Chicago Sun-Times

December 2008 Archives

We would be remiss if we didn't get to this ... kicker Robbie Gould was named the NFC special teams player of the month after hitting two game-winning field goals in overtime to carry the Bears into Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs.

Gould was 8-for-8 on field goals in the month and finished the season connecting on 11 straight. It was the second such award for Gould in his four years as he also won in October 2006. He joined Hall of Famer and one-time Bear George Blanda (1975, Oakland), Norm Johnson (1990, Seattle) and David Akers (2000, Philadelphia) as the only kickers in league history to win consecutive games in overtime with field goals.

Gould finished the season 26-for-29 to break his own franchise record for accuracy in a season at 89.7 percent. He became the first Bears kicker to score 100-plus points in three consecutive seasons and is now fifth in franchise history in scoring with 470 points, trailing Blanda by 71 points. Having hit 85.9 percent of field goals in his career (110-for-128), Gould is the third-most accurate field goal kicker in league history trailing Mike Vanderjagt and Nate Kaeding.

It was interesting to hear general manager Jerry Angelo go on a tangent Tuesday in reviewing the Bears' season and discuss how and why the defense was overrun in a 31-24 loss at Houston where the Texans put up 455 yards, the most Lovie Smith's defense surrendered all season. In a must-win game, the Bears didn't have an answer for Houston, even after mounting an early 10-0 lead.

"We played the Texans, they did a pretty good job, after I looked at that tape what they did in terms of their offense,'' Angelo said. ``Their offense was good for a reason. They did a nice job on our defense, it wasn't lack of hustle to the football or anything like that. We made some mistakes but good for them bad for us, but it wasn't a lack of effort.''

Good for the Texans offense. That means good for rookie play caller Kyle Shanahan too, the son of deposed Denver Broncos coach. As it turns out, Sunday's game was the first time Kyle Shanahan, 29, has called plays in an NFL game. Houston coach Gary Kubiak informed him the task was his two days before the game.

We've spent the better part of the day (and evening) going over the remarks of general manager Jerry Angelo today from his Halas Hall press conference that lasted a half-hour. Here is a transcript of the session so you can go over it for yourself:

OPENING REMARKS

Not a good time obviously. We anticipated to play this week, unfortunately it didn't work out that way and I don't really want to get into the season, I'll let you ask questions obviously if you want and we'll talk about that in terms of questions and answers. Really want to talk about going forward what the process will be. I think that's the thing that we're focused on and being proactive and going into the '09 season, But before I start that I don want to say this and this will always be our mantra as along as I'm here and I know as long as Lovie's here, that we'll never be accepting of mediocrity. We had a 9-7 season, I know that's a winning season but we didn't make the playoffs, we fell short of our goals, and our goals are always first to be a competitive football team. That's first and foremost. If you're not a competitive football team, you're not going to put yourself in a position to win. Naturally from there we want to win our division and that's our goal every year and that's very realistic goal. You're never going to hear me say rebuilding or we have to take a step backwards or subliminally send a message to our fans that we aren't going to be a good football team or we can't, irrelevant of what the situation is. You see that a lot, you saw it with Atlanta this year, nobody gave Atlanta any chance. Come in with a rookie quarterback doing the things they did, it happens, and it happens every year. That's just the dynamic of our season, so every year we expect to win and we're not satisfied with mediocrity, we never will be satisfied with mediocrity, even though in some cases mediocrity is probably the best we can be. If that's the case, so be it, but our goal is always the same every year and I want to make sure our fans understand that. Very disappointing the way the season ended obviously, particularly when we went into the last game having some control over our destiny. It didn't work.

So we're here now and we're moving forward, and the process will be as what it has been in years past. There's always pressure when you don't get into the playoffs, that goes around the league and that's here as well at halas Hall. We haven't made the playoffs the last two years, and that is bothersome and we do feel that pressure and we are going to work very hard this off-season in terms of what we're going to do. If changes need to be made, changes will be made and those things are going to be talked about thoroughly. Sometimes when you talk about change, change might come in the form of your approach and what you're doing. Like in the off-season a few years ago we cut our timeline with our players from 14 weeks to 10 weeks and I thought that was a very good thing, I thought our players when we first did it we didn't know what to expect, but I felt that was a big plus for us in what we did. So some of the things that we do logistically we're going to talk through at length, we're going to talk about again the approach we've taken, that approach is what Lovie touched upon yesterday with schemes, with players with coaches how we do business, etcetera. And we need to look at everything now, and I'm not saying we haven't before but we have to go back to the drawing board so to speak, and we need to do that again and we will. We have more time, unfortunately but we're going to take advantage of that time to do those things. I feel very confident that we have a good core of players and a team in place. I'm very confident. We'll add players obviously, but if we didn't add anybody, we're still going to be a good football team, people, and I feel very strongly about that.

Bears make coaching move

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Cornerbacks coach Steve Wilks has been fired.

Wilks was hired heading into the 2006 season and it is believed he had one year remaining on his contract.

The Bears finished 30th in the league vs. the pass this season but had one young player develop at cornerback in Corey Graham, who played a major role with veteran Nathan Vasher missing the majority of the year.

Lovie Smith wasn't the only one who wanted Rod Marinelli to run the Bears' defense when he was hired in 2004.

General manager Jerry Angelo shared that sentiment but they were unable to make the move because Marinelli remained under contract to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time as their line coach.

Marinelli is free now, fired Monday after his Detroit Lions became the first team in NFL history to go belly up at 0-16. Smith declined to discuss the issue in any kind of depth Monday but Marinelli's agent Frank Bauer told the Sun-Times: ``It would make a lot of sense.''

No. 1 wide receiver? Safety? Defensive tackle? Pass rusher? Offensive tackle?

What's your top offseason priority?

Jerry Angelo made his known in his press gathering this morning at Halas Hall. It's the same as last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and the year before the year before that, and so on.

We'll have details from the Jerry Angelo press conference soon but here are some of the highlights:

*** Angelo didn't beat around the bush at all, he would like ex-Lions coach Rod Marinelli to join the coaching staff.

*** He is upset with some players, who he didn't name, for a lack of performance this season.

General manager Jerry Angelo will meet with media this morning at 11 at Halas Hall to recap the season.

We'll see what he has to say about the coaching situation and Lovie Smith's staff. Smith has control of his coaching staff and Angelo, ultimately, oversees the 53-man roster. Angelo wanted Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator in 2004 when Smith was hired as he had a strong relationship with him from his days in Tampa Bay as well. We'll see what he is willing to share on the subject.

The Bears will have the 18th pick in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft unless the San Diego Chargers reach Super Bowl XLIII.

The league released a tentative draft order today and the Bears wind up picking second among the five teams that finished with a 9-7 record, including the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals. The New York Jets, who had games against the AFC West and NFC West, edged ahead of the Bears based on a weaker strength of schedule. And the Inside the Bears staff thought two games vs. Detroit would be enough to ruin anyone's strength of schedule.

San Diego, which won the AFC West at 8-8 after a second-half surge following the promotion of ex-Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to defensive coordinator, will choose 16th. If the Chargers reach the Super Bowl, they'll drop to 31st or 32nd, depending on whether or not they win the game.

The Bears signed seven of their eight practice squad players to futures deals today:

OT Cody Balogh
WR John Broussard
WR/CB Rudy Burgess
DE Joe Clermond
TE Fontel Mines
G Tyler Reed
LB Marcus RIley

Wide receiver Mike Hass was the only member of the practice squad not to sign a futures deal.

Asked if there would be change coming on his coaching staff, Lovie Smith basically said there's some of that every year, starting a countdown to what could be a shakeup at Halas Hall. Whether major moves are in store or not, it's too early to tell.

"We'll evaluate everything, as I said, players, coaches and all,'' he said. ``Every year there is change. I don't know if we'll have change right now. I can't comment on any of that right now. We've just started our evaluation process and we'll kind of go from there.''

The Bears' defense allowed 455 yards in Sunday's 31-24 loss at Houston, the most it surrendered all season, and slumped to 21st in league rankings. That's an improvement over its standing as 28th last year when the club placed blame on a rash of injuries. The offense plummeted in the second half of the season to finish 26th, averaging just 295.9 yards per game, an improvement by one spot over last year.

HOUSTON--Just finished watching all the Denver-San Diego game I needed to see. We've got a full offseason to review the happenings in the 2008 season but we'll try to address a few things coming out of this game before turning our attention to a flight that leaves (crossing our fingers here) before the sun rises.

1. Since its the offseason, we might as well look ahead and what better event to focus on than the draft. I don't have this firmed up at this point, but my best guess, yes I said guess, is that the Bears will hold the 16th pick in the first round of the draft. They are tied with Dallas, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay as 9-7 clubs that failed to make the postseason.

The first tiebreaker is strength of schedule and the club with the weakest schedule goes first. Given that the Bears had two games with Detroit and one with St. Louis (that's 2-46 right there), I'd have to think they'll edge ahead of the others. Tampa was in the tough NFC South, Dallas was in the tough NFC East and the Jets were also in a competitive division. Stay tuned on this one.

Bears 2009 schedule

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Provided the Philadelphia Eagles hang on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys -- they are stomping them 34-3 in the third quarter right now -- here is the Bears 2009 schedule:

Home

Detroit
Green Bay
Minnesota
Arizona
St. Louis
Cleveland
Pittsburgh
Philadelphia

Away
Detroit
Green Bay
Minnesota
San Francisco
Seattle
Baltimore
Cincinnati
Atlanta

As reported earlier in the week, the Minnesota Vikings will not show the score from the Bears-Texans game on the video boards in the Metrodome today.

Vikings coach Brad Childress doesn't want his players watching the scoreboard, apparently.

Manning on the move again

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Danieal Manning has been moved to strong safety in the wake of the injury that ended Mike Brown's season.

This marks the third move for Manning since the end of the preseason. He will fill in instead of rookie Craig Steltz starting but Steltz is expected to play a big role, coming in in the nickel package with Manning moving to nickel.

It's interesting because Manning is best suited for free safety and Kevin Payne, the listed starter at free safety, better suited to play in the box.

Keep an eye on this.

Brandon Jacobs is going to sit out today's game at Minnesota.

We'll see how much Giants coach Tom Coughlin wants to play some of his other key starters at the Metrodome. Giants tight end Kevin Boss will also miss the game. The Bears are banking on a win by the Giants coupled with a victory here over the Texans. That would secure the NFC North for the Bears and give them a home playoff game next weekend.

Here are inactives for the Bears:

3rd QB Caleb Hanie
WR Devin Aromashodu
CB Marcus Hamilton
RB Kevin Jones
G Terrence Metcalf
DT Matt Toeaina
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer
DE Ervin Baldwin

HOUSTON--Well, here we are, all the way to Week 17 and there is still plenty on the line for the Bears. A victory combined with a little help and they are in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. A loss, or a series of events in which the Bears win and don't manage to make it into the postseason, and you'll be counting the ways this season went wrong all the way to wild-card weekend, at least.

Let's boil it down here real quick. Here is what the Bears need to reach the playoffs:

*** The Bears clinch the NFC North with a win and Minnesota loss or tie OR a Bears' tie and Minnesota loss.

*** The Bears clinch a wild-card spot with a Bears' win and Dallas loss or tie and Tampa Bay loss or tie OR a Bears' tie and Dallas loss and Tampa Bay loss.

Now, what is interesting here is that for the Bears to get in via the wild card, they need Philadelphia to beat Dallas in a game that was flexed to 3:15 p.m. by the league this week. A potential problem for the Bears in this scenario is that game could be meaningless to the Eagles before kickoff. Philadelphia could be eliminated from playoff contention before the game starts and have nothing to play for, well, other than the pain of their division rivals.

If Mike Brown's tenure as a Bear is over, at least the franchise gave him every opportunity to contribute. This much is certain, he will not play football for the Bears again this season.

The veteran safety was placed on injured reserve today, ending his season after he aggravated the calf muscle issue that has plagued him for the second half of the season. No one expected him to be available for Sunday's game at Houston and the determination was made he will not be able to help the team in the event it reaches the playoffs. He was put down to make room for ex-Bear Cameron Worrell, who was signed to add depth to special teams.

It marks the fourth time in five seasons that Brown has finished the season on injured reserve. The Bears have shown patience with Brown like no other player before, working with him as he returned from a torn Achilles tendon, torn Lisfranc ligament and torn ACL, major injuries that led to him missing 43 of 64 regular-season games over the previous four seasons. Each time, Brown was brought back because of the intangibles he brings, as a quarterback of the defense and the heart and soul of the locker room.

Injuries took their toll on special teams in Monday's win over Green Bay and with the roster so thinned out as it is the Bears will bring back a familiar face.

Safety Cameron Worrell will sign a one-year contract in the morning and suit up for Sunday's game at Houston. He has spent the season in California rehabilitating a shoulder injury suffered in preseason with the New York Jets, who waived him injured in August. Worrell had an AC joint injury with Miami last season and it was made worse with New York, leading to surgery 13 weeks ago.

He came to town Wednesday night so he missed Christmas with his wife and two young daughters.

``I made my wife videotape Christmas and I'm looking forward to watching it,'' he said. ``It wasn't an easy decision and I wasn't really pursuing anything. With the Bears, I'm familiar with the system and I know what is expected. I've been through playoff games here and I know what is at stake.''

The Bears kept quarterback Rex Grossman on the sideline for the 2005 regular-season finale at the Metrodome and they yanked most of their key starters early in the first half of that game with nothing at stake.

Now, they're counting on the New York Giants, who have already secured the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC, to go to Minnesota and play their hearts out. A Giants' victory coupled with a win by the Bears at Houston on Sunday will secure the NFC North for them. Otherwise, the Bears need a win and a loss by Dallas and Tampa Bay to wiggle in via the wild card. That scenario ranks highly unlikely.

Having New York go out at full strength seems almost as unlikely, not with running back Brandon Jacobs battling a knee issue that has lingered through the second half of the season. Not with some of the other injuries the Giants are dealing with.

"You've got to talk to them about that,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We're going to be at full strength. All of our guys will be out there playing. I know that for a fact."

Smith was asked if it is a tough decision, balancing the roster at season's end with a desire to win but a need to prepare for the postseason.

"I don't see it like that at all," Smith said. "You play to win, period. Last year, we were out of it with two games left to go in the season. We played every guy we had that we thought gave us an opportunity to win, we played them. There was no looking forward to the future and all that. You play every game like it is your last one, period. I assume all teams will do that."

That's not what the Bears did when they closed the season out against the Vikings in '02, however, having locked themselves into the No. 2 seed in the conference. They wanted Grossman's ankle to heal and other starters came out early, including middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

It must have warmed up since the game started. The temperature posed outside a nearby bank on the way home was 5 degrees. Some quick reactions to the Bears' 20-17 overtime victory that keeps them alive in the playoff hunt heading to Houston on Sunday. This one had shades of 2001 and some of the improbable victories the team pulled out this season. This one had some crazy to it, too, with the coin toss by referee Ron Winter at the start of overtime going off the head of Brian Urlacher.

"I looked at the ground the whole time,'' Urlacher said. "I didn't even see it coming. Shoot, I need to get that guy to throw it at my head every time.''

It looked for 3 1/2 quarters like Bobby Wade was on the money. The ex-Bears wide receiver said Sunday the Bears would blow it and hand his current team, Minnesota, the NFC North crown in the process. That didn't happen. Now, the Vikings must defeat the New York Giants Sunday to ensure they make the playoffs, or hope the Bears don't take care of their business in Houston. To the observations:

1. Matt Forte's hard running in the fourth quarter led to the Bears forcing overtime, but this game wouldn't have come close to overtime had it not been for more standout play by the special teams unit. The three biggest plays of the game came on special teams:

A) The offense produced just 48 yards in the first half but the Bears got 70 yards from shot-out-of-a-cannon return man Danieal Manning on his first kickoff return. Trailing 7-0, Manning blasted up the middle, carrying would-be tacklers for the final 25 yards. That put the offense in position for the only points of the first half--Robbie Gould's 31-yard field goal.

B) Down 14-3 at the start of the third quarter, the offense went three-and-punt but Brad Maynard's kick was short and Rashied Davis managed to block Jarrett Bush into the bouncing ball. Jason Davis covered the muff, setting the offense up on Green Bay's 27-yard line and leading to Kyle Orton's three-yard touchdown toss to Greg Olsen.

C) Alex Brown's block of Mason Crosby's potential game-winning kick with 18 seconds left forced overtime. Brown typically lines up on the left side of the formation but saw a weakness he felt he could exploit on the other side vs, the left guard. He made a swim move, broke through and easily blocked what was a low kick.

Find a way the Bears get through this game without their most consistent phase carrying them through. You can't. And Gould becomes the first kicker to win consecutive games in overtime since 2000.

The banged up right toe that kept running back Matt Forte out of practice last week will not prevent him from starting tonight. Also, wide receiver Marty Booker will return after missing one game with a broken rib.

For Green Bay, DeShawn Wynn will replace third-down back Brandon Jackson.

Here is the list:

Bears

3rd QB--Caleb Hanie
WR Devin Aromashodu
FB Jason McKie
LB Gilbert Gardner
G Terrence Metcalf
DT Matt Toeaina
WR Brandon Rideau
DE Ervin Baldwin

Packers

3rd QB Brian Brohm
RB Brandon Jackson
FB Korey Hall
LB Danny Lansanah
G Nevin McCaskill
OT Breno Giacomini
DT Anthony Toribio
DT Justin Harrell

The New York Giants went all out in their season finale last year against the unbeaten New England Patriots, a game that didn't have any bearing on their own playoff standing, but that doesn't mean they will do the same thing again.

New York travels to Minnesota on Sunday after securing the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with an overtime victory over the Carolina Panthers. A victory by the Vikings will secure the NFC North for them. But who will suit up for the Giants and how long will they play? If the Bears win tonight, they need a Minnesota loss and a win at Houston to capture the division.

Coach Tom Coughlin has not committed to what he is going to do based on his comments Monday in his press conference.

"I disagree with the idea that you have nothing to gain," he told reporters in New Jersey today. "There is a lot to be gained. If you believe, as we do, that you have to be playing your best football at this time of the year, you certainly do have some things to build on, and particularly when you are not going to play for a couple of weeks.

"I am taking all that into consideration and I am not going to answer any further questions about that stuff, because quite frankly I haven't had a chance to sit and talk with the various medical people or the coordinators or anyone in terms of our approach to this game."

They're still working on clearing up the field and from the press box, at least, it looks to be in pretty good shape. A few Packers players have wandered out of the locker room and they just practiced the ``National Anthem.''

According to accuweather.com, it's currently 3 degrees with WSW winds of 8 mph which make it feel like minus-8 out.

Everything out of the Bears' hands that could have gone wrong, did go wrong last weekend.

The pendulum swung the other way for them this weekend as every outcome they needed for help in their bid for a third postseason appearance in four years happened.

But ex-Bears wide receiver Bobby Wade doesn't think the Bears are going to do their part now that their turn is coming Monday night against Green Bay at Soldier Field. More on that in a minute.

Minnesota's 24-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons took one of the wild-card spots out of play, but it kept the Bears very much alive in the race for the NFC North. Quite simply, the Bears (8-6) must beat Green Bay Monday night and win at Houston next Sunday, and have the Vikings (9-6) fall at the Metrodome to the New York Giants. It looks more and more like that game is going to have meaning for New York in the sense that they need to come out and play a good game to build some momentum entering the postseason. The Giants, who have lost two in a row, are trailing Carolina 21-13 at halftime right now.

"We need the Bears to blow it,'' Wade told reporters in Minneapolis with a laugh. ``Where are they playing, at home? Great. They'll definitely blow it.''

The Bears will be playing for their playoff life Monday night.

Baltimore's 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys tonight in the final game ever at Texas Stadium ensures that the Bears will at least remain alive in the wild card race.

A victory by Atlanta on Sunday at Minnesota will keep the Bears alive in the NFC North race. That is the key game of the day for the Bears.

Forte: Toe "feels good"

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Matt Forte said his injured right toe has improved to the point where he will not be thinking about it come game time Monday night.

Maybe he will not be able to feel it. The temperature at game time is expected to hover around 10 degrees.

Forte, who is questionable on the injury report, practiced again Saturday morning in the Walter Payton Center as the Bears put the finishing touches on the long layoff they have had since last playing New Orleans Dec. 11.

"That's the most important thing is don't think about it, because then you don't worry about it and you're not trying to protect it,'' Forte said. "So don't worry about it and just go out there and just play. It feels good.''

Running back Matt Forte (toe) practiced again Saturday morning in the Walter Payton Center as the Bears had a final tuneup for Monday's meeting with the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. They'll need to have their ground game going as temperature at kickoff could hover around 10 degrees.

The Bears have won nine consecutive home games when the temperature at game time has been 32 or below. The only loss in the Lovie Smith era when it's been that cold at home was to Houston in 2004.

Matt Forte returned to practice Friday afternoon in the Walter Payton Center, eight days after he injured his right toe against New Orleans.

The Bears have listed him as questionable for Monday's game with Green Bay and he is expected to start. Given the club's reluctance to use other running backs all season, in fact, it would be quite a surprise if the rookie running back does not play unless there is a setback at Saturday's practice.

Coach Lovie Smith said running back Matt Forte was given practice off Thursday but is expected to be back on the field Friday. Smith said he expects to have most players avalable Monday night.

Forte is resting an injured right toe.

Running back Matt Forte remains sidelined with his injured right toe. He is one of two players who are not suited up and practicing outside this afternoon.

Forte sat out a short practice on Tuesday in the Walter Payton Center but there are two full days of practice remaining before Monday's game--Friday and Saturday.

How troubling were the results of games Sunday and Monday for the Bears?

The league office has confirmed that the Bears can officially be eliminated from playoff contention before they host the Green Bay Packers Monday night at Soldier Field. That's how bad Sunday was and Philadelphia's victory over Cleveland Monday night only served to make matters worse.

If all of the following occurs, the Bears will be playing for 2009 come Monday:

Dallas defeats Baltimore on Saturday night
Minnesota defeats Atlanta on Sunday; wins NFC North
Tampa Bay defeats San Diego on Sunday
Philadelphia defeats Washington on Sunday

For what it's worth, for those who follow such stuff, the Cowboys, Vikings, Buccaneers and Eagles are all favored in those games. If they all win, it will make getting up for a meaningless game in what should be frosty conditions probably a little difficult. But maybe not.

We'll take one more look at the Pro Bowl before we move on to the rest of the week and preparation for Monday's meeting with Green Bay.

There is a good chance defensive tackle Tommie Harris will be extended an opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl. He's the first alternate at the position and Pat Williams is out two to six weeks with a fractured scapula. It's unknown whether that half of the Williams Wall will be able to return to the Vikings this season, and obviously playing in the Pro Bowl probably will not be too high on his list, not as hard as some players work to get out of the game.

But considering the left knee issues Harris has had this season--he skipped the Pro Bowl last year for a legitimate reason to have arthroscopic surgery on it--we're guessing it is unlikely Harris will go to Honolulu.

The Pro Bowl teams have been released and while the Bears got only linebacker Lance Briggs named to the team, as first reported right here, the team does have an opportunity to add some more players.

The number of guys who back out of the expenses-paid trip to Honolulu only seems to grown each year, and that means spots are filled by alternates. The Bears have six of those:

1st alternate

DT--Tommie Harris

2nd alternate

C--Olin Kreutz
P-Brad Maynard
TE--Greg Olsen

3rd alternate

KR/PR--Devin Hester
ILB--Brian Urlacher

Lance Briggs is going to have to spring for some airfares if he wants to hang with his friends in Honolulu.

The Bears' weak-side linebacker was the team's only player chosen to the NFC Pro Bowl team, a source said. The league will release the official teams at 3 p.m.

Briggs, who has now been named to four consecutive Pro Bowls, leads the team in tackles with 122 and 73 solos and has three interceptions. He has been the most consistent player on defense all season.

The Bears had four players at the Pro Bowl last season and eight were selected after the 2006 season. The last time the franchise had only one player picked for the game was 2004 when center Olin Kreutz represented them.

No word yet on how the Bears fared when it comes to the Pro Bowl, but at least one ex-Bear has made it to the all-star game and another figures to be a lock.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is one of five Baltimore Ravens named to the AFC team. He represented the Bears and the NFC as the special teams selection the past two seasons before departing in free agency. Ayanbadejo was a Pro Bowl first alternate for the Bears in 2005 as well.

Running back Matt Forte, who injured his right toe on the Bears' first play from scrimmage last Thursday against New Orleans, was on the sideline at practice this morning at the Walter Payton Center.

Forte came out of the game and was checked out in the locker room before returning. He finished with a season-low 34 yards on 11 carries.

Coach Lovie Smith downplayed the significance of Forte's injury last Friday but the running back canceled a scheduled appearance in the south suburbs on Saturday.

Kyle Orton, who has been battling a right ankle injury for more than a month, was also on the sideline.

The Bears' playoff hopes dimmed over the weekend but they could still be represented in the postseason at the Pro Bowl.

The league will announce the teams later today and weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs figures to be a good bet to be named to his fourth consecutive all-star game.

After Briggs, nothing is certain. Return man Devin Hester led the fan balloting and could get the nod on reputation but his statistics are not worthy. Punter Brad Maynard has enjoyed the best of his eight seasons with the Bears. Kicker Robbie Gould has also had a fine year as have a handful of kickers in the NFC.

The Bears expected the Williams Wall to crumble at least two weeks ago, after their trip to the Metrodome Nov. 30, but the StarCaps case involving Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams is caught up in court with no resolution in sight until the offseason.

But Pat Williams, the run-stuffer of the bunch, will sit out after all. He suffered a fractured scalpula in Sunday's win at Arizona and according to our good friends at the Star-Tribune, he will miss two to six weeks.

If you didn't know better, Monday's locker room session had the feeling like the Bears had lost Sunday.

They didn't on the field, but they were losers in the playoff race as just about every outcome they were seeking went the other way.

Tight end Desmond Clark sat down to watch the Minnesota-Arizona game and clicked it off before the first quarter was over with the Vikings ahead 21-0.

"No need to watch it anymore,'' Clark said. ``You could tell where it was going. Yeah, it was a little disappointing but we still have to do what we have to do."

The Bears' playoff hopes took a hit today. A big hit.

Minnesota's 35-14 victory at Arizona reduced the Vikings' magic number in the NFC North to one. The Bears (8-6) need the Vikings (9-5) to lose at home to Atlanta and the New York Giants and they need to defeat Green Bay and Houston. So, the division could be gone before the Bears host the Packers on ``Monday Night Football'' Dec. 22.

The window for a wild-card berth is closing on the Bears, too. Atlanta's 13-10 overtime victory over Tampa Bay dealt a serious blow to their hopes of taking that path into the postseason. The Bears passed only Washington in the wild-card standings on Sunday. They can pass Philadelphia if the Eagles lose Monday night to Cleveland, but the Browns are a two touchdown underdog going into Lincoln Financial Field.

Brian Urlacher recorded double-digit tackles for the first time in seven games in Thursday's 27-24 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints.

After coaches' review of the game film, Urlacher was credited with 10 tackles, the same number he had in press box statistics following the game. It's the third time this season Urlacher has led the defense in tackles.

It's a wacky world out there in the NFC wild-card race and the Bears' victory over New Orleans Thursday night didn't do a lot to clear anything up. It certainly enhanced the Bears chances though.

Here is a breakdown of it with a little help, make that a lot of help from the Bears' PR information man Mike Corbo:

1. Tampa Bay (9-4, 8-3 in NFC): at Atlanta (8-5), vs. San Diego (5-8) vs. Oakland (3-10)

2. Dallas (8-5, 6-4 in NFC): vs. NY Giants (11-2), vs. Baltimore (9-4), at Philadelphia (7-5-1)

3. Atlanta (8-5, 5-4 in NFC): vs. Tampa Bay (9-4), at Minnesota (8-5), vs. St. Louis (2-11)

4. Philadelphia (7-5-1, 6-4 in NFC): vs. Cleveland (4-9), at Washington (7-6), vs. Dallas (8-5)

5. Bears (8-6, 6-5 in NFC): vs. Green Bay (5-8), at Houston (6-7)

6. Washington (7-6, 6-4 in NFC): at Cincinnati (1-11-1), vs. Philadelphia (7-5-1), vs. San Francisco (5-8)

7. New Orleans (7-7, 4-6 in NFC): at Detroit (0-13), vs. Carolina (10-3)


Wild-card tiebreakers:

1. Head-to-head
2. Best winning percentage in conference games
3. Best winning percentage in common games (minimum four)
4. Strength of victory

Tampa Bay can finish ahead of the Bears with one more victory or a Bears loss.

Dallas entered the week with a one-game edge over the Bears and the Cowboys currently are ahead in conference record and record among common opponents. The Bears can pass them with a better overall record or win a tiebreaker if the Cowboys lose to the Giants and Eagles and the Bears defeat Green Bay.

Atlanta entered the week a game up on the Bears and own a tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head victory. It could be that the Bears will wind up rooting for Minnesota to beat the Falcons next weekend.

Philadelphia entered the week with a half-game edge over the Bears. Because there cannot be a tie, the Bears need to finish with a better record.

Washington entered the week ahead of the Bears by virtue of its conference record. A win by the Redskins Sunday at Cincinnati puts them back into the fifth position ahead of the Bears.

The Bears made a move to give themselves some depth on special teams by signing linebacker Gilbert Gardner to the roster Friday.

Gardner, who won a Super Bowl XLI ring with the Indianapolis Colts, and finished second in special teams tackles with Tennessee last season. Gardner appeared in two games with Detroit this season before being released Oct. 25.

Some quick reactions from the Bears' 27-24 overtime victory as they ended the Saints' season for the third straight year:

*** If that was not the best game by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher this season, it was his best game in some time. Urlacher led the defense in tackles, according to press box statistics, with 10. It's the first time Urlacher has led the team in tackles since Week 4 when he tied with safety Kevin Payne at the top of the list with 10 against Philadelphia. It's also the first time he's been the outright leader in tackles for a game as he tied with Lance Briggs for top honors in the opener at Indianapolis.

Of course, numbers from this game are not official yet, but you didn't need to study the stat sheet to know he made an impact. Urlacher was solid in the run game which gave up a 42-yard touchdown to Pierre Thomas but still managed to limit the Saints to 3.7 yards per carry--119 yards on 32 rushes. Urlacher was also given credit for a pass defense.

"The No. 1 offense poses a big challenge,'' he said of the Saints. "They have the No. 1 quarterback in the NFL and they're running the ball better than they have in the past. It was a big challenge for us overall. We played better in the first half than we did in the second half but we made enough plays to win the game."

Matt Toeaina made his debut with the Bears in Week 15 last season. He'll make his 2008 debut in Week 15 as well.

The defensive tackle is on the active 45-man gameday roster for the first time this season getting a spot over wide receiver Brandon Rideau.

Marty Booker will miss the game with a broken rib.

The Bears inactives:

3rd QB Caleb Hanie
WR Devin Aromashodu
RB Garrett Wolfe
FB Jason McKie
G Terrence Metcalf
WR Brandon Rideau
WR Marty Booker
DE Ervin Baldwin

If the fan ballot is a good indication, the Bears will not be well represented at the Pro Bowl.

Returner Devin Hester was the only player to win fan balloting at his position.

The fan vote counts one-third in the selection process with the players and coaches each counting one-third. Teams voted earlier this week and the Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Tuesday. The game will be played at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii on Feb. 8.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was second at inside linebacker with 276,508, trailing Washington's London Fletcher. Urlacher won the fan ballot last season but was not selected for the game, failing to finish in the top five after coaches and players weighed in.

The Minnesota Vikings do not play until Sunday but they got a victory late Thursday afternoon when U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson announced he will not rule on the StarCaps case involving defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams until after the season.

That means the Williams Wall will stand down the stretch with Minnesota facing Arizona, Atlanta and the New York Giants down the stretch.

The Williamses have been suspended four games for violation of the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. They appealed and lost that appeal before filing for a temporary injunction. Magnuson has asked the parties for a schedule by Dec. 22 and a judgment will not come until the season is over.

If New Orleans is able to sneak into the playoffs, one way or another, Drew Brees might be the odds-on favorite to be named MVP. To do so, the Saints will have to win tonight's game at Soldier Field and dispel the common belief that they're not the same team when they leave the comfortable surroundings of the Superdome. New Orleans is 1-5 on the road this season and the offense has not been the same.

The Saints completely abandoned the run when they were here for the NFC Championship Game following the 2006 season. They were blown out. In a more balanced effort last season, they kept the game closer, losing 33-25. That performance by Kyle Orton in the season finale was one of the factors used by the Bears in deciding there would be a quarterback competition between Orton and Rex Grossman over the summer.

Wide receiver Marty Booker has been listed as doubtful for Thursday night's game with the New Orleans Saints and he is not expected to play.

The veteran suffered a fractured rib in Sunday's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and although he played a week after suffering the same injury in 2003, the quick turnaround is going to prevent him from going.

Booker played the remainder of that '03 season with the injury.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported a half-hour ago that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson will not rule on the StarCaps case until Friday at the earliest, meaning New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith and running back Deuce McAllister will be eligible to play Thursday night at Soldier Field.

Smith, McAllister and defensive lineman Charles Grant were suspended four games by the NFL for violation of the league's policy on steroids and related substances, but won a temporary restraining order last week and played in the Saints' victory over Atlanta on Sunday. They'll live to play at least one more game before a ruling is made. Grant is already on injured reserve.

With Marty Booker ailing with a cracked rib and needing some help on special teams, the Bears finally placed defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek on injured reserve Tuesday.

The club has signed wide receiver Devin Aromashodu to the roster, a seventh-round pick from Auburn in 2006. He was plucked off the practice squad of the Washington Redskins.

"Playoffs!''

Our good friend Kevin Seifert at espn.com has taken a glance at the playoff scenarios facing the NFC North this week. Yes, Detroit has been eliminated.

The Bears find themselves in a must-win situation, more or less, because if they lose and the Vikings can prevail Sunday at Arizona, the Bears' season will be on life support. In that scenario, Minnesota will be crowned champs of the NFC North.

Of course, a Vikings' loss and a Bears' loss would still keep the Bears in the hunt for the division title. They would need to win the final two weeks and have Minnesota lose out.

Perhaps Garrett Wolfe fell victim to the cold, he's not really sure, but with a pretty serious hamstring pull it doesn't matter now.

The Bears' leading special teams tackler will miss three to four weeks following his injury Sunday on the opening kickoffs, meaning the Bears will have to make the playoffs to see Wolfe in action again this season.

"I've had hamstring issues since I left college,'' said the third-round pick from 2007. "This is probably the third time I've had a hamstring problem. That makes it even more disappointing."

Wide receiver Marty Booker suffered a cracked rib in the 23-10 victory and coach Lovie Smith called him questionable for Thursday's game with New Orleans. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was held out during the second half after tweaking his right hamstring. He left the stadium with ice on it.

Marty Booker struggled pulling his clothes on in the locker room after the game Sunday, and his worst fears have been realized by X-rays. A source close to the player revealed that Booker suffered a cracked rib when he was tackled by Jacksonville cornerback Brian Williams and linebacker Clint Ingram. The injury happened at the end of a 12-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the Bears' 23-10 victory.

Booker finished with three catches for 28 yards after missing two games with a bone bruise in his knee and going catchless through three games when he tried to play through the injury. The three receptions tied him with Curtis Conway for the third-most in franchise history with 329. He's 27 behind Johnny Morris in second place.

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams' big day Sunday got better on Monday after coaches reviewed film.

Adams was credited with a career-high 10 tackles, six of them solos, and now has 16 tackles in the last two weeks. He's proved to be a more than able fill-in for Dusty Dvoracek.

Strong safety Mike Brown was credited with 11 tackles, the second-most he's had this season.


The Bears have filled one of the spots on their practice squad by signing linebacker Marcus Riley, the WAC defensive player of the year last season at Fresno State.

The club is seeking help on special teams and can give him a look on the practice squad but it remains to be seen what kind of football shape he is in. The Bears showed interest in him following the draft but he signed a deal with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent. He was released in July and then spent the preseason with St. Louis.

The Bears have the quick turnaround this week with their first ever home appearance on NFL Network Thursday against New Orleans.

Four days to prepare for the next game is never easy for any club but the Bears' home-field advantage could be magnified here and we're not even going to bother getting in to the overdone story regarding the weather and how cold it could be come kickoff at Soldier Field. New Orleans is a completely different team away from the Superdome. The Saints are 1-5 on the road and that poor record away from home will be put further to the test in this meeting.

Players and coaches are in meetings today reviewing the 23-10 victory over Jacksonville and laying a little groundwork for the gameplan this week. There will be a regular practice Tuesday and then a walk-through Wednesday. That's it. Before we move forward, some quick thoughts on the game Sunday:

*** The only thing that would have been better for the Bears than a victory by Detroit on Sunday was the return to form of Kyle Orton. He looked sharp and would have been even sharper had his receivers not suffered from a case of the dropsies. Orton made one bad throw the entire game and had command. Yes, the offense stunk in the second half with four three-and-punts, but the game was over. It was 20-3 and the Jaguars had packed it in. Those clamoring about the poor performance in the second half need to realize Jacksonville never got back into that game.

The depleted Bears' special teams unit just took a big hit.

Garrett Wolfe, the leading tackler, has been ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury.

Wolfe leads the team with 21 special teams tackles and far and away has been the most consistent performer for special teams coordinator Dave Toub.

Tight end Desmond Clark, who was added to the injury report as questionable Saturday, will make his 64th consecutive start today as expected.

Defensive linemen Adewale Ogunleye and Anthony Adams, also questionable for the game, are also expected to start.

Inactives are:

3rd QB Caleb Hanie
RB Kevin Jones (4th straight inactive)
FB Jason McKie
G Terrence Metcalf
DT Matt Toeaina
WR Brandon Rideau
DT Dusty Dvoracek
DE Ervin Baldwin

Received a couple e-mails in regards to the story in Saturday's print/online edition where there was a chart with the coldest home games since 1963. Several readers wondered about the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in 1989, which radio analyst Tom Thayer said ranks as the coldest games he's ever played in.

Temperature at kickoff was 17 and 29 mph winds made the wind-chill factor minus-3. The chart used Saturday ranked the coldest games by weather, not wind-chill factor. That 28-3 loss to the Niners, which cost the Bears a trip to the Super Bowl, ranks as seventh-coldest Bears' home game since 1963 when using wind-chill factor.

In the big picture it might be more important for the Bears' playoff future to have Minnesota lose today than for the Bears to actually win.

As crazy as it sounds, a Vikings' loss at Detroit would allow the Bears to control their own destiny in the NFC North provided Minnesota trips up down the stretch with games against Arizona, Atlanta and the New York Giants. When you consider the strength of Minnesota's remaining schedule, it's feasible to think the Bears could pick up ground in the final three games with them playing New Orleans, Green Bay and Houston.

Desmond Clark was added to the injury report as questionable with a hamstring injury earlier today but the veteran tight end is expected to start Sunday vs. Jacksonville.

Clark arrived at Halas Hall Saturday morning and reported that his hamstring was tight, according to a team spokesman, and it is an injury that has been nagging him.

The Bears have had another late-week injury. Tight end Desmond Clark has been added to the injury report with a pulled hamstring and is now listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

It's unknown at this point if Clark was injured in practice Friday or if he perhaps pulled the hamstring in a walk-through this morning.

Wide receiver Travis Brown has been released from the practice squad. The New Mexico product had been signed on Nov. 26 and the Bears at one point were carrying four wide receivers on the practice squad because injuries to Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker, along with Devin Hester getting an occasional day off, had made it a necessity for practice.

Now, the Bears are down to two wideouts on the practice squad, Mike Hass and John Broussard. That depends how you count up the players, though. The club is listing Rudy Burgess, from Arizona State, as a cornerback. He can play both corner and wideout, and was originally announced as a receiver when he was signed Nov. 19.

Five days later, Charles Tillman's rough night in the Metrodome got rougher.

The NFL came down on Tillman, announcing he has been fined $7,500 for his horse-collar tackle of ex-Bear Bernard Berrian in the game. That play came after Berrian singed Tillman for a 99-yard touchdown, tying a league record.

"[Horse-collar tackles] are costly,'' Tillman said. "It wasn't intentional. I don't think it was a dirty play or anything. I don't know. It's just reaction. I reached out that was the only thing I grabbed."

It's the second time Tillman has been fined this season. He was docked $5,000 for his role in a skirmish that led to a rally and victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September. Tillman was fined $7,500 for a horse-collar tackle of Vikings receiver Robert Ferguson last season at the end of a 71-yard reception. Repeat violators of the rule are subject to more severe punishment. Dallas safety Roy Williams, whose dirty play led to the rule being put in place, was suspended without pay for one game for multiple horse-collar infractions.

A federal judge in St. Paul, Minn., has blocked the NFL from suspending five players, including Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, for violation of the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

This would seem to ensure the Williams Wall will stand Sunday when the Vikings travel to Ford Field to play the winless Lions.

A victory Sunday by Minnesota would ensure the Vikings (7-5) win the NFC North in the event they finish tied with the Bears (6-6).

As expected, defensive linemen Adewale Ogunleye (shoulder) and Anthony Adams (right foot) returned to the practice field Friday in preparation for Sunday's meeting with Jacksonville.

Ogunleye and Adams were both limited in practice and a preliminary report has them questionable for the game, but both players should start.

Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had full participation in practice and will be probable leaving only fullback Jason McKie out with his partially torn quad muscle. McKie probably will not play Thursday against New Orleans either. A week after injuring himself running in practice, he's yet to start running again.

The Bears reportedly tried to grab a linebacker off of the Green Bay Packers' practice squad, and failed.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that the Packers promoted Spencer Havner to their 53-man roster to avoid having him signed away by the Bears.

Havner previously spent time with the Washington Redskins, where assitant pro personnel man Dennard Wilson came from.

We tried to break down the NFC North race earlier in the week and forecast what would happen with tiebreakers that could come into play. Our initial finding was that it wasn't looking good for the Bears (6-6) if they wound up in a tie at season's end with Minnesota (7-5). The Vikings are in a position where they're ahead in most of the critical tiebreakers that are used.

That is still the case and as it stands now, if the Vikings win Sunday when they travel to Ford Field to face the winless (and hapless) Detroit Lions, the Bears are in a worse spot than they currently are. A Minnesota win Sunday would ensure the Vikings would win the division if they finish in a tie with the Bears.

A Lions' win over the Vikings and everything is wide open again when it comes to ties and the many scenarios that could be in play.

The Minnesota Vikings did not lose any ground in the standings this afternoon, but their defensive line looks a whole lot more ordinary right now.

The NFL denied appeals made by defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, and the Pro Bowl performers must now sit out the final four games of the season for violation of the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. The Williamses are two of six players whose appeals were shot down by the league.

Minnesota (7-5) forged ahead in the NFC North Sunday night with a convincing 34-14 victory over the Bears, who are a game back at 6-6. But the Vikings will have to face Detroit, Arizona, Atlanta and the New York Giants without the interior of their eighth-ranked defense in place. It was the Minnesota defensive line that turned the tide Sunday, repelling the Bears on four plays from the one-yard line in the second quarter as the Bears tried to pad a 7-3 lead. Then, Gus Frerotte hooked up with ex-Bear Bernard Berrian for a 99-yard touchdown and the Vikings led 10-7. They never looked back.

The Bears filled out their practice squad this afternoon, signing defensive end Joe Clermond to the eight-man developmental squad.

You may recall Clermond was with the team during training camp and preseason, recording one sack and making eight tackles in four games.

Coach Lovie Smith announced that defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will miss the remainder of the season with a ruptured right bicep.

When the Bears said Sunday night that the playoff race was now out of their control and that they need help to reach the postseason as the NFC North champion, they were not kidding.

With four games remaining, it's difficult to project how this thing is going to unfold given the many circumstances in play, including the possibility Minnesota will be moving forward without defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.

So we've provided the tiebreaking procedures that could be in play if there winds up being a logjam atop the NFC North. Here is how it stands right now:

Vikings 7-5 overall, 3-2 in division
Bears 6-6 overall, 3-2 in division
Packers 5-7, 3-1 in division

MINNEAPOLIS--Ten quick reactions late at night before an early-morning flight after an ugly 34-14 loss for the Bears ...

1. As an interested onlooker in the StarCaps situation, no one is keeping a closer eye on things right now than the Bears. Expectations are that the NFL will rule on the appeals made by Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams on Monday or Tuesday. They've both received four-game suspensions for violation of the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. They'e had their appeals and are waiting with others on a decision.

We're not even going to begin to attempt to tackle all of the elements in play here, but the bottom line is the Vikings would be a dramatically different team without the Williams Wall at the middle of their defense. Now trailing the Vikings by a game in the division, the Bears can only hope that wall crumbles.

2. Long before Kyle Orton had his consecutive passes streak without an interception snapped at 206 in the third quarter, it was a bad night for him. Orton wound up with three picks and could have had that many in the first half also the way some of his passes were bouncing around off Vikings defenders. He didn't get any help from his receivers dropping balls either.

"The passing game needs to step up," Orton said. "I need to step up."

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