The Bears did their part by beating the lowly Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix 28-13 thanks to the defense returning to form and keeping their playoff hopes alive at least for another week. The score may have read 28-13 but it sure didn't feel like a dominant victory by any means. The offense continued its season long struggle to get a rhythm going and it didn't help matters when Matt Forte left the game with an ankle injury. The Bears defense looked like the defense that was dominating the first half of the season with two interceptions including a Charles Tillman pick six and two forced fumbles including a Zack Bowman recovery for a touchdown and Julius Peppers registering three of the Bears' four sacks.
The Bears played with a sense of urgency with Cutler and the offense airing the ball out early and often, though not very successfully, with Cutler completing just one of his first eleven passes before going 5 for 5 in a touchdown drive before the end of the first half. Cutler ended the game 12/26 for 148 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Marshall continued to be the team's MVP by hauling in six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown while Matt Forte looked solid by gaining a touchdown and 88 yards on 12 carries before exiting the game with an ankle injury. Aside from Cutler, Forte and Marshall the rest of the Bears offense was lacking in any solid contribution. Devin Hester continued to frustrate in the return game as he waved off kick after kick and allowing it to bounce inside the Bears 20 yard line. The rare times Hester returned a punt he ended up running backwards about ten yards to avoid being tackled, which didn't work.
The Bears still looked sluggish and the game was far from entertaining as the offense struggled throughout the game. Cutler's struggle to find anyone besides Brandon Marshall in the passing game is still scary and Jay's inability to concede a play by throwing a ball out of bound while under pressure is bothersome. Watching the game this team still felt far from a playoff team when watching other NFC contenders like Washington, Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay and Atlanta. The Bears know they need to win out and it was echoed in the post-game locker room by both players and coaches. ""I can't even state how big this is. It is either win or you are done," Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We can't control what happens next week with other teams, but if we don't win today, we don't have a shot."
Take away the two defensive touchdowns and the Bears would have inched by the Cardinals by one point. That hardly screams "playoff contender" and Lovie Smith's horrible challenge record wasn't helped by a terrible decision to challenge on a play where Beanie Wells was clearly down by contact. Jay Cutler again had to burn multiple timeouts due to the fact that the Bears couldn't get the play in on time (is it just me or does this happen to only the Bears on an every game basis?) Overall, the Bears won but it was hardly convincing and gave little assurance that a Wild Card game against either the Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers would be anything but one-sided.
With the win the Bears kept themselves in the playoff hunt and must win against Detroit next Sunday. Even with a win against the lowly Lions the Bears still need some help to clinch a playoff berth. The Bears also need some help from their arch rivals as a Packers win over the Vikings will push the Vikings out of the playoffs and the Bears in. Bears fans will have a difficult time rooting for the cheese heads but that is exactly what needs to happen in order for the Bears to make it to the postseason. I'm sure there is another overly complicated scenario in which the Bears can advance to the playoffs but I am not about to try and figure that out.
The NFL flexed the Packers/Vikings game to a 4:15 pm start so it will no doubt be a stressful day for Bears fans should the Bears beat the Lions in the early game. The Packers have plenty to play for in Week 17 and Bears fans shouldn't expect Green Bay to rest any starters because after the Sunday Night beat down the Seattle Seahawks gave the San Francisco 49ers the Packers are now the #2 seed in the NFC playoff picture but need a win to secure the first round bye that comes attached to the seed. The 49ers hold a head to head tie breaker over the Packers from their Week 1 match-up and Green Bay knows they would rather have a first round bye to rest up and get healthy than face a Wild Card game the following week.
The Bears look to pounce on a Lions team that clearly has nothing to play for. At 4-11 and with Calvin Johnson setting the all time single season record for receiving yards in their game Saturday the Lions should not put up too much of a fight as they have their eyes on resting up in the post-season. With the said the Bears shouldn't take them lightly and Lovie Smith should hammer that point to the team throughout the week. Look for all eyes to be on the Green Bay/Minnesota game as the result of that game will truly determine whether the Bears are playoff bound or headed for a way earlier than expected vacation.
*With the holidays literally right around the corner this will be my final blog until at least Wednesday. I would like the time to thank all of the readers of this blog. I truly enjoy writing about Chicago sports and I love interacting with all of you. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Have a very safe and Happy Holidays and watch the Bulls take on the Rockets on Christmas Day.
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Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Bears, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Charles Tillman, Christmas, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler, Julius Peppers, Lovie Smith, Matt Fote, Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFL, Playoffs, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Zack Bowman