Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny
December 20, 2010, 3:45 pm
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Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
9:35 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The 2010 season has continued to play out as Lovie Smith envisioned it (or as much as it can with three losses in seven home games.) The Bears played their way into a reasonable (4-3) if not commanding position through October, then ran off a 4-0 November that carried over one week into December.

The New England game rocked them backwards but the Bears are now in a new position that has been missing in two of the last three seasons and was blown in 2008 when they had a playoff berth in front of them before a final-game loss to the Houston Texans.

Its nice to have games that mean something in December, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We havent had that in a while. Two years after the Super Bowl, we had a chance to go to the playoffs, and we lost that game at Houston.

But to have a few games here at the end of the season that actually mean something, its fun. Youre practicing for a reason, for a purpose. Its easy to come to work when you know you have a goal in mind to get to, and its still attainable.

It clinching the NFC North division title for the first time since 2006 -- is indeed attainable after the Green Bay Packers teetered to the brink of playoff elimination with their loss to the Patriots. The Bears can accomplish that with a win over Minnesota.

But it is far from a given.

The 2008 missed opportunity should still be seared into their minds, losing on the road to a team that had nothing particular to play for beyond an 8-8 record, not unlike the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. It helped place Smiths job in jeopardy.

Be careful with teams like that. They got one mission and thats to start knocking off playoff teams and guys still in it will make a run for it. So weve got to take them seriously, a tough team. We played well against them the first time. Still doing a lot of similar stuff offensively and defensively.

The 1993 Dave Wannstedt Bears stood 7-5 and proceeded to lose their final four games, failing to score more than 14 points in any of them.

The 7 points scored against New England last Sunday should be an anomaly for an offense that has averaged just under 20 per game. But the home team has won 15 of the last 17 games between Minnesota and Chicago and last year it was the Bears who upset the playoff-bound Vikings, at home.

And Minnesota is the only NFC North opponent against which Smith does not own a winning record.

Playoffs is one thing that youre playing for, but theres a lot more than that, especially when youre playing a division opponent, Smith said. Well get their best effort. I dont have any doubt on that.

Whats missing? The football

The running of Adrian Peterson, the play of a rookie Minnesota quarterback (Joe Webb), the ability of the Bears offensive line to control the line of scrimmage against a stout defensive front all are points of analysis. Same with Bears LT Frank Omiyale vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen; footwear and field conditions; or Jay Cutler playing at night, which he doesnt do very well.

But Bears defensive players and coaches are of one mind on the one true key to this game and most:

Take what the offense gives you, beginning with the football.

During the Smith era the Bears are 36-7 when they have a more takeaways in a game than giveaways. They are 5-0 this season with a plus-turnover ratio.

They are also 3-2 with a negative turnover margin, a tribute to their defense delivering stops after giveaways. But they are 1-2 when the defense produces zero takeaways, which was the case against New England and Detroit the past two weeks. They were also takeaway-less in the loss to Seattle.

And that has killed not only some chances for wins. It also sapped out some of the swagger that had come to characterize the defense through the Bears winning streak.

Weve got to get takeaways, Urlacher declared. We havent gotten a takeaway in two weeks. So we need to get takeaways again, start getting to the quarterback, and just start having fun again. Were a fun group when were playing well. So weve got to start doing that again.

Peterson once could be counted on to turn the ball loose. He has not done it once yet this season.

Obviously hes very conscious of it, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. You can tell. Its not been popped out yet so its credit to him. Hes cleaned that up but part of our deal is weve got to go take it away.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.