Lovie: We know what's at stake

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Lovie: We know what's at stake

DENVER The focus of the past week has been on Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos hybrid unorthodox offense and occasionally with a Caleb Hanie or offensive line thought once Matt Fortes absence was confirmed.

But the Bears are now officially on the brink, having edged closer and closer to the edge each of the past two weeks.

Only one team in franchise history has lost three straight games and gone to the postseason. That was the 1979 team and it won its last three in a row to get there with a 10-6 record, which is precisely what the Bears would need to do with a loss to the Broncos, a team that has won five straight and four of those on the road.

Two losses in a row doesn't cut it around here for our football team, coach Lovie Smith said. We know what's at stake this week.

You have to hope so. No jokes this week about pronunciations of the opposing quarterbacks name. The Bears are in trouble.
Playoff disaster?
The Kansas City loss was potentially devastating in the big picture as well as the immediate setback and loss of Forte.

The Bears currently own the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff standings but find themselves in danger of falling out of the postseason even if they win their remaining four games.

The reason is because if the Bears, Atlanta and Detroit all win out, the NFL tiebreak procedure first decides between division teams. Detroit is the same 7-5 that the Bears are, but if the Lions win out, both would have 3-3 division marks but the Lions will own a better record against common opponents.

The Lions crushed the Chiefs 48-3 earlier this season, and that game would decide who joins the Falcons as a second wild card, even though the Bears own a head-to-head win over Atlanta.

There is simply zero margin for error.

We still have to win every game. 11-5 will definitely get you in. 10-6 will probably get you in, linebacker Brian Urlacher said. So its a race to 10 for us. Whatever happens with everybody else it doesnt matter. Weve got to take care of our business, like weve said all season long. We just didnt do it the last two weeks.
Some good?

The woes of Hanie and the offense will be at the heart of the situation against the Broncos. Tebow has directed five fourth-quarter comebacks in just 10 career games, suggesting that the Broncos are every bit as well conditioned as Smith insists his Bears are.

This will be difficult. Whether because of altitude or whatever, the Broncos have the NFLs best record at home (218-84) since 1975. They already have lost to Oakland, San Diego and Detroit at home this year.

While Hanie and the offense were squandering three touchdowns last Sunday Marion Barbers illegal-formation penalty, Roy Williams goal-line drop, Hanies overthrow of a ridiculously open Earl Bennett the defense has allowed just one touchdown in each of the last two games. One of those came on the aberrant Hail Mary pass at the end of the Kansas City first half.

One of the important things for them in games is that they've kept it relatively close, or close enough that they can make something happen at the end of the game, said linebacker Lance Briggs. Watching film on Minnesota, they had something like 46 yards in the first half, but in the second half there was just some badly blown coverages in critical situations.

Those are just things you can't do if you want to win games, and I thought that was a game Minnesota should have won. They were in position to win the game. And the San Diego game, just off of certain decisions, you know, running the ball and losing yardage and stuff like that. But hey, you can't worry about that. None of those teams are going to help us win once we step on the field. We have to go out to Denver and win it.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.