nine more than any other Bears lineman.
  • DT Tommie Harris, who has been playing with a sprained knee for more than a month which was almost healed, also strained his groin in Sunday's game, when he was in and out of the lineup.
  • DE Mark Anderson still has only a half-sack in the past seven games, but Sunday was his best effort of the season. His seven tackles led all Bears linemen.
  • RB Adrian Peterson, a backup for the past five seasons, is now the Bears' starter. He's averaging 3.6 yards on 52 carries with a long gain of 11 yards.
  • RB Garrett Wolfe, a third-round reach this year according to most observers, is now No. 2 on the depth chart. He had six carries for two yards before last week's game in which he picked up 29 yards on three attempts, one of which was a 25-yard run on the final play of the half while the Bears were running out the clock.

  • Is Devin Hester already the greatest return man ever?
  • An interview with running backs coach Tim Spencer
  • Ed "The Claw" Sprinkle: The Oldest Living Bear
  • A look at the autobiography Sayers: My Life and Times
  • Getting to know third-year quarterback Kyle Orton
  • All of that plus much more in the January issue of ...

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