The Bears' performance has been so disappointing this season that even players on injured reserve are complaining and criticizing.
Injured middle linebacker Brian Urlacher says in a current Internet story that he feels like the team has lost its identity because it is no longer able to run the football, play solid defense and thereby control the tempo of games.
The Bears have lost four straight and six of their last seven, leaving them with a 4-7 record. Only seven NFL teams are worse.
Asked Monday afternoon about Urlacher's comments, Lovie Smith disagreed that the identity of the team has changed, but the Bears coach said he understands the sentiments that Urlacher is feeling as he watches from the sideline with a dislocated right wrist.
"I can see why everyone who is a part of our football team is frustrated right now," Smith said. "Brian is a part of that. As far as our identity changing, no, I think every team in the National Football League needs to be able to run the football. They'll all say that. And at times they need to pass it.
"Sometimes you need to pass it more than you need to run it. That's what we are, that's what we have been throughout. By us saying that we are a running football team, that doesn't change what we try to do each week."
The Bears are averaging just 85.1 rushing yards per game, dead last in the NFL. In Sunday's 36-10 loss to the Vikings, quarterback Jay Cutler's 8-yard scramble was their longest gain of the day on the ground, and as a team they managed 43 yards on just 11 rushing attempts. The Bears are also last in the NFL with 21.1 rushing attempts per game.
In four games this year, the Bears have rushed for fewer than 50 yards. They have scored touchdowns on the ground in just two of their 11 games — against the Lions and Browns, who are a combined 3-19. Only three times this season have the Bears topped 100 rushing yards. Twenty-one of 32 NFL teams average more than 100 rushing yards per game.
Featured running back Matt Forte is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, down significantly from the 3.9 yards he averaged last season as a rookie. He has just two runs of 20 yards or longer, and both were against the Lions. As a team, the Bears have 21 runs of 10 yards or longer; their opponents have 45.
Said center Olin Kreutz, a team captain and a locker room leader at Halas Hall for several years: "The identity of losing — we're not happy with that, if that's what (Urlacher) means. But the way we look on the field right now, the way we're performing, none of us are happy with that."
Told that Urlacher was referring to the Bears straying away from being a team that gets off the bus running, Kreutz said: "When you're not winning games, obviously you're not running the ball (well), and you're not wearing people down. You're not keeping your defense off the field. Urlacher's obviously the leader of our locker room, so if he's not happy with the identity, we're all not."
"As much as anything, we just want to play better football," coach Lovie Smith said. "We're better than that. We just want to play the type of ball that we should be able to play as far as our talent. That starts with me. I've got to do a lot better job with our team to get them to play up to the standards that we've set."
Smith, who took over the defensive play-calling duties this season, said he understands the increased scrutiny that he's been subjected to during the extended slump, which spoiled a 3-1 start. In three of the last six losses, the Bears have allowed more than 35 points.
"I realize that we haven't played as well," he said. "There were high hopes, especially after the way we started. As far as why, there are a lot of reasons why. But we realize where we are, and we are going to continue to look at what we're doing, which we do each week. We try to evaluate everything we're doing from scheme, to calls we're making, to the players. We'll continue to do that and try to get a win. But yeah, we realize exactly where we are."
The Vikings sacked Jay Cutler four times without resorting to blitzes.
"They just lined up and beat us," center Olin Kreutz said. "They didn't out-scheme us. We knew what they were doing when they lined up. It was pretty obvious. We couldn't do anything."
With the playoffs a virtual impossibility, Kreutz was asked what the O-line could do in the final five games.
"Keep fighting," he said. "This is our craft. This is what we do. We go out there to win games. We can get better. That's what we do."
In the second half the Vikings outgained the Bears 225 yards to 2.
After Sunday's 38-37 victory over Cleveland, quarterback Matthew Stafford and tight end Brandon Pettigrew were the Lions' newly minted heroes. Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, came back from a left shoulder injury and threw the winning touchdown to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, the No. 20 pick.
But their luck ran out in Thursday's 34-12 loss to Green Bay. Stafford threw four interceptions in a surprise start, and Pettigrew suffered a significant left knee injury early in the first quarter that will require season-ending surgery.
Stafford suffered an AC joint separation late in Sunday's game. He did not practice before Thursday's game and was listed as doubtful on the injury report, meaning he had only about a 25 percent chance of playing. He ended up throwing four interceptions, but coach Jim Schwartz said he had no second thoughts about starting him.
"Oh, gosh, no," Schwartz said. "No. No second thoughts at all. He started feeling better the day before. He woke up, felt good, was able to throw the ball, was able to run, had good range of motion in his shoulder. Him throwing the interceptions had nothing to do with his shoulder."
What about a lack of practice?
"Half of one day?" Schwartz said. "No."
The Lions had only one real practice because of the short week, and Schwartz said they went hard for only about half of it.
Pettigrew went down early in the first quarter Thursday. His knee buckled without contact as he maneuvered to make a block. Schwartz had hoped Pettigrew's injury wouldn't be too serious because the swelling wasn't too bad after the game. But an MRI exam Friday revealed significant damage.
The injury is a big blow as the Lions try to develop their young players for the future. Pettigrew was coming off perhaps his best performance. He caught six passes for 72 yards Sunday, including that touchdown.
"I think we saw him today play the way we expected when we drafted him," Schwartz said after that game. "It was a play that we'd worked on. It was a play that we liked against their defense. We liked the guy that was going to get the ball. He made a lot of first-down catches for us, some good run after the catch. That was all part of the reason that we drafted him."
Pettigrew will finish with 30 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns.
"We had a nationally televised game," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Daunte's a competitor. He wants to be out there. We want backups that want to be out there. I'd much rather have that situation with Daunte than a guy that just tips his cap and says, ‘Fine.' "
Will there be any consequences or changes as a result?
"It needs to blow over," Schwartz said. "It was a situation that needed to be handled a little bit different. But ... it was a very tough circumstance, and we honestly had no idea Matt was going to be ready. Matt made tremendous improvement in the last day. He's our starting quarterback."
Coach Jim Schwartz said Delmas had to walk a fine line in those situations and the coaches wouldn't necessarily teach him to do anything different.
"As long as he's not leading with his head, as long as he's intentionally not trying to hurt somebody, you have to play hard," Schwartz said. "If you get a penalty, sometimes there's good calls, sometimes there's bad calls, but the officials are going to err on the side of player safety, and they did in that case. So we'll just leave it there."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The catchword of the day for head coach Mike McCarthy, aka "Mr. Positive," as coaches and assorted players reconvened Monday following the team's three-day break was confidence.
McCarthy uttered "confidence" or "confident" more than a dozen times when addressing various aspects of his team in a news conference at Lambeau Field.
"We feel healthy, and we feel we're confident," McCarthy said. "We're very, very realistic."
The return to work for McCarthy and his staff, whom he had excused from their duties Friday afternoon, was decidedly palatable. Fresh off a 34-12 victory at the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, the Packers are riding a season-best three-game winning streak and in the driver's seat for an NFC wild-card playoff spot with a 7-4 record.
Green Bay's string of wins came in a taxing stretch of 12 days, during which they rebounded from an embarrassing loss at the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 8 and lost Pro Bowl defensive players Al Harris and Aaron Kampman to season-ending knee injuries.
"We knew this three-game stretch was going to be very challenging physically," McCarthy said. "Now, with the time off, we feel like we have a chance to regroup and take a run at these last (five) games. We really like where we are as a football team."
The Packers' stretch run won't commence until they host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
Left with 10 days between the win against the Lions and the next game, McCarthy gave the majority of the players time off Friday through Monday — injured players reported Monday for treatments and individual workouts.
The whole team will be together again Tuesday for an extra practice built into the extended week. The focus will be two-fold rooted in fundamentals: correcting mistakes from the last game and getting a jump start on the game plan for the Ravens.
"It will be a padded practice," McCarthy said. "It will be a fast, aggressive pace, and we want to get right back into it."
The players will be off again Wednesday, then on their usual three-day practice schedule leading up to a game Thursday to Saturday.
McCarthy's aim this week is to make sure the players don't lose the confidence they have acquired and built on the last three games.
"Confidence is the key, in my opinion, to winning in the National Football League," McCarthy said. "You're always trying to build confidence, whether you are going from spring practice into training camp, from training camp into preseason games, preseason games into regular-season games. You can't buy real confidence.
"We talk a lot about as a football team the difference between false confidence and real confidence. So, confidence is a big part of being successful, and it filters all the way through. All the way through your running the football, stopping the run, big-play opportunities, it's what you're trying to build. To me, it's a major contributing factor in being successful in the NFL."
Rodgers singled out the strides being made by a previously maligned offensive line in the aftermath of the 34-12 victory at the Detroit Lions on Thursday.
"I think the key to our success has been the offensive-line play," Rodgers said. "When they give me time like that, it allows me to feel very comfortable back there."
Rodgers, who had been sacked a league-high 43 times in the first 10 games, was sacked only once by the Lions. His biggest pass play – a 68-yard downfield throw to a wide-open Donald Driver on a rope to end the first quarter – was enabled by having six seconds of pocket time.
A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness resulted in six different starting offensive lines for the Packers this season, but they may finally have some continuity. Left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Daryn Colledge, center Scott Wells, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Mark Tauscher started for the second straight game.
"I think you've seen better protections and (me) getting the ball out of my hand quicker," said Rodgers, who hasn't thrown an interception in Green Bay's three-game winning streak.
The Packers lost Clifton to a hamstring injury in the third quarter Thursday, but rookie T.J. Lang filled the void without a drop-off in play. Whether Clifton will need to miss any more time won't be known until next week.