Preview: Different team, same feeling

The Bears desperately needed a win the last time they faced the Vikings and it started a roll they expected to take them to the playoffs. This time, the Bears are on another losing streak but don't have the same weapons they did early.

Perhaps no team in the NFL has been as widely debated in terms of their talent as the Chicago Bears. A team that was "Tebowizing" the NFL for years – pulling victories out of games that, when you looked back at them, they had no business winning – the jury has always been deadlocked on whether the Bears are one of the better teams in the league or just one of the luckier. They would keep games close into the fourth quarter and somehow come away consistently with victories – often on a pick-six from the defense or a big return from Devin Hester.

Last year, even Bears haters had to begrudgingly admit Chicago was a quality team. At 11-5, they won the NFC North, taking the crown away from the Vikings and holding off the hard-charging Packers, resting some of their key players late in their Week 17 10-3 loss to Green Bay that would allow the Packers into the playoffs to exact revenge.

The Bears that lost at home looked like the Bears that gave their detractors ammunition. They were a fraudulent team that got lucky. Jay Cutler was a gutless loser. You name the insults.

Heading into their first meeting with the Vikings, the Bears had much that same look. They opened the season with a Murderer's Row of opponents (Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay) and lost two of three. When they played the Vikings at Soldier Field, they were on the brink of extinction. They were 2-3 with division losses already in the books against the Packers and Lions and couldn't afford another loss or their playoff hopes would be all but vanished with four conference losses and defeats at the hands of all three divisional opponents. They would be in last place chasing two teams that started 5-0 on the season. A loss to the Vikings would be a death blow to the Bears.

How Chicago responded turned the tides of the season for both teams. Not only did Chicago win, they blew the Vikings out 39-10 in a game that wasn't even that close. Leslie Frazier had seen enough of Donovan McNabb and the switch was made, going from McNabb to Christian Ponder and, within a month, McNabb was sent packing.

While the Bears game started the process of digging the grave for the 2011 Vikings, it revitalized Chicago. The Vikings game proved to have just the opposite impact on the Bears. They went on the road the next two weeks and effectively ended the playoff hopes of the Buccaneers and the Dream Team in Philly. They then returned home for two games and steamrolled playoff hopefuls Detroit and San Diego. Suddenly the Bears were 7-3, riding a five-game winning streak and, based on records at the time, had the easiest portion of the schedule in front of them and the toughest part behind them.

But it all came crashing down. Star running back Matt Forte, who was posting MVP numbers, and quarterback Jay Cutler both went down. There were hopes that both could return for the playoffs, because, at the time, the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion. That changed in a big hurry.

Since Cutler and Forte went down, the Bears haven't won. They come to the Metrodome riding a five-game losing streak that has them at 7-8 and eliminated from playoff consideration. All the progress that had been made during their five-game winning streak was given back over the last month-plus.

Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. Cutler was replaced by Caleb Hanie, but he played so poorly – he threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions – he was replaced by journeyman Josh McCown. Forte was replaced by veteran Marion Barber, who has since suffered a calf injury and has turned the running game over to Kahlil Bell, a former Vikings camp body who is fighting for his NFL life.

The lack of offensive punch has always been the bane of the Bears and nothing has changed in that regard. They have only one player with 50 or more receptions and that's Forte (52) and he hasn't played in a month. Their leading receiver among the wide receiver corps is Johnny Knox with 37 and he's out for the year. In the 10 games prior to Cutler's injury, followed shortly thereafter by Forte's, the Bears were scoring 27 points a game. In the five games since, they are averaging less than 14 points a game.

While the Bears offense has sputtered, their defense held up as long as it could under the circumstances it has been forced to endure. During its five-game winning streak prior to Cutler and Forte being lost, the Bears allowed point totals of 10, 18, 24, 13 and 20 points. Given that the team was scoring 33 points a game during that stretch, those were lofty totals indeed. But, when the offense died, so did the onus on the defense.

By Bears standards, the defense has been far from dominant, but strong enough to keep the team in games. In losses to Kansas City and Denver, the defense allowed just 10 points in each game in regulation – losing 10-3 to the Chiefs and an infamous 13-10 overtime loss to the Broncos after stymieing Tim Tebow for 56 minutes. The season collapsed at that point and, it can be argued, the defense had done all it could, but just wore down.

In the last two games, the Bears have allowed 73 points, losing 28-14 to Seattle and 35-21 to a Packers team that essentially called off the dogs after three quarters. The Bears had allowed more than 20 points just twice in the previous eight games and those two games saw them surrender 24 and 25 points. The downward trend has been pronounced and perhaps evidence that, while the Bears haven't quit, they aren't playing with the same intensity as they did when they firmly believed they had their own playoff destiny in their own hands.

When the Vikings meet the Bears Sunday, they will essentially be facing a team with the same feeling they had the first time – a desperate team that is feeling the heat associated with losing. The last time they met, it sparked Chicago to their best run of the season. Now riding a five-game losing streak, it's unclear whether the Bears that come into the Metrodome are a team willing to do what it has to do to win – they've beaten the Vikings four straight times – or a team that is resigned to its fate and going through the same kind of self-assessment the Vikings have most of the season. In the end, the only impact of this game will be to add a win or a loss to the team's 2011 game ledger and could significantly impact their draft standing, but, as it stands, the Bears have the look of a team that is ready for the offseason to begin – which could be good news for Vikings players looking to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" Perhaps no team in the NFL has been as widely debated in terms of their talent as the Chicago Bears. A team that was \"Tebowizing\" the NFL for years – pulling victories out of games that, when you looked back at them, they had no business winning – the jury has always been deadlocked on whether the Bears are one of the better teams in the league or just one of the luckier. They would keep games close into the fourth quarter and somehow come away consistently with victories – often on a pick-six from the defense or a big return from Devin Hester. Last year, even Bears haters had to begrudgingly admit Chicago was a quality team. At 11-5, they won the NFC North, taking the crown away from the Vikings and holding off the hard-charging Packers, resting some of their key players late in their Week 17 10-3 loss to Green Bay that would allow the Packers into the playoffs to exact revenge. The Bears that lost at home looked like the Bears that gave their detractors ammunition. They were a fraudulent team that got lucky. Jay Cutler was a gutless loser. You name the insults. Heading into their first meeting with the Vikings, the Bears had much that same look. They opened the season with a Murderer's Row of opponents (Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay) and lost two of three. When they played the Vikings at Soldier Field, they were on the brink of extinction. They were 2-3 with division losses already in the books against the Packers and Lions and couldn't afford another loss or their playoff hopes would be all but vanished with four conference losses and defeats at the hands of all three divisional opponents. They would be in last place chasing two teams that started 5-0 on the season. A loss to the Vikings would be a death blow to the Bears. How Chicago responded turned the tides of the season for both teams. Not only did Chicago win, they blew the Vikings out 39-10 in a game that wasn't even that close. Leslie Frazier had seen enough of Donovan McNabb and the switch was made, going from McNabb to Christian Ponder and, within a month, McNabb was sent packing. While the Bears game started the process of digging the grave for the 2011 Vikings, it revitalized Chicago. The Vikings game proved to have just the opposite impact on the Bears. They went on the road the next two weeks and effectively ended the playoff hopes of the Buccaneers and the Dream Team in Philly. They then returned home for two games and steamrolled playoff hopefuls Detroit and San Diego. Suddenly the Bears were 7-3, riding a five-game winning streak and, based on records at the time, had the easiest portion of the schedule in front of them and the toughest part behind them. But it all came crashing down. Star running back Matt Forte, who was posting MVP numbers, and quarterback Jay Cutler both went down. There were hopes that both could return for the playoffs, because, at the time, the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion. That changed in a big hurry. Since Cutler and Forte went down, the Bears haven't won. They come to the Metrodome riding a five-game losing streak that has them at 7-8 and eliminated from playoff consideration. All the progress that had been made during their five-game winning streak was given back over the last month-plus. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. Cutler was replaced by Caleb Hanie, but he played so poorly – he threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions – he was replaced by journeyman Josh McCown. Forte was replaced by veteran Marion Barber, who has since suffered a calf injury and has turned the running game over to Kahlil Bell, a former Vikings camp body who is fighting for his NFL life. The lack of offensive punch has always been the bane of the Bears and nothing has changed in that regard. They have only one player with 50 or more receptions and that's Forte (52) and he hasn't played in a month. Their leading receiver among the wide receiver corps is Johnny Knox with 37 and he's out for the year. In the 10 games prior to Cutler's injury, followed shortly thereafter by Forte's, the Bears were scoring 27 points a game. In the five games since, they are averaging less than 14 points a game. While the Bears offense has sputtered, their defense held up as long as it could under the circumstances it has been forced to endure. During its five-game winning streak prior to Cutler and Forte being lost, the Bears allowed point totals of 10, 18, 24, 13 and 20 points. Given that the team was scoring 33 points a game during that stretch, those were lofty totals indeed. But, when the offense died, so did the onus on the defense. By Bears standards, the defense has been far from dominant, but strong enough to keep the team in games. In losses to Kansas City and Denver, the defense allowed just 10 points in each game in regulation – losing 10-3 to the Chiefs and an infamous 13-10 overtime loss to the Broncos after stymieing Tim Tebow for 56 minutes. The season collapsed at that point and, it can be argued, the defense had done all it could, but just wore down. In the last two games, the Bears have allowed 73 points, losing 28-14 to Seattle and 35-21 to a Packers team that essentially called off the dogs after three quarters. The Bears had allowed more than 20 points just twice in the previous eight games and those two games saw them surrender 24 and 25 points. The downward trend has been pronounced and perhaps evidence that, while the Bears haven't quit, they aren't playing with the same intensity as they did when they firmly believed they had their own playoff destiny in their own hands. When the Vikings meet the Bears Sunday, they will essentially be facing a team with the same feeling they had the first time – a desperate team that is feeling the heat associated with losing. The last time they met, it sparked Chicago to their best run of the season. Now riding a five-game losing streak, it's unclear whether the Bears that come into the Metrodome are a team willing to do what it has to do to win – they've beaten the Vikings four straight times – or a team that is resigned to its fate and going through the same kind of self-assessment the Vikings have most of the season. In the end, the only impact of this game will be to add a win or a loss to the team's 2011 game ledger and could significantly impact their draft standing, but, as it stands, the Bears have the look of a team that is ready for the offseason to begin – which could be good news for Vikings players looking to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history. 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