The Bears have nothing but pride left to play for, but head 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.
After Sunday's 48-3 debacle at Baltimore, Lions coach Jim Schwartz declined to comment when asked whether his team quit. He said he wanted to watch the film first.
"I want to reserve judgment," Schwartz said then. "I don't want to rush through this thing at all. Let me reserve judgment on if I can give an affirmation to that assessment."
So, after watching the film ... did they quit?
Schwartz sounded like Bill Clinton in his news conference Monday.
"You could parse that a lot of different ways — to go to, it depends what the definition of ‘is' is," Schwartz said. "It depends on what the definition of ‘quit' is.
"Did we play hard? Did we try? All those things? Yeah. You're not going to find a snap on tape where somebody doesn't try, where somebody's standing around and not trying.
"Did we always play tough? Did we always play physical? The answer to that is no. When you get rushed for 300 yards on defense, you didn't play tough. You didn't play physical. When you're 1-for-5 on short-yardage plays on offense, you didn't play tough, you didn't play physical."
Schwartz declined to label the Lions as quitters.
"Quit is a strong word, and to me quit has connotations of not trying," Schwartz said. "And there's a difference between not trying and not getting it done. We didn't get it done.
"The team played with effort. They didn't play with toughness. We didn't play as physical as we need to. But as far as stopping or not giving good effort or things like that, which to me is the words associated with quitting, we didn't have any of that."
Schwartz said Sunday the players would be held accountable — and that accountability went beyond benching. But he announced no roster moves or lineup changes Monday.
"If you're asking, ‘Is there any sacrificial lamb that we're going to throw out just to make a point?' " Schwartz said. "The answer is no there."
Schwartz said the Lions would continue to explore their options, but he pointed out their options were limited this time of year.
"There does reach a point that you need to have 53 guys on your roster and ... there's not avenues that you can improve," Schwartz said.
Was Schwartz backing off from Sunday's comments?
"I'm not backing away from that at all," Schwartz said. "I spoke those words, and I still feel the same way. There is accountability that goes beyond play time. But again, there's only so many things that you can do on a weekly basis, particularly at this point of the season."
Schwartz has walked a tightrope on the talent issue this year — carefully acknowledging the Lions' deficit, while not wanting to use it as an excuse. He acknowledged it Monday in the context of accountability.
"We can be frank," Schwartz said. "We can be honest. There's a significant portion of our roster that's on our roster because they were cast-offs from other teams. There were teams that didn't want them or let them go or stuff like that, and the players need to make sure they're not in the same position this year with us."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers rewarded versatile linebacker Brandon Chillar, who earned the team's "big hit" game ball for his play in the 21-14 victory at Chicago on Sunday, with a big contract extension Monday.
The deal hadn't been finalized as of late Monday afternoon, but Chillar reportedly received a four-year deal worth $21 million, including $7 million in guaranteed money.
"I think it's great for Brandon and the Green Bay Packers," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm excited to be able to continue to work with Brandon. It's something that's definitely well-deserved."
The contract locks up Chillar through the 2013 season. As a sixth-year player, he would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, regardless of what happens with the league's endangered collective-bargaining agreement.
Chillar was in the final year of a modest two-year, $1.35 million contract he signed with the Packers last year after bolting the Rams in free agency.
Chillar isn't a full-time player, but the inside linebacker has been valuable as a frequently deployed situational contributor in the Packers' top-rated 3-4 defensive scheme this season. He also is one of the team's top special teams players.
Although Chillar earned a lucrative extension befitting a starter, McCarthy emphasized that the deal shouldn't be interpreted that the Packers are looking to displace A.J. Hawk, who starts alongside Nick Barnett at inside linebacker.
Hawk, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft, is under contract for two more years. He is scheduled to receive more than $4.6 million, including bonuses, next year and a salary of $10 million in 2011.
He hasn't blossomed as a playmaker, but when asked Monday whether Hawk remains a key part of the team's plans, McCarthy responded, "Absolutely," adding, "We're definitely trying to do the best we can to keep as many good football players as we can."
Crosby has misfired on a field-goal try in each of the last three games — and all of the attempts have been from 43 yards or closer.
Crosby's latest miss could have been costly in the Packers' 21-14 win at Chicago on Sunday. He was wide right on a 42-yard kick with six minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Packers ahead by seven points.
Crosby has connected on only 24 of 32 field-goal tries for a success rate of 75 percent, his lowest in three seasons with the team.
They have essentially a two-game cushion with three games to play. They would have the No. 5 seed in the six-team conference bracket, and the next closest pursuers for the final playoff berth are the NFC East's Dallas Cowboys (8-5) and New York Giants (7-6).
The Packers hold a tiebreaker edge over the Cowboys, whom Green Bay beat 17-7 on Nov. 15.
Consequently, the Packers are confident they'll be postseason-bound for the first time since 2007 if they can win one more game. They have road games against Pittsburgh and Arizona wrapped around a home contest against Seattle.
"We're focusing on getting to 10 wins," McCarthy said. "We fully expect to play in the playoffs. We've talked about it as a football team, and I told (the players) not even to get involved in it until we get 10 wins because you're really wasting your time."