Bears may need to Pack it up after 21-13 division-clinching loss
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org December 16, 2012 3:06PM
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is slow to get up after being sacked during the Bears last series of the game. The Chicago Bears fell to the Green Bay Packers 21-13 Sunday December 16, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
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Updated: December 16, 2012 9:31PM
In the most pivotal of regular season games, against the rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears many maladies in recent years under Lovie Smith were on full display.
The unforced errors, like Jay Cutler’s interception near midfield with 96 seconds remaining in the first half of a 7-7 game. The repeated failure to convert short-yardage runs. And the inability to prevent Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from making the clutch plays to extend drives and toss touchdowns.
Even when the Packers handed them a couple of gifts – a fumble and a botched lateral on a punt return – the Bears could only muster a pair of field goals. So with the 21-13 win, the Packers (10-4) clinched the NFC North for a second consecutive season, handed the Bears (8-6) a sixth consecutive loss in an otherwise storied series and, for the moment, pushed their rival out of the playoff picture.
“It was a disappointment,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “They’re the NFC North champs, and we have to get to the playoffs a different way and that’s the only thing we can think about right now.”
Since 1990, 37 NFL teams have started 7-1 and only one failed to reach the postseason, according to STATS. Currently, the Bears are on pace to join the 1996 Washington Redskins in that dubious group since they’re not among the six NFC playoffs teams.
“There’s still life and that’s all that matters,” center Roberto Garza said. “This is a tough loss and a tough situation to be in but anything can happen.”
Including the Bears season ending Dec. 30 in Detroit, even if they win the final two games. They’ve surrendered control, with potential Wildcard clubs such as the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks and the New York Giants holding a tiebreaker over them.
But this is of their own doing, the Bears undone by self-inflicted mistakes such as penalties, drops and missed tackles.
The Bears actually started Sunday strong, running the ball on the first four plays and gaining 28 yards. But running back Matt Forte were stuffed on 2nd and 1 and Garza was flagged for a false start on 3rd and 1.
Two plays later, the Bears punted from the Packers’ 36-yard line.
Rodgers was brilliant once again, even if he missed a couple of throws. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 291 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Cutler’s struggles, meanwhile, continued against the Packers. He managed to complete just 12 of 21 passes for 135 yards, he was sacked four times, and he threw an interception with 96 seconds remaining in the first half with the game tied at 7.
The Packers scored a touchdown just five plays later.
But the Packers provided the Bears ample chances to comeback.
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman forced a fumble of running back Ryan Grant late in the third quarter that linebacker Nick Roach recovered.
But stuffed twice at the one-yard line, the Bears eventually settled for a 34-yard field goal.
Midway through the fourth, the Packers inexplicably attempted a lateral on a punt return, and Bears safety Anthony Walters recovered the ball at Green Bay’s 16. Again, the Bears settled for a field goal.
“You can’t rely on field goals in those situations,” Smith said. “We need to get touchdowns.”
The search for scores will continue on the road, first in Arizona then in Detroit.
And as receiver Brandon Marshall suggested, many jobs will be on the line in the final stretch of this season.