Lovie: We know what's at stake


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.

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

For Bears QB Jay Cutler, an unwanted second chance – audition? – presents itself

Some decisions have ways of simply making themselves. Decisions like, say, who will be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Regrettably, one aspect of that decision was made for the Bears when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken left arm in the second quarter of Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. At that moment the Hoyer-or-Cutler question was rendered moot. As FOX’s Jay Glazer had reported, the No. 1 job was Hoyer’s to lose, and the injury unfortunately took care of that. Coaches never had to make that decision.

This is clearly not the way Cutler would like to have been returned to his job. No player is pleased to have an opportunity made possible by a catastrophic injury to a teammate.

Bigger picture: The 2016 season was always a prove-it year for Jay Cutler, more so than even last year because of guaranteed money, which is now gone. The rest of the 2016 now becomes a condensed prove-it crucible, where Cutler is playing for his job in Chicago or his next team. His price for 2017 ($15 million) is modest by starter standards, but so is his resume.

Without a strong final nine games, assuming his injured thumb is sufficiently recovered after nearly six weeks off, Cutler may find himself as next offseason’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, sort-of wanted by a team but for money nowhere close to the value he and his agent had in mind.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The play of rookies Dak Presott in Dallas and Carson Wentz in Philadelphia will reinforce the message that you can start and win with a rookie right away, which projects to depress any Cutler market. Why pay a marginal veteran, which Cutler has been and certainly is at this point and age (34 next April), when a rookie can be had at a fraction of the cost?

Without a massive contract renegotiation, a scenario of Cutler staying on as a bridge to a young successor is beyond a longshot. Hoyer, far more likely to fit that role, and his price will not approach Cutler’s.

Cutler now has his second chance. Whether he likes it or not, it’s an audition.

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — It was a bright spot, a small one on an otherwise dismal night of losing to the Green Bay Packers. But it was at least something.

After struggling for months to stay healthy and gain NFL weight, Leonard Floyd finally played like the ninth-overall pick of an NFL draft.

The rookie outside linebacker collected a sack in the first half, then exploded past Green Bay right tackle Brian Bulaga as part of stunt with fellow linebacker Willie Young on the third play of the second quarter for a second sack of Aaron Rodgers, one that came with a strip of the football and recovery in the end zone.

"We had a great play called,” Floyd said. “Willie came down and picked the guard for me and I looped around and the play was done and I made it. It felt great [to get a touchdown], but at the end of the day I wanted a win."

That was one of the very few bright spots as the Packers piled up 311 yards through three quarters, at times using wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery as running backs because of injuries. The drumbeat continued with touchdowns on three straight Green Bay possessions in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The defense has allowed 23 or more points in five of seven games this season, with the Packers rolling off consecutive touchdown drives of 85, 84 and 57 in the second half as the Bears were limited to 2:49 time of possession in the fourth quarter.

“It helps when you’re playing [defense], to actually have a little bit of a break,” head coach John Fox said. “Unfortunately in the second half, I think that probably caught up with us a little bit.”

The defense had its fullest complement of personnel yet this season, with outside linebackers Floyd and Pernell McPhee both active (McPhee for the first time this year following offseason knee surgery), in addition to starting cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Tracy Porter, both of whom were injured during the Jacksonville game. It was not enough.

[BEARS GRADES: Quarterback woes take offense to new low in loss to Packers]

Defensive line: F

The interior of the line was quiet for most of the game, with wide receivers lining up as running backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Cornelius Washington had the only hit by a defensive lineman on Rodgers as the line rarely collapsed the pocket with center-push or even kept him in the pocket.

Linebacker: B-

Floyd started after two games inactive and a zero stat sheet vs. Detroit. He struggled too often getting disengaged from Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari at the outset before breaking through with second effort for his first career solo sack. That was topped by the strip-sack and recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. Floyd had a third hit on Rodgers and a tackle for loss.

"It is very tough,” Floyd said. “He gets the ball out pretty quickly. You just have to keep rushing every snap. He is at his best when he is scrambling around playing backyard football."

McPhee was a welcome addition to a slumping defense, even in his limited capacity (19 snaps). McPhee was not credited with any tackles but was surprisingly fast off the ball initially, and got penetration to alter running lanes and some pressure on Rodgers, although he appeared to slow somewhat, not unexpected considering how limited he has been throughout the year because of the surgery.

Sam Acho provided some edge pressure with two hits on Rodgers and a pass deflected. Jerrell Freeman had a quarterback hit and delivered a game-high 13 tackles.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Secondary: D

The secondary was forced to cover long into plays because of absent pressure on Rodgers but the coverage had its own problems with an offense that threw 56 times but was never intercepted. Three Green Bay receivers totaled double-digit receptions: Davante Adams (13), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10).

Cre’Von LeBlanc started at corner as the Bears opened with six defensive backs, and delivered a goal-line stop in the first quarter, stuffing Montgomery, who was used as a running back because of injuries to the Green Bay backfield. LeBlanc finished with seven tackles and a hit blitzing Rodgers.

Porter matched up with Jordy Nelson and allowed the Green Bay wideout just one catch on four targets through three quarters. But breakdowns were deadly, allowing the Packers to stage their two longest scoring drives of the season in the second half. The second came when Porter and safety Harold Jones-Quartey both covered the same man in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, leaving Adams alone for his second TD catch of the game.

Adrian Amos interfered with Nelson to give the Packers a 44-yard penalty pickup in the first quarter. De’Vante Bausby had a number of solid plays despite a lack of meaningful pressure from the front. But Bausby had two holding penalties on the Packers’ second fourth-quarter scoring drive.

"There were a lot of penalties out there.,” Bausby said. “We had a good scheme and plan, but we just didn't finish in the second half as a group. Facing Rodgers is a challenge, but I felt like our play calling was excellent. We just didn't finish."

Special teams: B

Connor Barth converted from 39 yards to tie the game in the second quarter. It was Barth’s seventh in his last eight attempts. Pat O’Donnell turned in another strong night punting, averaging 43.8 net on five punts. Coverage helped keep three of those inside the 20.