Missed opps, and now a season nearing the brink

604556.png

Missed opps, and now a season nearing the brink

Losing three out of four games constitutes falling off a seasons cliff for the Bears after a 7-1 start. No longer are they in any discussion of the NFLs best and they are in danger of being able to look over the edge at the abyss, which in the NFL is no-playoffs.

The Bears will probably clear the bar without real difficulty, although their two gimmes on the schedule are both away games, at Arizona and at Detroit, two teams with a combined eight wins for the season. The chance was there on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks to move past the San Francisco 49ers into the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, and now the Bears are a wild-card team.

Which may not be a bad thing. The last two Super Bowl winners (Green Bay, New York Giants) played no playoff games at home. And the Bears had home-field losses to exit the 2001 and 2005 postseason in one-and-done fashion, and their 2010 NFC Championship loss was at home.

Indianapolis Colts (8-4) W 41-21

Balanced identity established with 33-35 run pass ratio and O runs up 428 yards with Jay Cutler throwing for 333 yards and 2 TDs to go with rushing TDs by Michael Bush (2) and Matt Forte (1) as part of 122 rushing yards. Nice to have caught this team while Andrew Luck was still a puppy.

@ Green Bay Packers (8-4) L 23-10

Jay Cutler berates offensive linemen on national TV for seven sacks; linemen just have to accept Cutlers four INTs apparently. Embarrassing offensive performance all around as defense holds Aaron Rodgers and Pack to 3 FGs and one TD.

St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) W 23-6

Defense sacks Sam Bradford six times and holds Rams out of the end zone. Offense scores only one TD for the second week in a row and Jay Cutler continues to find a groove with receivers.

@ Dallas Cowboys (6-6) W 34-18

Five interceptions of Tony Romo, two returned for TDs (Briggs, Tillman) and a workmanlike 360 yards on offense produce a crucial road win on MNF against the most overrated (annually) team in the NFL.

@ Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) W 41-3

Bears offense runs up 501 balanced yards (214 rush, 287 pass) and explodes after a sluggish first half. Briggs and Tillman make NFL history with TD interceptions for second straight week and Brandon Marshall puts up 144 yards on 12 catches.

Sun., Oct. 14 Off week

vs. Detroit Lions (4-8) W 13-7

Jay Cutler sacked five times and survives Ndamukong Suhs WWF takedown. Bears RBs net 132 yards as run game clicks. Offense cant put Lions away but Charles Tillman D on Calvin Johnson virtually locks Bears DB into a 2nd Pro Bowl.

vs. Carolina Panthers (3-9) W 23-22

Robbie Gould 41-yard FG as time expires caps 16-point fourth quarter and rally from 19-7 deficit. Offense and defense struggle badly for three quarters but Kellen Davis catches TD pass and Tim Jennings TD return to turn back Cam Newton and reeling Ron Rivera team.

@ Tennessee Titans (4-8) W 51-20

Charles Tillmans bid for defensive player of the year got a boost from four forced fumbles, Brian Urlacher returned an INT for a touchdown and Corey Wootton scored on a blocked punt. Jay Cutler throws three TDs to Brandon Marshall in a game Bears led 28-2 after one quarter.

Houston Texans (11-1) L 13-6

Jay Cutler goes out with concussion and offense improves with Jason Campbell. But too many wasted chances with good field positions with 2 INTs and 2 lost fumbles. Arian Foster rushes for 102 but Bears adjust to control Texans offense in second half.

@ San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) L 32-7

Jason Campbell cannot survive an abysmal performance by the offensive line, allowing 5.5 sacks to Aldon Smith, while the defense makes an instant star out of Colin Kaepernick in his first NFL start.

Vikings (6-6) W 28-10

Jay Cutler returns from his concussion, completes 15 of 17 in the first half as the Bears get up 25-3 and cruise. Adrian Peterson loses to fumbles, Chris Conte intercepts Christian Ponder, and the offense turns the takeaways into 14 points.

Seattle Seahawks (6-6) L 23-17

Defense allows 459 yards as Russell Smith runs them ragged on TD drives of 97 and 80 yards for an overtime win. Bears squander numerous chances for stops and fail to convert an early fourth down vs. taking a safe FG.

@ Minnesota Vikings (6-6) Sun., Dec. 9, noon

Vikings cant hold 14-10 halftime edge as Packers score 13 unanswered in the second to give Minnesota its fourth loss in the last five games.

Green Bay Packers (8-4) Sun., Dec. 16, noon

Pack survives 210 rushing yards by Adrian Peterson by intercepting Christian Ponder twice in the red zone to catch Bears in NFC North. Next: Detroit

@ Arizona Cardinals (4-8) Sun., Dec. 23, 3:15 p.m.

A new low for Cards, losing 7-6 to the N.Y. Jets who play so poorly that Mark Sanchez is benched. Five first downs and 0-for-15 on third downs to run string to eight straight losses. Next: @ Seattle

@ Detroit Lions (4-8) Sun., Dec. 30, noon

Just when you think the Lions have reached the pinnacle of classlessness, they raise their own bar, taunting and laughing at an injured Colt still down with a concussion after an Ndamukong Suh hit. Last laugh to Colts on Andrew LuckDonnie Avery TD flip. Next: @ Green Bay

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

nate-mason-0222.jpg
USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes 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. Schmaltz-Toews-Panik.

There might not be a hotter line in hockey right now than the Blackhawks' trio of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. They combined for five goals and five assists — highlighted by a hat trick and five-point effort from Toews — in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Minnesota, and were hot before that. Toews has 21 points in his last 12 games. Schmaltz has seven points in his last six, while Panik has nine points in his past six. Is Joel Quenneville simply riding the hot hand or could this be a line that sticks together for a while even when they inevitably cool off?

2. Can power play get going again?

The Blackhawks are 0-for-8 on the power play in their last three games after converting on six of their previous 14 attempts. They went 2-for-4 during their last meeting, which resulted in a 4-3 victory. Arizona has allowed at least a power play goal in six of their last 10 games, including three of their last four, and owns a bottom-five penalty kill unit at 77.1 percent. If that area gets going for the Blackhawks, look out. 

3. Marian Hossa's recent success vs. Arizona.

Hossa has six goals and three assists in his last six games against the Coyotes dating back to 2014-15, recording at least a point in each of those games, and helping lead the Blackhawks to a 5-0-1 record. He's scored a goal in each of those last three, and will look to continue his success against an Arizona team whose 49 points ranked second-to-last in the NHL.

4. Martin Hanzal heating up as trade deadline nears.

The 30-year-old center has five goals in his last six contests, and will be a hot commodity over the next week as the March 1 trade deadline approaches. He could be an option for the Blackhawks if they want to bolster their center depth, but it's looking more and more unlikely as the asking price will be high and there will be many bidders. Expect a tweak more than a large addition.

5. Artemi Panarin quietly heating up.

Due to the emergence of Schmaltz-Toews-Panik that has been earning all the attention, Panarin is flying under the radar as of late. He has nine points in his last eight games that's gotten lost in the shuffle, and is tied for 16th in the league in scoring. He's only three points away from re-entering the top-10. And there's a chance he could have a big night. In five career games against Arizona, the 25-year-old Russian winger has two goals and six assists. That's an average of 1.60 points per game.

- Buy tickets to tonight's game

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse