The Bears have nothing but pride left to play for, but coach Lovie Smith remains steadfast in his approach of playing to win every game.
Smith said he will continue playing the players who give the Bears the best chance to win every week, starting with Sunday's game in Baltimore against the Ravens, who are 10-point favorites.
"These next three weeks are important for our football team," said Smith, whose job status and that of his staff could also be determined by the final three games. "Starting with the Ravens this week, we're going to do everything we possibly can to win the football game, whatever that entails."
That means young players who haven't had an opportunity to play this season won't be getting chances down the stretch. That's because almost every young player who can help the team in the present is already playing.
The problem is they're only playing well enough for the Bears to be 5-8 and hoping to avoid double-digit losses, something that hasn't happened since 2004, Smith first year at the helm. Two years later the Bears were in the Super Bowl, but since then Smith's teams have a combined 21-24 record.
It's hard to argue that young players haven't had a chance. Every player who has scored an offensive touchdown for the Bears this season is 26 or younger, except for Devin Hester, who turned 27 last month.
"We've looked [at], and we play young players throughout, so there's not a lot more of our young players that we haven't played," Smith said. "Whenever you line up, you owe it to the guys on the football team and just fans in general to put out the best team you possibly can to help you win the football game. That's the approach we've taken every game we've played here, and that won't change."
It took 14 weeks, but Devin Aromashodu finally got an extended look on Sunday, and he responded with eight catches for 76 yards and his first NFL TD in his first start for the Bears and second in the NFL.
"We've played young players throughout. Two of the stars [Sunday] were young football players," Smith said, including Johnny Knox (83 yards on five catches with one TD) with Aromashodu. "So I don't think you can say that we haven't played young players and we don't have confidence in them."
But none of the Bears' first four draft picks have played enough to earn a varsity letter. Third-round picks Jarron Gilbert and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias and fourth rounders Henry Melton,who's on injured reserve, and D.J. Moore have played in a total of three games and have yet to make any impact.
Gilbert, who has been active for three games and played sparingly in two, may get a longer look in the final three games.
"He's probably the one who hasn't had a lot of opportunities to prove [himself]," Smith said. "It's hard with the numbers that we have. Everybody that we're looking at on the defensive line has warranted playing time, so sometimes the numbers just don't allow you to take a look at everyone.
"Sometimes you have to wait. You don't get a chance your first year. Earl Bennett didn't get a chance his first year, but his second year he got an opportunity. Jarron Gilbert will be a good football player for us in time."
Bennett made cameo appearances in 10 games last year as a rookie and failed to catch a single pass, but he has 46 catches for 605 yards this season.
NOTES AND QUOTES
A perfect example: Just before halftime, he held off Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams with his left arm and created enough space to make a 19-yard touchdown catch just before halftime.
"I really wasn't trying to do that," said Knox, who earned his fifth TD reception on the play. "If it was pass interference, I got away with it and you've just got to keep moving."
On other plays, Knox reminded everyone why he's still a rookie with holes in his knowledge of NFL defenses.
With 10 minutes to go and the Bears facing third-and-10 on Green Bay's 44, Knox read the defense while running downfield and decided he ought to turn outside and curl back.
Jay Cutler read the defense and figured Knox should cut to the inside and threw his pass accordingly. The throw was so far from Knox, the Packers secondary couldn't even adjust quickly enough to pick it off.
Cutler then walked downfield, met Knox as he headed toward the sideline and offered some tips on the proper read.
"It's frustrating when you and your quarterback aren't on the same page because you want to be," Knox said.
Knox settled for five catches and a season-high with 83 reception yards. ...
Slow starts are nothing new for the Bears this season.
They've been outscored 79-30 in the first quarter and 184-106 in the first half, but Ryan Grant's 62-yard TD run on the Packers' first play from scrimmage was a new low.
"You can't start the game any better than that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
If you're the Bears, you can't start the game much worse.
"I don't know. It's something you can't get a handle on," said defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who had one of the team's two sacks. "It's disappointing. We have never been the team that had to get hit in the mouth to go hit someone back. We always did it first. Now it seems like these last couple of games it takes someone to make us mad to play up to that caliber. We have to learn how to start playing fast and finish fast. I believe in this defense, and I believe what we can do. But all we have now is these three games." ...
Late in the third quarter, the Bears had a fourth-and-1 at the Packers' 45-yard line and punted rather than going for it.
"It was a difficult decision," Smith said. "But at the time, we were playing really good defense and thought we could pin them down there. Those are always good decisions. We'll be a little bit more conservative in those situations based on how we're playing at the time defensively."
The defense forced the Packers to punt after three plays, but Cutler was intercepted on the ensuing possession. ...
After Sunday's loss completed a season sweep by Green Bay, the Bears are now 7-5 against the Packers under Smith. The Packers had won 18 of 20 against the Bears before Smith took over in 2004, and they swept the Bears in each of the three seasons before Smith arrived.
"It's the situation we're in right now," Smith said. "The season hasn't turned out exactly the way we'd like. We don't know exactly how to respond to it, but we'll just have to do something about it in the future."
The Bears are in Baltimore next to face the Ravens, who dismantled the Lions 48-3 on Sunday. Then they're at home against the 11-2 Vikings before finishing up against the Lions in Detroit.
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