Bears say they have to play better but can they?

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Bears say they have to play better but can they?

MINNEAPOLIS Sitting in front of his locker on Sunday afternoon, one member of the Bears offense took his time before answering. The hesitation, stretching on to a surprising 15 seconds or so, was an answer of its own.

The usual response to a question about a teams confidence is routinely upbeat. This one was not, and when the answer finally came it was about the level of confidence but rather about the Bears overall situation.

We have our window, the player said, quietly, but its getting pretty thin.

With their fourth loss in the last five games, the Bears (8-5) took one huge step closer to the abyss. They finished Sunday afternoons 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings (7-6) as the No. 6 playoff team, down from No. 2 just a month ago.

They went into the Metrodome in acute need of a win against a team they had defeated six straight times. They left with quarterback Jay Cutler out with an unspecified neck injury after throwing two costly interceptions to hand the Vikings 14 points.

The Bears have gone from team that finds ways to win to one that finds ways to lose. The offense has scored 17 or fewer points in the four losses and perhaps there is no more telling indictment of the Lovie Smith offenses than that they are now 12-49 when they fail to score at least 18 points. Five of those 12 wins were in the 2005 season when the defense was the NFLs best in points allowed.

Notably perhaps, or not, defensive end Julius Peppers said afterwards that if the Vikings can beat the Bears after losing six straight, the Bears can do the same to the Packers, whove beaten the Bears five times.

It was not convincing logic.

The Bears dropped touchdown passes. Two, one by Devin Hester, one by Alshon Jeffery. And thats not even the bad news.

The really bad news is that those werent the only problems.

There were a lot of problems, said Cutler, one of those problems. Offensively I didnt play well (he didnt play well defensively, either). Interceptions, however they happened, they still happened. Weve just got to play better.

The overall is that you are what your record says you are. The Bears are 1-4 in games that have increasingly mattered. At this point. 13 games in, the biggest question is whether or not the Bears actually can play better.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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