Chicago Sun-Times

December 2012 Archives

Charles Tillman "shocked" that Lovie Smith was fired

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The Bears weathered some rocky seasons under Lovie Smith before, and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman figured his coach would survive yet again.

So Tillman was "shocked" when the Bears relieved Smith of his duties Monday morning after nine seasons.

Asked if he ever imagined this day, Tillman said, "No, not since I've been here.

"I never thought I would have to play for another coach. Never crossed my mind. Never one time... There's a saying, 'That change is good.' But some change is good, not all change is good."Tillman Smith.jpg

Specifically, Tillman noted that the defense has a "good system," and he's hopeful that the players and coaches, including coordinator Rod Marinelli, are retained.

"In all honestly, I would like our whole defense to come back. But I know that's not a perfect world," he said. "That's just wishful thinking.

"It'll be interesting to see how it unravels."

The Bears are expected to interview Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan for its head coaching vacancy, according to a league source.

Sullivan earned his reputation coaching New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning during two of his best seasons, including one that culminated in his Super Bowl XLVI MVP honors. Sullivan.jpg

Sullivan has two Super Bowl rings with the Giants.

In Tampa, he helped the rebound of Josh Freeman.

The Bears also have lined up an interview with Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

Before working with Manning, Sullivan coached the Giants receivers. He also had a stint as a defensive assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2002.

Timeline: Lovie Smith's tenure with the Bears

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Bears fans react to the firing of Lovie Smith

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What did Bears fans think of the firing of Lovie Smith? Here are your tweets:

Lovie Smith moves his players in his final speech

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Lovie Smith was true to himself until the end, when he confirmed what many of his players already knew -- that he was out as the Bears head coach.

Smith didn't point any fingers, didn't raise his voice, and he didn't get overly emotional. For five minutes, he thanked his players for their effort and professionalism, he highlighted their relationships and noted that it was God's will that he would no longer coach the Bears. Lovie Sideline.jpg

"It's a tough situation to be in," center Roberto Garza said, "but obviously coach Lovie Smith is a great man, and he handled the situation like most people wouldn't.

"He is a great man, a great coach, and he did a lot of great things for this organization."

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Smith impressed him in his closing comments.

"He earned even more respect from me, if it was possible. He handled it the right way," Cutler said. "A lot of character in that man, and it showed up.

"A classy, classy guy."

There was a range of emotions from the Bears. Several had reddened eyes, and others seemed angry by the team's decision.

"I was just sad. Sad to see a guy go, who took such great care of you," linebacker Nick Roach said. "He looked out for his team as if we were his children, and he did it for a lot of years.

"Just to have that type of leadership tossed out is just tough to deal with."

The players weren't ready to delve into their future, but Cutler was disappointed in his past.

"I take a lot of pride in the way that I play, and offensively, we didn't show up in the last four years for him. A lot of that blame is going to be on me," Cutler said. "As soon as I heard he was fired, there was instant regret on what we could have done, what we should have done, offensively."

Urlacher and Lovie.jpgBears linebacker Brian Urlacher, reacting to the firing of Bears coach Lovie Smith, said he will not play for any other coach -- at least until the Bears hire a new one.

''I feel like I'm a Bear no matter what happens. I want to be here,'' Urlacher said in an interview on ESPN 1000's ''Silvy & Waddle Show'' on Monday afternoon. ''We're all mad right now. We just lost our head coach. We're all mad and we're going to say things we don't mean. I still don't want to play for any other coach. And I'll keep saying that until it happens, I guess.''

Urlacher, who has been with the Bears since he was drafted ninth overall in 2000, said he felt the same way when coach Dick Jauron and defensive coordinator Greg Blache were fired after the 2003 season. But he got over it. And he sounded pretty sure he will this time, too

''It happened so fast,'' Urlacher said. ''We're all emotional about it. I've seen Lovie every day for the last nine years. It's hard to picture not being around him every day. [But it's] just like with coach Blache and coach Jauron. I was pissed off when they let them go. I was surprised. I was mad. I'm sure those emotions will calm down. [But] after the game, it's emotional and hard to handle.''

devin23.jpgBears star kick returner Devin Hester was visibly upset that the Bears fired Lovie Smith. Not long after Smith informed the team of his departure, Hester cleaned out his locker at Halas Hall, defended his only coach in the NFL and criticized the media and fans for wanting Smith's ouster.

But Hester also said he's contemplating retiring.

"I'm going to go home and get away from football right now," Hester said. "I don't even know if I want to play again, man. It's [been] on my mind now for two years now."

Asked if football was still fun for more him, Hester said, "It's not."

"I've got my workers' comp papers in my pocket," he said. "We'll see how I feel. I'm gonna go home and talk to my wife, my family. We'll see where we go from there. I have two beautiful kids, man. Two boys. A lot of stress has been on my mind lately."

jay6.jpgNews broke that the Bears fired coach Lovie Smith, while quarterback Jay Cutler was doing his weekly radio show on WMVP-AM (1000) with ESPN's "Waddle & Silvy" on Monday morning.

Cutler left the show early, but was asked about Smith's departure. The Bears have a team meeting scheduled at Halas Hall for 11 a.m.

"I think it's gonna be a sad day at Halas Hall," Cutler said. "[I have a] lot of respect for the guy. He's made friends with a lot of the players. He's a players' coach. I've been very, very lucky in my seven years to have two great coaches who gave a lot of respect to the players and listened to them."

Reflecting on Jerry Angelo ouster

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The expectation is that the Bears will act quickly on Lovie Smith's future.

First, there's timing.

Nearly a dozen NFL head coaches are perceived to be on the hot seat, which means teams will move quickly to fire and hire. Maybe not Monday but within a few days of the season ending. Move slowly, and a club falls behind the pack making a change.

Second, there's history.

Last year, after an 8-8 season, the Bears relieved longtime general manager Jerry Angelo of his duties two days after the season ended with a 17-13 victory in Minneapolis over the Minnesota Vikings. On that day, Bears president Ted Phillips confirmed that Smith would be retained and that the club parted ways with offensive coordinator Mike Martz because of "philosophical differences."

The 8-8 finish was a disappointment after a 7-3 start.

Smith is 81-63 as Bears coach. But his team struggled again down the stretch this season, becoming just the second team since 1990 to miss the playoffs after starting 7-1.

The Bears finished 10-6 with a 26-24 victory in Detroit Sunday.

Last season, as they searched for a replacement for Angelo, the Bears brass interviewed candidates and made it clear that Smith would remain as the head coach in 2012. After that, though, the GM would have the autonomy to make a change.

Now the question is whether Emery ends the Smith tenure or extends it at least another season.

Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte strongly back Lovie Smith

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Two of the Bears top playmakers insisted that they still believe in coach Lovie Smith.

"I've had different head coaches. But if it was up to me, I don't want another coach. I'd run through a brick wall for him, and that's the same way with every other guy in the locker room," Brandon Marshall said of Smith. "Amazing man, amazing coach. We just need to get some things together in certain areas." Lovie Smith Outside.jpg

Added running back Matt Forte, "I'd run through a steel wall for him.

"He's a great coach."

Marshall and Forte were keys for the an otherwise struggling Bears offense, one that has put Smith's job status in question. While he's fielded some excellent defenses, he's been unable to get a solid offense built, with a revolving door at offensive coordinator.

But Marshall doesn't want major changes, especially at quarterback.

"I'm at the point now, there aren't too many guys who understand my approach to the game. And he makes it easy for me to work," Marshall said of Jay Cutler. "We still have a lot to work on, but at the same time, I can't see myself with anyone else as a quarterback.

"When he retires, I will retire."

DETROIT -- It's been widely speculated that Lovie Smith's future with the Bears may very well come down to what happens on Sunday.

In order to make the playoffs, the Bears need to defeat the Detroit Lions at Ford Field and hope that the Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings later at the Metrodome.

Asked about Smith during his weekly pre-game interview on WBBM-AM (780) on Sunday, first-year general manager Phil Emery didn't tip his hand.

Emery did say Smith has "done an outstanding job coaching the Bears" and called him a "great team-first person." But he's made similar comments earlier this season.

Brian Urlacher, Chris Conte inactive vs. Lions today

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Brian Urlacher (92812).jpgLinebacker Brian Urlacher headed the Bears' inactive list for Sunday's game against the Lions at Ford Field. Urlacher will miss his fourth consecutive game since suffering a hamstring injury in overtime against the Seahawks at Soldier Field.

Safety Chris Conte also is inactive. Conte suffered a hamstring injury last week against the Cardinals.

The other inactives are: RB Armando Allen, LB Blake Costanzo, OT Cory Brandon, DT Nate Collins and QB Josh McCown.

22forte1.jpgBears running back Matt Forte listed a number of different things he's doing to get his right ankle -- which he's sprained three times this season -- ready for this Sunday's crucial matchup against the Detroit Lions.

"I've been doing acupuncture, chiropractics stuff, soft-issue work, hyperbaric chamber -- [the] same stuff [as before]," Forte said Friday after practice.

But Forte said this time it seems to be working better. He is officially listed as probable after being a full participant in practice.

"Since I've sprained it the first time and it hadn't all the way healed, so it's not a lot more damage than like the first time," Forte said.

Lovie Smith.jpgBrian Urlacher practiced for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury against the Seahawks on Dec. 2, but coach Lovie Smith did not sound optimistic that he would be able to play against the Lions on Sunday.

''I was encouraged that he was finally able to get on the practice field,'' Smith said after the Bears practiced Friday at the Walter Payton Center. ''It's not like we had a full-padded practice today, but he was able to move around, which we thought he would be able to do. He's making the normal progress we thought he would make.''

Smith left open the possibility that Urlacher could play, but it seemed like it was only because he didn't want to rule him out completely.

''No, Brian doesn't have to necessarily go through a full practice before we would play him,'' Smith said. ''But we're not to that point. We're going to look at how he moves around and see how he feels after today.''

Darryl Drake.jpgSupport for Bears coach Lovie Smith from inside of Halas Hall inherently has a ''dog-bites-man'' level of newsworthiness. But the level of passion for a coach as dispassionate as Lovie Smith shouldn't be ignored.

''I don't think there's a better coach in the National Football League than Lovie Smith,'' wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. ''And I'm not saying that because I work for him. I'm saying that because I truly believe that.

''It's a blessing for me to work for him. I don't know if I'll work for anybody else. I'm at a stage in my career where he has set the bar really, really high. He let's us coach. He let's us do our thing. We're responsible for production. But his approach to the game, to me, is the way it should be done.''

Matt Forte said after he injured his right ankle for the third time this season last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals that he planned on playing in the Bears' regular-season finale in Detroit against the hated Lions.

Things continue to look that way.

Forte practiced on a limited basis Thursday after behind a held out a day earlier. Forte is nine yards shy from reaching 1,000 rushing yards.

"[He's] making a lot of progress," coach Lovie Smith said. "[He] was able to get some reps in today. He looked pretty good. We're hopeful for him, which we thought all along. I know he's been pretty optimistic about the plan. So hopefully that will be the case."

The same can't be said about some other players.

melton2.jpgIt was bound to happen. A day after Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton called the Detroit Lions "dirty" and singled out center Dominic Raiola as an "old" trash-talker who takes cheap shots, Raiola fired back.

Raiola was asked about Melton's comments on Thursday

"Who? Who?" Raiola told the Detroit Free Press. "Exactly.

"You've got a defense full of superstars and you don't hear from the guys that carry weight in my book. [Brian] Urlacher, [Lance] Briggs, [Charles] Tillman, [Israel] Idonije, [Julius] Peppers, the guys that have been there. We're talking about guys who carry weight.

"This guy (Melton)? Not in my book"

Lance Briggs: Bears will rally around Lovie vs. Lions

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Lovie and Lance (2).jpgBears linebacker Lance Briggs said there will be a ''Win one for Lovie'' sentiment Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

The Bears are well aware their coach's future with the team is in doubt with the team facing the prospect of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. The Bears (9-6) need to beat the Lions at Ford Field and the Packers to beat the Vikings at the Metrodome to make the postseason.

Even if that happens, Smith might not be return. But the team is using their coach as a rallying point this weekend. It sounds like they have a lot to lose if Smith is fired.

"Yeah, more than just Lovie. You want to win it for us,'' Briggs said. ''If you've enjoyed your time here in Chicago and the way that Lovie has treated you and us together and this camaraderie that we have then win for that.

''If Lovie is not here, that goes -- that goes with him. I've enjoyed every moment of being here in Chicago. And I don't intend on that changing. So it's time to go out and beat Detroit, and then we'll pull for the Packers.''

15marsh.jpgGetting named to the Pro Bowl and another trip to Hawaii is nice and all, but Brandon Marshall would rather not go. He'd rather still be playing for something meaningful.

"It's always an honor to be voted in by your peers and coaches around the league," Marshall said Thursday in the Bears' locker room. "Fortunately, it's my fourth time. But unfortunately, it's been my playoffs.

"The Pro Bowl is great. It's an honor. It's a ball. You have a blast out there, but I'm ready to get to the playoffs and that's more important. Hopefully, those tickets go unused and we'll see what happens."

Of course, Marshall means he hopes the Bears are still playing. The Pro Bowl is the week before the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The Bears, though, have to make it to the postseason first.

Lance Briggs at the Pro Bowl.jpgBears linebacker Lance Briggs said he was ''proud'' of his five teammates that made the Pro Bowl, but didn't dwell too much on his surprising omission from the NFL's all-star game, which ended a string of seven consecutive selections.

The three outside linebackers selected to the NFC team are all pass-rush specialists in 3-4 defense: the 49ers' Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks), the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware (11.5) and the Packers' Clay Matthews (12). Briggs leads the Bears with 118 tackles, but has only 1.5 sacks.

"It's one of those things,'' said Briggs, who leads the Bears in tackles and has two interception returns for touchdowns in his 10th NFL season. ''There weren't any traditional outside linebackers in the Pro Bowl. That's just the way it goes. It's a vote.''

Deserving players get overlooked for the Pro Bowl on a regular basis. But a veteran player with seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances getting snubbed is unusual -- especially when he has two interception returns for touchdowns on a defense that has been on highlight shows all season. Usually it's the other way around -- a veteran player with multiple Pro Bowl berths takes a spot that should have gone to a younger player. Packers' center Jeff Saturday, who didn't make his first Pro Bowl until he was 30, was named to his sixth Pro Bowl team on Tuesday -- and he's not even starting. He was benched last week.

But centers don't get sacks. Linebackers do. So Lance Briggs' streak of Pro Bowl selections ends at seven. For now, anyway. So many players opt out of the game that it wouldn't be a surprise if Briggs eventually makes it.

pepp.jpgIt was no surprise that defensive end Julius Peppers dominated the Arizona Cardinals' porous offensive line last week in a crucial win for the Bears. But it turned out to be the most dominant defensive performance in the NFC.

A day after being named to his eighth Pro Bowl, Peppers was named the NFC defensive player of the week on Thursday. He had three sacks, a forced fumbled, five tackles and pass breakup against the Cardinals. All five of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage.

Can he explain his big day?

"No. Just sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't," Peppers said after the Bears' 28-13 victory. "I don't have an explanation for it. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't."

If Pro Bowl voters need a reminder of Charles Tillman's special season, they should fire up the Oct. 22 Bears game against the Detroit Lions.

In that game, Tillman was largely responsible for holding Calvin Johnson to a season-low 34 receiving yards. Calvin.jpg

That's mind-blowing since Johnson last Saturday broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards. Against the Atlanta Falcons, Johnson had 11 catches for 225 yards, giving him 1,892 receiving yards on the season.

With 108 yards in the finale against the Bears, Johnson could become the first receiver in NFL history to top 2,000 yards.

"I just have to worry about my game," Tillman said. "I can't worry about him breaking records or anything."

But Tillman said he watched Johnson's performance against the Falcons.

"He is, hands down, the best receiver. It was great to see him break that record last week," Tillman said. "I was happy for him. It was good for the sport.

"Records are made to be broken."

So can Tillman prevent Johnson from breaking the record?

"Even if he didn't need 108 yards, my mindset would be hold him to as few yards as possible, especially under 100 yards," Tillman said. "But it just so happens that he's chasing 2,000."

Barring a Super Bowl run, the Bears will be well represented at the Pro Bowl.

Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, receiver Brandon Marshall, defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman all were named to the Pro Bowl roster for the NFC.

Jennings and Melton are first-time selections, while Tillman was named to his second, Peppers his eighth and Marshall his fourth.

The game will be held Jan. 27 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii.

The Bears have plenty of key players dealing with injuries with a do-or-die game against the Detroit Lions looming on Sunday.

Matt Forte (ankle), Brian Urlacher (hamstring), Charles Tillman (ribs/elbow), Chris Conte (hamstring), Blake Costanzo (calf) and Armando Allen (knee) were held out of practice on Wednesday.

Conte pulled his hamstring late in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals. Coach Lovie Smith made it sound as if the second-year safety will miss a considerable amount of time.

"He'll be out a while," Smith said of Conte, who has started every game this season at free safety.

Jay Cutler would prefer to spread the ball around

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Brandon Marshall is having a historic season for the Bears, but quarterback Jay Cutler would prefer if the balls and yards were more evenly distributed.

Asked about Calvin Johnson's monstrous season in Detroit, Cutler said, "It's impressive what they're doing.

"A lot of balls going his way. A lot of balls going B's way," Cutler said, referring to Marshall. "I think in an ideal world you'd like to get some other guys in the mix. If you can have three guys at 70, four guys at 50, 60, 70, and really spread it around.

"I think it makes defenses a lot more honest. [But] you're taking anything away from what they've done, it's impressive."

Marshall leads the Bears in catches (113), receiving yards (1,466) and receiving touchdowns (11), and he's miles ahead of anyone else in any of those categories. Matt Forte is second with 42 catches and 319 yards, and rookie Alshon Jeffery has three receiving touchdowns.

Here are some other thoughts from Cutler's press conference today:

* Measuring himself in these big games: "This is a big game. I think last week was a big game. We've got to win. There's nothing else to be said about it. And quarterback play, these are games you've got to have."

melton.jpgDefensive tackle Henry Melton said Wednesday he knows the Detroit Lions would love to do nothing more than to end the Bears' season at Ford Field on Sunday.

"We have to do our thing against Detroit," Melton said. "I don't want to say anything because I don't like Detroit."

What are Melton's prospects at playing against the Lions?

"It's pretty good at the moment," said Melton, who has been out with a collarbone injury. "We're going to go out there and test it out again and see how it feels this week and hopefully give it a go.

"[Sitting out against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday] was more precautionary. They don't want something bad to happen for one of the regular-season games and I miss a playoff game or something like that. These games are very crucial, but the playoff games is where we're trying want to go."

Bears sign safety Troy Nolan

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With the status of starting safety Chris Conte very much in question with a hamstring injury, the Bears are expected to sign veteran Troy Nolan today, according to a league source.

Selected in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Arizona State, Nolan started six games in his first two seasons with the Houston Texans. After spending some time with the Miami Dolphins earlier this year, Nolan returned briefly to the Texans and started one more game. For his career, he has 93 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, nine passes and three interceptions. Nolan.png

With veteran Craig Steltz placed on injured reserve a few weeks ago, the Bears have been thin at the safety position. Other than starters Conte and Major Wright, Anthony Walters is the only other safety on the roster. Walters filled in for Conte Sunday and finished with three tackles.

At the NFL Combine, Nolan was measured at 6 foot 2 inches, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds.

At Arizona State, Nolan was known for making big plays. In two seasons there, he had five defensive touchdowns.

UPDATE: The Bears confirmed that Nolan has been signed.

Bengals claim Dane Sanzenbacher

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Dane Sanzenbacher, who the Bears released Monday, is returning to his home state.

Sanzenbacher played high school footballToledo, and he played collegiate ball at Ohio State. Dane S.jpg

On Tuesday, the Cincinnati Bengals claimed him.

Last season, as an undrafted rookie, Sanzenbacher appeared in all 16 games and even made one start. He finished the season with 27 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns. This season, though, he barely played because the Bears added to its depth at receiver.

He had just one catch for seven yards in four games.

The good news for Sanzenbacher is that the Bengals have already secured a spot in the postseason.

Two starters didn't finish Sunday's victory in Arizona, and Lovie Smith didn't have any meaningful updates on either Matt Forte or Chris Conte.

Forte insisted to the Sun-Times that he would play next Sunday but the status of Conte is more unclear. Smith said Conte "pull a hamstring muscle." If it's a Grade 1, Conte may be able to return for the finale. But if it's a Grade 2, he could be sidelined for a few weeks. Brian Urlacher has missed three starts with what appeared to be a Grade 2 hamstring strain while Jonathan Scott missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.

Asked if he's concerned about the depth at safety, Smith said, "Yes, I'm concerned.

"We've lost a few good players here from the last couple weeks in Craig Steltz and Chris Conte pulling his muscle yesterday. Anthony Walters stepped in yesterday and we have a couple other options."

Walters played 33 snaps and finished with two tackles. The second-year player and Major Wright are the only three safeties currently on the 53-man roster.

Asked if cornerback Zack Bowman is an option at safety, Smith said, "We have a couple other options.

"Of course, I'm not going to go into them right now. We have a few other options, at least one option that I'm thinking of."

One could be veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden, an intelligent player who is very familiar with the Bears defensive scheme.

Smith also acknowledged that depth at running back is also a concern. Other than Forte, the Bears have Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen on the active roster, and Harvey Unga on the practice squad.

"Whenever you have a limited amount of guys time this tie of year anyways, and when you have a player that goes down, it makes you shuffle things. Hopefully, Matt will be OK," Smith said, "and a lot of these [injuries] we're talking about, hopefully their injuries aren't as bad as maybe as most of us think - most of you think."

The kickoff for the Green Bay Packers game against the Minnesota Vikings was flexed to 3:25 p.m., which means the Bears fate won't be immediately known.

So would the Bears remain in Detroit to see how that game plays out? Pack Vikes.jpg

"Uh, I hadn't gotten that far. There are a lot of other things that have priority before it. We will be interested," Smith said. "All of that goes with us taking care of business first. So we're just going to concentrate on that.

"We hadn't made any decisions like that."

Because they've squandered a 7-1 start, the Bears need to beat the Lions at Ford Field then hope that the Packers can defeat the Vikings at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis.

Otherwise, the Bears season will be over.

The Bears can hop on a flight right after their game, though, if they don't beat the Lions. There's no scenario in which the Bears can finish 9-7 and still make the playoffs.

The Lions are a mess right now, losing seven consecutive games, including all five in the division. They also are just 2-5 at home.

So if the Bears don't beat the Lions, then they most certainly don't deserve entry into the postseason.

By Mark Lazerus

Only four teams in the NFL -- the Chargers, the Jets, the Jaguars and the Cardinals -- are averaging fewer yards per game than the beleaguered Bears offense. Those teams are a combined 22 games under .500.

But the last thing Bears quarterback Jay Cutler wants to see is yet another change at the top. He's hard three offensive coordinators in four years (Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice), and there's been speculation about Tice's future as coordinator. Tice Cutler.jpg

"You hope not," Cutler said on ESPN Radio's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on Monday morning. "It is what it is. It's hard for an offense and as a quarterback to get where you want to be and be consistent on a weekly basis if you're changing coordinators every couple years. That's a reality. I think it's an overlooked fact. It's something that happens
in the NFL a lot to some of these quarterbacks. I was talking with (backups Jason Campbell and Josh McCown), and Josh, in 11 years, he's had eight or nine coordinators. J-Cam, in eight years, I think he's had one about every year, so seven or eight different coordinators.

"There's a lot of different coordinators between the three of us. It's amazing those guys have been able to be successful, and that they're still around the NFL. Most of the time when you get cut up like that, it's hard to stick around, it's hard to be successful and you get bounced out pretty quick."

Brandon Marshall: 'I stunk the field up' vs. Peterson

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Brandon Marshall vs. Peterson.jpgBrandon Marshall has had 165 and 160 receiving yards in Bears losses this season. He couldn't hide the fact that he was disappointed to have just 68 in a victory.

Asked what the offense can take from its uneven-at-best performance Sunday, Marshall spoke only for himself.

''Man. I know what I take away from it -- I stunk the field up,'' said Marshall, who had six receptions, including an 11-yard touchdowns in the Bears' 28-13 victory. ''Throwing around that word accountability -- I can't do that, especially in this situation. This part of the season.

''But for the defense to step up, for other guys to step up for the offense, that says a lot. So I'm proud that guys around me were able to make big plays, huge plays. Now we just got to go out next week and control what we can control.''

While happy to get the 'W,' Marshall sounded like he lost his battle against Patrick Peterson, the Arizona Cardinals' fine second-year cornerback. Last week the Lions' Calvin Johnson had 10 receptions for 121 yards against the Cardinals and Peterson. But he did not score. And Peterson intercepted one pass intended for Johnson and returned it 31 yards to the 4-yard line to set up a touchdown. So Marshall might have been more productive with lesser numbers.

But that didn't soothe Marshall.

''He's a great player. I'm disappointed in my play today,'' Marshall said. ''When you get opportunity to get one-on-one, you have to dominate. I was looking forward to this matchup. Dropping that ball, that slant and having the opportunity down the sideline on the left. I've got to make those plays.

''As a competitor, there's games within the game. I don't know the next opportunity I'm going to get against Pat. He's a great player. But I left way too many plays out there. I'm disappointed in that. But when you get a win and you look at where we're sitting right now, it definitely ... it overcomes what I was doing on the field.''

Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has missed the last three games, may return for the must-win finale.

Asked if Urlacher could return, Bears coach Lovie Smith said, "We are definitely thinking that way.

"I would just say he's making a lot of improvement... I know he's feeling pretty good about where he is."

Nick Roach tied for the team lead Sunday with eight tackles, including one for a loss.

"If he's ready to go," Smith said of Urlacher, "good and if not, Nick Roach is doing a great job."

The Bears also could get a few other players back from injury. Henry Melton missed his second consecutive game, but he may return for the Detroit Lions game. Right tackle Jonathan Scott, who missed the start Sunday, also may return.

Running back Matt Forte and safety Chris Conte didn't finish the game. Forte insisted he'd play, while Conte's status (hamstring) is up in the air.

Bears running back Matt Forte injured his right ankle for a third time this season, and he left the University of Phoenix Stadium in a walking boot.

But count on him playing in the must-win finale against the Detroit Lions.

"I can't see myself missing next week," he told me. "Nah." Forte Cards.jpg

Forte was on pace for arguably his best game of the season. At halftime, he had 12 carries for 88 yards, including a four-yard touchdown. But Forte injured his right ankle very early in the third quarter, and he was ruled out. Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen finished the game a combined 18 runs for 56 yards.

"Frustrating," Forte said of the repeat injury. "But I just got to get healthy for next week. I would have liked to finish the game and get over 100 yards and all that stuff. This is the third time someone has felt on my ankle, so it's aggravating."

Granted, the Arizona Cardinals had the league's worst run defense. But the Bears can't be too picky; their offensive line did open up some sizable holes for Forte in the first half.

"Great lanes. The offensive line did a great job," Forte said. . With running games like that, you can make moves in the open field and get extra yards. It's unfortunate I had to leave the game. But I felt we were really starting to roll."

Something else worth noting is that the Bears offensive line didn't have any false starts or holding penalties.

"It's fun to finally do what we're supposed to do. These past weeks, we haven't been able to get that," center Roberto Garza said. "Definitely getting this win and doing some good things will help us."

Lovie and Tony Dungy.jpgThe Vikings' 23-6 upset of the Houston Texans forces the Bears to beat the Arizona Cardinals today to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Bears lose, the best they could do is tie the Vikings at 9-7 -- and the Vikings would win the tie-breaker with the Bears.

The Bears are favored against the Cardinals, but their record in must-win games under Lovie Smith is dubious -- a big reason why they have been either a No. 1 or 2 seed in the playoffs or not in at all.

In 2007, they were 5-6 after an overtime victory over Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and the Broncos at Soldier Field. But they lost to the Giants 21-16 at Soldier Field the following week and then to the Redskins (24-16) and Vikings (20-13 t home. Safely out of the playoff picture, they beat the Packers 35-7 and the Saints 33-25 at home to close the season.

In 2008, they were 6-6 heading into December and beat the 4-8 Jaguars 23-10 at Solder Field. They needed a last-second field goal to force overtime and beat the Saints 27-24 at home, then needed a blocked field goal at the end of regulation to beat the 5-9 Packers 20-17 in overtime to keep their playoff hopes alive. Needing a victory to stay alive in Week 17, they lost to the Houston Texans 31-24 in Houston.

In 2009, the Bears were 5-7 and still had feint playoff hopes heading into a home game against the Packers. But Ryan Grant went 62 yards for a touchdown on the Packers' first offensive play of the game and the Packers won 21-14 to finish the Bears off. After a 31-7 loss to the Ravens the following the week, the Bears kept hope alive for 2010 by beating the Vikings 36-30 in overtime and the Lions 37-23 at Ford Field. Jay Cutler threw eight touchdown passes to only one interception in those two meaningless games.

In 2011, the Bears were 7-5 but without Cutler heading into the final month. They lose to the Broncos 13-10 in overtime
in Denver, lost to the Seahawks 38-14 at home and 35-21 to the Packers at Lambeau Field. Safely out of the playoff picture, they beat the Vikings 17-13 at the Metrodome with Josh McCown at quarterback.

Earl Bennett 122112.jpgCornerback Tim Jennings and wide receiver Earl Bennett are active for the Bears' game against the Arizona Cardinals today at University of Phoenix Stadium. But defensive tackle Henry Melton, right tackle Jonathan Scott, linebacker Brian Urlacher and linebacker/special teamer Blake Costanzo are out.

The other inactive players are: QB Josh McCown, WR Dane Sanzenbacher and DE Cheta Ozougwu.

With Scott out, Gabe Carimi is expected to start at right tackle and Chris Spencer at right guard. It will be the fifth different offensive line combination in the last five weeks.

Brian Urlacher out; Jennings, Melton, Bennett could play

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Earl Bennett 122112.jpgThe Bears have been beat up most of the second half, but they could be as close to full strength as they've been in a while Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) will miss his third consecutive game. But most of the other active players who have been injured recently practiced in some form on Friday and could play Sunday.

Cornerback Tim Jennings, defensive tackle Henry Melton and wide receiver Earl Bennett head that list. Right tackle Jonathan Scott, who did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of a hamstring injury, practiced Friday and is expected to start.

Officially, Melton is listed as doubtful with his collarbone injury, but earlier this week he indicated it's a type of injury that he could play through if needed.

Jennings (dislocated shoulder) and Bennett (concussion) are questionable, but coach Lovie Smith indicated after practice Friday that both should be able to play against the Arizona Cardinals.

Tim Jennings, Henry Melton eager to play vs. Cardinals

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Tim Jennings (2) 122121.jpgThe Bears are hopeful that cornerback Tim Jennings and defensive tackle Henry Melton will return from injuries this week against the Arizona Cardinals.

Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, has missed the last two games after suffering a dislocated shoulder in a 23-17 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 2 at Soldier Field. Melton missed last week's 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field with a collarbone injury.

''I'm always eager to get back out there to kind of help the team,'' Jennings said. ''I feel good -- body feels well enough to continue playing at a high level.

''I just want to definitely make sure my shoulder is where it needs to be strength- and flexibility-wise to go out there and help the team win. I know if I feel like I can't help them at all, then I'm no good out there. I want to continue to make sure it's where it needs to be.''

The team has been cautious with Jennings' injury. Jennings said he still is feeling soreness in his shoulder, ''but that's just part of football.'' He said there is no concern of him aggravating the injury if he plays Sunday.

''We just want to make sure that we prevent anything from happening,'' Jennings said. ''Of course if it happens again it could be further damage. But that could happen 3-4 months down the road. It can happen next year, the year after that. So what we're gonna do is try to protect it as much as I can from any kind of further damage.''

Melton said he suffered his injury when he fell on the artificial turf at the Metrodome and landed on his shoulder.

''It was kind of embarrassing, but it hurt,'' Melton said.

He said the team was being cautious with him as well and sounded like he is ready to play against the Cardinals.

''It's more kind of precautionary,'' he said. ''I could definitely play through it, but they don't want anything worse to happen to it that would keep me out of the playoffs or something like that. We're going to see how it feels and maybe give it a go.''

Lance Briggs 122112.jpgBears linebacker Lance Briggs is not going to blame the offense for wasting another outstanding season by the defense. Not yet, anyway.

After the defense scored seven touchdowns to fuel the Bears' 7-1 first half, the offense has had to carry the scoring load in the second half. The Bears have averaged 14.2 points in losing five of six games. They've scored six, seven, 17, 14 and 13 points in the five losses.

With key players like Briggs, Brian Urlacher. Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman getting late in their NFL careers, are they starting to feel frustrated that the offense hasn't carried its share of the load?

Every time that question has been asked at Halas Hall in the Lovie Smith era, it is shot down with an almost perfunctory pledge of support for the offense. But not this time.

''I don't know,'' Briggs said. ''I think that's a question you'll have to ask me at the end of the year -- depending on how far we end up going this year. If we win these next two games and get in the playoffs and make a run in the playoffs ... that question is hard to answer right now.''

There's a chance the Bears will have two key players back in their lineup come Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after being without them for weeks.

Cornerback Tim Jennings (dislocated shoulder) and receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) both returned to practice for the first time since suffering their injuries Dec. 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. Both were limited.

Henry Melton (chest), Shea McClellin (knee) and Geno Hayes (knee) also returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

"We didn't do a lot [during practice]," Lovie Smith said Wednesday. "[But] we are able to run around a little bit. So it was kind of encouraging."


Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday he hadn't heard Brian Urlacher's remarks about the fans and media. But on Wednesday, he jumped to his star player's defense.

"I think we all know Brian Urlacher cares about the fans, all right," Smith said. "And we're hopeful we'll have a lot of our fans in Arizona with us, cheering us on. Brian and the rest of the guys all feel that way. I think we all know that."

Urlacher, who has been out with a hamstring injury, caused the stir during his weekly segment on Fox 32 Sunday night after the Bears lost 21-13 to the Green Bay Packers. He was defending Smith, who has come under scrutiny for the Bears going from 7-1 to 8-6.

''Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media,'' Urlacher said. ''They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. It bothers me. They don't know what they're talking about. Lovie is the head coach of this football team and hopefully will be for a long time.''

Urlacher also sarcastically commented on the boos the Bears have been hearing from their fans.

''Our crowd was pretty good for the most part,'' Urlacher said.''They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice. The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us. It's incredible to me.''

Asked why the face of the franchise would make such comments, Smith said, "We're not living in the past, all right. ... I think we all know Brian knows how good the fans are here in Chicago. There was a lot of frustration after the game, but I think we've all moved on from there."

Tice OK with Marshall's 'even-if-that-means-jobs' rant

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Mike Tice 121912.jpgWhen Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall said, 'Everybody involved in offense should be held accountable -- even if that means jobs,' in the aftermath of the Bears' loss to the Packers on Sunday, the jab was presumed to be directed mostly at offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

Whether it was or wasn't, Tice said Wednesday he was not offended by Marshall's rant.

''I didn't hear it. It's kind of filtered back [to me],'' Tice said after the Bears practiced lightly at Halas Hall. ''We're all emotional. It's hard. It's hard when you lose, not [just] a game. It's hard when you have a string like this.

''Frustrations mount. We're all accountable. It starts with me -- I'm wearing the hat. I have to do a better job. I've been in this league a long time and know how that pecking order works. It falls on my shoulders. It falls on everybody's shoulders.''

BrandonMarshall.jpgA few days after an emotional press conference where he demanded more accountability from the Bears' offense, wide receiver Brandon Marshall was all smiles when he met the media Wednesday at Halas Hall.

He didn't issue an public apologies or really express any regrets for the comments he made after losing to the Green Bay Packers. Instead, Marshall clarified his remarks and talked about learning to become a better leader for the Bears.

"What I meant was, you can lead in so many different ways," Marshall said. "I have to be accountable to what I put on tape. That's why I went back to the Green Bay game -- my blocking wasn't great. I think it was the third play of the game. I was supposed to stay outside and Tramon [Williams] got inside of me and tackled Matt [Forte] for a three-yard gain when that could've went for 20 or 30 yards.

"I have to be accountable to Matt, and I have to be accountable to the offensive coordinator and the players and this organization for my play. I think the best teams succeed when we hold each other accountable and we do that."

Maybe he just dreads the thought. Or maybe he really is that single-minded about what's directly in front of him.

But Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler isn't looking to the offseason or even to the season finale 11 days away.

Asked if 10 wins will be enough, Cutler said, "We can't worry about it.

"We've just got to get to nine wins. We can't go anywhere unless we get to nine and if we get to nine, we can talk about 10. But right now eight isn't good enough and nine might not be good enough either."

Asked about his concern that the Bears could start all over again if there's a new system/ coach: "I think that's a conversation for after the season.

"We're in the middle of the season right now. There's enough on our plate to worry about."

Bears weighing whether to put Michael Bush on IR

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As if the offense isn't struggling enough, one of the unit's more effective players may be done for the season.

Indications are, the Bears are seriously weighing whether to put running back Michael Bush on the injured reserve. He injured his ribs in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Bush.jpg

Then, last Sunday, Bush dressed but didn't play, even though there were several instances when his short-yarage proficiency could have been useful.

"He was in uniform, but we were only going to use him if we had to," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Still wasn't quite ready to go."

On the season, Bush has 114 carries for 411 yards. His 3.6 yards per run average is solid. But what stands out is the fact that he's scored five touchdowns.

Matt Forte went to the Pro Bowl last year, but his record in converting in short-yardage situations is less than ideal. Bush, meanwhile, is one of the more effective short-yardage backs in the NFL. In March, the Bears signed Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract.

And for a big back (6 foot 1, 245 pounds), Bush has very good hands and catches the ball well out of the backfield.

Brandon Marshall was the only Bears receiver to catch any passes Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

But one of the team's more dependable options is expected to return Sunday in Arizona. Bennett Return.jpg

Barring an unforeseen setback this week, Earl Bennett is expected to play against the Cardinals, according to a league source.

Bennett has missed the last two games after suffering a concussion against the Seattle Seahawks. In that game, he scored a 12-yard touchdown.

Bennett has had a very quiet season. But, like Marshall, he's very trusted by quarterback Jay Cutler.

In five games against the Packers, Bennett has 14 catches for 163 yards.

Kahlil Bell expected to re-sign with Bears

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The Bears could have used bruising running back Michael Bush on a few key short-yardage downs Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Strangely, Bush was in uniform, although he never played. Kahlil.jpg

"He was in uniform, but we were only going to use him if we had to," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Still wasn't quite ready to go."

The decision is puzzling, since the Bears had two goal-line runs and a critical third-and-one in the game.

But with Bush still nursing injured ribs, the Bears are expected to re-sign Kahlil Bell today, according to a league source.

After the Bears released him, Bell briefly landed on the roster of the New York Jets. On the season, he had one catch for two yards but lost a fumble.

Backing up Matt Forte, Armando Allen had two carries for five yards and one catch for 15 yards Sunday against the Packers.


Jay Cutler has Brandon Marshall's back.

A day after an emotional Marshall declared after the Bears' 21-13 loss against the Green Bay Packers that "everybody involved in offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs," the Bears quarterback said he agrees with what his favorite target said.

"I don't view what we just heard [from Marshall] as a bad thing, by any means," Cutler said Monday during his weekly radio show on WMVP-AM (1000) with ESPN's "Waddle & Silvy. "I don't see it that way. I don't see it as a detriment to the team or his ability to play the rest of the season.

"He probably wishes he would have chosen his words a little bit differently. But other than that, I agree with 'B.' Everybody needs to be held accountable. I don't think he meant too much with the jobs things. I think he was talking more [about the] players."

Cutler said he kind of saw Marshall's strong comments coming.

"Yeah, Brandon, he's an emotional player and sometimes it carries over after the game just like all of us," Cutler said. "I know he was pretty disappointed in this one. AS we kind of passed, I was like, 'B, calm down. It's going to be all right.' He said, 'I got it.' And he went up there and said his one line and left. He had it under control."

A day after Brandon Marshall emotionally insisted for accountability for the struggles of the offense, Bears coach Lovie Smith at least made clear that none of his assistants will be affected for the upcoming game in Arizona.

"We'll have our same coaching staff that we had yesterday will be in their same jobs this week," Smith said.

Following a 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Marshall said, "Everybody involved in offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs."

He repeated his comment later in his press conference. Lovie.jpg

Smith said accountability is always a buzz word at Halas Hall.

"I would like to think all throughout the season we stress being accountable with every position, with all of us - coaches, players and all of us," Smith said. "I don't think anything has changed from that."

Smith did say that the Bears offense has to do better, pointing out Roberto Garza's 3rd and 1 false start penalty on the opening series, Jay Cutler's interception, Alshon Jeffery's pass interference penalties and the pair of field goals after Packer turnovers.

Smith, of course, didn't call any of the players out, only referring to the plays or series.

"All of those were big plays in the game," he said. "Then just being able to make a couple of other plays throughout. We watched the video. There were plays to be made out there.

"And eventually, it's going to come back to that. You got to perform and part of performance is not getting yourself in some of those positions."

Surely, after another miserable performance, something has to be shuffled on offense?

Perhaps it's time to give rookie Evan Rodriguez a shot to catch some balls. Or maybe throw the ball to rookie receiver Joe Anderson and see what he can do. As for the offensive line, there's not much more shuffling that can be done; they've given everyone a shot to shine, getting just mixed results.

Lovie on 8-6 Bears: 'The tournament has begun for us'

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Lovie Smith.jpgBears coach Lovie Smith acknowledged Monday that the Bears once-promising season is at a breaking point. At 8-6 after a 21-13 loss to the rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Bears likely will need to win road games against the Arizona Cardinals (5-9) and Detroit Lions (4-10) for a chance at qualifying for the postseason.

''Yesterday's game was a must-game for the NFC North chamionship. But besides that, it wasn't a must game as far as what can happen with our season,'' Smith said his Monday press conference at Halas Hall. ''This week we're to that must-game. The tournament has begun for us.

''So it's about Arizona and for the players to get a chance to watch the video, we've got to find a way to get to 10-6 and see what happens.''

Brian Urlacher rips fans, media for ripping Lovie Smith

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Brian Urlacher on Fox-32.jpgBears linebacker Brian Urlacher ripped Bears fans who booed the team during Sunday's 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers and said media critics calling for coach Lovie Smith to be fired don't know what they're talking about.

''Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media,'' Urlacher said in his weekly interview with Fox-32 sports anchor Lou Canellis on Sunday night. ''They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. It bothers me. They don't know what they're talking about. Lovie is the head coach of this football team and hopefully will be for a long time.''

Urlacher, who has not played the past two games because of a hamstring injury, sarcastically chided fans who booed the team off the field at halftime.

''Our crowd was pretty good for the most part,'' Urlacher said.''They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice. The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us. It's incredible to me.''

The Bears, who were 7-1 at mid-season, have lost five of their last six games to fall to 8-6. Even if they win their final two games at Arizona and Detroit, they still might miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. The Bears' average ticket cost is $110.91 according to Team Marking Report's Fan Cost Index. That's the fourth highest in the NFL.

The Bears are 79-63 in nine seasons under Lovie Smith, but dropped to 15-19 in the ''fourth quarter'' of each season.

Mike Pereira, the former NFL Vice President of Officiating, provides excellent insight on rules and calls during the course of games for Fox.

So I sought his insight Sunday during the halftime break of the afternoon game.

Let's start with the roughing the passer call on Bears defensive end Julius Peppers with 5:35 remaining. On the play, Peppers was coming at Aaron Rodgers from the blindside, and he appeared to dive, shoulder-first, at the Green Bay Packers quarterback before he released his incomplete pass to receiver Greg Jennings. After making contact, Peppers helmet did hit Rodgers' helmet. Pereira.jpg

"I don't think any of us really like it. But that is today's game," Pereira told me. "I'm not saying I like the way the rule is being interpreted. Anything high is subject to a foul, and the league doesn't care if the official is wrong.

"They're trying to change the culture in the NFL. You can't get mad at officials when they're doing what they're being told. That's the nature of the game today, and we might as well quit getting frustrated about it."

Pereira also said that offensive pass interference is a point of emphasis.

"The officiating has been working a long time to officiate offensive pass interference and defensive pass interference evenly. So to get that way, you have to put an emphasis on offensive pass interference. If you go back a decade, there weren't that many called at all," Pereira said, noting that Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin was one of the players most often blamed for getting away with it.

Pereira saw all three called on Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery, and he didn't have any problem with flags being tossed.

"As I look at the three, I thought they were all correctly called. If you got the proper angles, that you would actually see that there were three push offs," he said. "There was no mystery to me. There was no phantom call. They appeared to be offensive pass interference."

But Pereira also added that Packers cornerback Sam Shields should have been penalized for defensive pass interference on fourth down.

"Shields grabs the jersey. That should have been defensive pass interference," Pereira said.

Look at the NFC Playoff Picture

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There will be more clarity next week, but the Bears lost their ability to control their own playoff fate today.

Now they need help, although they appear to have the easiest remaining schedule of potential playoff teams.

Here's a closer look at how the NFC stands:

1) Atlanta Falcons (12-2) -- They've already clinched the NFC South and are in the driver's seat for the NFC's top seed. at Detroit Lions (4-10), host Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)

2) San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) -- Major statement game by defeating the New England Patriots... at Gillette Stadium.
at Seattle Seahawks (9-5), host Arizona Cardinals (5-9)

3) Green Bay Packers (10-4) -- Clinched NFC North at Soldier Field with a 21-13 victory over the Bears Sunday.
host Tennessee Titans (4-9), at Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

4) Washington Redskins (8-6) -- Kirk Cousins with a huge victory in Cleveland, starting in place of rookie Robert Griffin III. Redskins hold the tie-breaker in the NFC East.
at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10), host Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

5) Seattle Seahawks (9-5) -- One of the hottest teams in the league, winning three in a row and scoring 108 points in the last two games.
host San Francisco (10-3-1), host St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)

6) Vikings (8-6) -- Powered by Adrian Peterson, they've won two in a row, but they have a daunting finish. They have the tie-break advantage over Bears because of the head-to-head loss and the advantage over Cowboys because of a better conference record -- for now.
at Houston Texans (12-2), host Packers (10-4)

7) Bears (8-6) -- Losers of five of six, they also have a 5-5 conference record. That would hurt them if they have the same overall record as the New York Giants (7-4 in NFC). Bears did beat the Cowboys, though, and their final two opponents have already been mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
at Cardinals (5-9), at Lions (4-10)

8) Cowboys (8-6) -- They've won three in a row, and they have the edge on the Giants but not the Bears or Vikings.
host New Orleans Saints (6-8), at Redskins (8-6)

9) Giants (8-6) -- The defending Super Bowl champs have lost three of five, including an embarrassing 34-0 debacle to the Falcons Sunday.
at Baltimore Ravens (9-5), host Eagles (4-10)

10) Rams (6-7-1) -- They had been playing well but they were handled 36-22 by the Vikings Sunday.
at Buccaneers (6-8), at Seahawks (9-5)


Another week, another round of hits for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to endure.

"Yeah, I'm not 100 percent -- I know that," Cutler said after the Green Bay Packers beat the banged-up Bears 21-13 at Soldier Field on Sunday. "No one is. We're just going to have to take it day by day."

Cutler had another forgettable performance against the Packers. He was 12-for-21 for 135 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked four times and pressured often.

At one point Sunday, it looked as if Jason Campbell was about to come in for the Bears. Cutler was on the sideline getting his neck examined by the trainers, while Campbell warmed up by playing catch.

MarshallBrandon.jpgFew players are as passionate as Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. And that emotion was on display Sunday after the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers 21-13 at Soldier Field and fell out of playoff contention.

Marshall nearly came to tears when addressing the Bears' offense to the media after the loss.

"Everybody involved in offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs," said Marshall, who had six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. "Everyone on offense should be held accountable. It's been this way all year. There's no excuse. We still have two games left. There's still hope but at the same time, we need to be held accountable."

After a decent start, the Bears' offense -- as seemingly always -- struggled against the Packers. The Bears produced only 190 total net yards. Jay Cutler was 12-for-21 for 135 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

With the win, the Packers clinched the NFC North. With the loss, the Bears dropped to seventh in the NFC. They've lost five of their last six games after a 7-1 start.

The Bears entered Sunday's game with the 28th ranked offense.

"It's very frustrating," Marshall said. "You can see it on my face right now. Self explanatory."

It was Marshall's shortest post-game press conference of the season. Marshall, who has become a vocal and emotional leader for the Bears, left the lectern visibly upset. Marshall has been far and away the Bears' best player this season.

Beat up Bears without Jennings, Melton, Bennett vs. GB

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Bears injuries again.pngFor better or worse, the Bears will look like a different team Sunday from the one that lost to the Packers 23-10 in Week 2 at Lambeau Field.

Cornerback Tim Jennings, linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive tacke Henry Melton, wide receiver Earl Bennett, defensive end Shea McClellin and linebacker Geno Hayes are inactive with injuries for Sunday's game. With Lance Louis previously on injured reserve, the Bears will be without 11 players from the previous game, including six starters. Only 11 players will start today in the same position they played in Week 2.

Even the subs can't stay healthy. With Hayes out with a knee injury, Blake Costanzo will start at strong-side linebacker against the Packers. A special-teams stalwart, Costanzo will be making his first start in 75 NFL games over his six-year career.

With Melton's absence, Israel Idonije will start at defensive tackle. Kelvin Hayden will start for Jennings for the second consecutive game. Alshon Jeffery will start for Bennett.

The Bears will play a second consecutive game without starting cornerback Tim Jennings.

And he's not handling that fact too well.

"It's real frustrating," Jennings told the Sun-Times Saturday. "It's been the most frustrating two weeks all year long. You're just there, watching practice, in the meeting room, but you can't help.

"I'm doing the best I can to be an extra set of eyes." Jennings.jpg

The emergence of Jennings this season was a key in the strong play of the defense. He has eight interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown.

Tim Jennings provides some Christmas cheer

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Rosie Collado and her family have many Christmas traditions.

Along with her husband and three children, she heads to her mother's to pray the rosary and enjoy a family feast.

But there will be challenges this year.

"It's going to be a hard Christmas because I'm not working," Collado said. Jennings Jackets.jpg

But she felt blessed on Saturday after the New Life Covenant Church in her Chicago neighborhood went door-to-door and invited her family to a special celebration Saturday. The church would provide children jackets, school supplies, haircuts, pictures and toys and also allow them to play games, sing songs and meet Bears cornerback Tim Jennings.

What's the catch, Collado thought?

There wasn't one, and Collado was all smiles Saturday evening.

"Things like this brighten up your day," she said.

Asked if her kids needed a new jacket, Collado said, "Oh my gosh yes.

"He was busting out of the seams," she said, pointing to her oldest son, "and my younger son's was too light. We're just lucky it hasn't been too cold yet."

A huge Bears fan, she even got a picture with Jennings, who was humbled to attend the event.

cutler.jpgThe Bears will face the Green Bay Packers with a very banged up lineup.

The good news is that Jay Cutler is fine and will play Sunday at Soldier Field despite being hindered by neck and knee injuries this week.

But the Bears will be without linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring), Tim Jennings (dislocated shoulder) and wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) against the Packers.

The Bears also listed defensive end Shea McClellin (knee) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest) as doubtful for Sunday. Neither has practiced this week.

"They have been able to do much this week at all," coach Lovie Smith said. "We're a little banged up, but believe me we have enough guys to play this week. We have had good practices."


Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen was not fined this week for hitting Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in the head at the Metrodome last Sunday, according to a league source.

In the fourth quarter, Cutler was being dragged down by defensive end Jared Allen when Griffen struck him in the helmet, bending his neck violently backward.

Cutler stayed in the game for the remainder of the Bears' drive. But on their next possession, Cutler was replaced by Jason Campbell while he sat out with neck stiffness. Cutler later said he was experiencing spasms on the left side of his neck.

Brian Urlacher fires back at Jermichael Finley

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Brian Urlacher isn't offended that Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley believes the Bears defense may be better without its longtime middle linebacker.

But Urlacher had a nice counterpunch.

"Just like a couple of years ago, I think, he tore his ACL and the Packers were actually better without him. You know, they won the Super Bowl," Urlacher told SiriusXM NFL Radio today. " I hope we can duplicate that as well because it won't hurt my feelings if we go on and win the Super Bowl without me like they did without him.

"People can say what they want. It feels like I deal with something like this every year. Someone's always saying something about me."

Urlacher said his feelings aren't hurt when others talk about him. But he does get upset when his teammates are talked about.

"That pisses me off," Urlacher told SiriusXM. "It's like your kids. It's OK to be talking about me or whatever but don't talk about my kids or my family.

"I can deal with the criticism of myself. I get mad when people talk about my teammates."

Finley told Fox Sports Wisconsin on Wednesday that Urlacher was "playing a little slow out there."

"I don't think they're losing too much if he's out," Finley told Fox Sports Wisconsin. "Putting another guy in might help them a little."

Thursday morning, Finley tried to clarify his critique. But Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't mince words when asked about Finley's comments.

"He's an idiot," Briggs said.

Six Bears don't practice, including CB Tim Jennings

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A day after a walk-through, the Bears held their first practice of the week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

And while several key players did practice, several others did not. Receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), running back Michael Bush (ribs), cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder), defensive end Shea McClellin (knee), defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest) and linebacker Brian Urlacher didn't practice.

Regarding Jennings, Bears coach Lovie Smith said the cornerback is getting a lot better but still held him out of practice today."

Meanwhile, quarterback Jay Cutler (neck/ knee), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee/ hip), tight end Kellen Davis (knee), linebacker Geno Hayes (knee), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (shoulder) and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (knee) were all limited while defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot), guard Chris Spencer (knee) and cornerback Charles Tillman (shoulder) were full participants in practice.

Asked if Cutler's mobility would be affected, Smith said, "No, not at all.

"He practiced today without any trouble at all," Smith said. "You know after a hard fought game like that on the turf, you sometimes have some bumps that last a little longer. He should be fine."

The Packers have their own issues. Safety Charles Woodson has already been ruled out, and receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) did not practice while receiver Donald Driver (thumb), offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle), linebacker Terrell Manning (shoulder), linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) safety Jerron McMillan (back) and defensive end Mike Neal (shoulder) were all limited today.

The Bears are scheduled to practice Friday then hold a walk-through Saturday.

WR Joe Anderson ready to take the ball and run with it

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Joe Anderson.jpgRookie wide receiver Joe Anderson, promoted from the practice squad this week, said he will be active against the Packers on Sunday. And while he likely will be primarily on special teams, the Bears probably can't lose by giving him a play or two at receiver. He's got the right attitude for it.

''When I catch the ball I'm an attack guy,'' said the 6-1, 196-pound Anderson, an undrafted free agent from Texas Southern. '' I try to turn into an Adrian Peterson. I'm not a finesse receiver. I'm very aggressive.

''I'm just a dog -- that's the way I describe my ability on the field. I'm not stepping out of bounds for nobody. I've been in the weight room. I'm very physical. I'll go up and get it. I have a 42-inch vertical. I'll go up and get it if you need to be thrown up like that. Short yardage, I can get the first down. Whatever. I can run routes, 15 yard routes, come out of my break. I can do pretty much anything.''

Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who hasn't ducked from controversy, suggested in an interview Wednesday that the Bears might be better without Brian Urlacher.

Asked about that comment, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs had a simple response.

"He's an idiot," Briggs flatly said. "Just suit up and play ball.

"His comments aren't going to change the outcome of the game, they're not going to help him or anybody else play better. Doesn't really matter." Finley.jpg

On Wednesday, the Packers tight end told Fox Sports Wisconsin that Urlacher is at the end of his career.

"He's playing a little slow out there," Finley told Fox Sports Wisconsin. "I don't think they're losing too much if he's out. Putting another guy in might help them a little."

Thursday morning, on his Twitter account, Finley tried to clarify his critique.

"Urlacher is a Hall of Fame player and person," Finley wrote. "I meant no disrespect to him in previous comments, I was simply trying to explain that his replacement in the lineup is a good player as well."

The replacement, of course, is Nick Roach. Urlacher is expected to miss the game against the Packers and then against the Arizona Cardinals with a chance to maybe return for the season finale in Detroit because of a hamstring injury.

Who is dropping the ball?

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Drops were costly for the Bears in Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

According to STATS, the Bears had four of them.

But for the season, the Bears are tied for 15th in the NFL with 24 drops, well behind the dubious league leader, the Detroit Lions (37). On the other end, the San Diego Chargers have dropped just 13 passes. Kellen Drop.jpg

So who has the Bears drops?

Brandon Marshall is tied for fourth in the NFL (with Calvin Johnson) with eight drops, followed by tight end Kellen Davis with six then Devin Hester with four, according to STATS.

Kyle Adams and Earl Bennett also have one drop apiece.

Marshall has blamed himself for his drops, but he leads the league with 101 catches. Davis, meanwhile, has just 17 catches.

The league leader in drops is Victor Cruz of the New York Giants with 10 then Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Wes Welker of the New England Patriots with nine each.


Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall strolled to the lectern in the media room at Halas Hall with a Charlie Brown-like Christmas Tree on Wednesday. There were only a few branches and just one ornament.

What gives?

What did Woodson, Williams say to spark Marshall rant?

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AAWoodson-Williams vs. Marshall.jpgBrandon Marshall became the Bears story of the day with an anti-Packers rant that had to warm the hearts of longtime Bears fans and former Bears players -- and every reporter on the Bears beat.

''This is the biggest game of my career,'' said Marshall, who was just warming up with the first Packers question of his weekly press conference. ''I had this game marked since we played them last. I heard exactly what the corner --Tramon [Williams] -- I heard exactly what he was saying after the game. [Charles] Woodson, those guys do a lot of talking. So this is personal for me.''

What did Woodson and Williams say that riled Marshall? Woodson tweaked Jay Cutler in a post-game interview, telling ESPN's Rachel Nichols ''it's the same old Jay'' after the Packers held Cutler to 126 passing yards and a 28.2 passer rating in the Packers' 23-10 victor on Sept. 13 at Lambeau Field.

But Woodson's comments on The Jim Rome Show that apparently irked Marshall.

cutlerbench.jpgWith injuries wreaking havoc to their roster, the Bears opted to switch their schedule and not practice as they usually would on a Wednesday.

"We have a lot of guys banged up today, and [we] just felt like we could get more work done [with] meetings," coach Lovie Smith said.

On Wednesday, the Bears listed 11 players on the injury report who would have missed practice if there was one to participate in: Earl Bennett (concussion), Brian Urlacher (hamstring), Tim Jennings (shoulder), Jay Cutler (neck/knee), Lance Briggs (knee/hip), Michael Bush (ribs), Kellen Davis (knee), Henry Melton (chest/shoulder), Shea McCllelin (knee), Geno Hayes (knee) and Jonathan Scott (shoulder).

A day earlier, kicker Robbie Gould (calf strain), safety Craig Steltz (chest) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (knee) were placed on injured reserve.

The Bears did have a walk-through at Halas Hall.

"We're just not going to have a full-fledged practice that we would normally have on a Wednesday," Smith said. "After a Monday night game, we push it back a little bit, let the guys really heal up. Just felt like another day to heal up would benefit us more than trying to go out there and having guys double up on a lot of things."

Jay Cutler: "I'll be ready on Sunday"

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With a critical game Sunday, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler proclaimed himself prepared to start.

"I feel good," Cutler said. "I'll be ready on Sunday."

Impacted by a rash of injuries, the Bears are thankful that Cutler will play against the Green Bay Packers after injuring his neck last Sunday in Minneapolis.

Cutler -- and everyone else in the organization -- recognizes what's at stake against the Packers. Cutler Packers.jpg

"There's a lot going into this game. It's Green Bay. We know what's involved there, division game and us kind of skidding a little bit," Cutler said. "It's a game we need."

The Bears only had a walk-through Wednesday with so many players injured.

"You get at this point of the season, and you hope that guys will be smart enough to take a 'mental' day and process information and be prepared on Sunday," Cutler said.

Cutler, who is just 1-6 against the Packers, noted there's a lot of areas the Bears have to improve to end their funk against its rival.

"I've got to play better, first and foremost and get the rest of the guys up to speed with me," he said. "You've got to run the ball better, pass the ball better, block better - there's no one area we can't improve in."


Wide receiver Brandon Marshall went into the Bears' first meeting with the Green Bay Packers as if it was "like any old game." But he quickly learned it wasn't.

After hearing all the trash talk from the Packers afterward, Marshall won't say he hates them. But he strongly dislikes the Packers and their players.


Marshall was adamant about his feelings Wednesday when he met the media at Halas Hall.

"I don't like the Green Bay Packers," Marshall said. "I'm not going to use the word hate, but I really dislike the Green Bay Packers and their players. But the talk, you have to back it up. We'll go out there and we'll do everything we need to do to get a win."

okoye.jpgWith members of their defensive line battling various injuries, the Bears re-signed veteran defensive tackle Amobi Okoye on Wednesday.

Okoye was waived on Nov. 27 when veteran offensive lineman Andre Gurode was signed. But Gurode never saw a snap for the Bears and was waived on Tuesday.

Okoye played in six games for the Bears before being waived. He has three tackles and one sack this season.

Injuries were likely a factor in Okoye's return. The Bears played without starting nose guard Stephen Paea (foot injury) against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and later saw defensive tackle Henry Melton (shoulder) and defensive end Shea McClellin (knee) suffer injuries.

In his career, Okoye, the 10th overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2007 draft, has 169 tackles, 16 sacks, five pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

gould.jpgThe injuries just keep on coming for the Bears. Now, they're without their kicker.

The Bears placed kicker Robbie Gould on injured reserve Tuesday with a left calf injury. They signed 39-year-old veteran Olindo Mare to a one-year contract after trying out kickers at Halas Hall.

Gould strained his left calf during warmups Sunday at the Metrodome. Punter Adam Podlesh handled kickoffs against the Minnesota Vikings, but Gould kicked two extra points.

Asked afterward how he was doing, Gould said, ''I'll be all right."

But on Monday, coach Lovie Smith indicated that the team would try out kickers with Gould ailing.

"Gould injuring his left calf in warmups, that's not ideal for us," Smith said.

How exactly did he hurt it?

"How do you ever hurt or injure a muscle?" Smith said. "I don't know exactly how it happened, but it happens when you're going through your normal routine on things."

Bears running back Michael Bush was on the field Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings for only 13 snaps and had only one carry for six yards.

Why the decreased workload?

MINNEAPOLIS -- Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said after the Bears' 21-14 loss against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday that he's recovering from a dislocated right shoulder.

Jennings injured his shoulder last week in the Bears' loss against the Seattle Seahawks, making a tackle late in the fourth quarter. He missed every practice before the Vikings game, but was officially ruled out on Friday.

Jennings, though, said he always hoped that he might be able to play against the Vikings. Veteran Kelvin Hayden started in his place.

"I always think there is a chance," said Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions. "Later in the week, it was getting better each and every day, but the coaches decided to let it heal, which is smart because I still have a little soreness in there."


MINNEAPOLIS -- A few weeks after sitting out with a concussion, quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a neck injury in the fourth quarter of the Bears' 21-14 loss against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome on Sunday.

Cutler was injured when he was hit in the head by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. Cutler was being pulled to the ground when Griffen struck him directly in the head, bending his neck violently backward.

"Everything is stiff," Cutler said. "It started stiffening up more and more as the game progressed, getting some spasms on the left side. I just have to take it day by day."

gould.jpgMINNEAPOLIS -- The injuries just keep mounting for the Bears. Kicker Robbie Gould suffered a left calf strain during pre-game warmups before playing the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at the Metrodome.

Gould was officially listed as questionable, but remained on the Bears' sideline. Gould attempted field goals just prior to kickoff. He could also be seen talking to the Bears' medical staff and special teams coach Dave Toub during warmups.

Punter Adam Podlesh handled the game-opening kickoff for the Bears, which resulted in a touchback. Vikings running Adrian Peterson had a 51-yard on their first play from scrimmage.

Instead of a 52-yard field-goal attempt late in the first quarter, the Bears punted.

Gould, though, kicked the extra point after the Bears scored late in the second quarter. He also warmed up on the sidelines prior to the extra point.

Gould is the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history. He entered the game Sunday with a 85.6 field goal percentage in his career.

In other injury news, the Bears lost two reserves. Safety Craig Steltz (chest) and Sherrick McManis (knee) were ruled out with injuries after halftime.

Bears seem to be using the "Randy Ratio"

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Ten years ago, then Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice trumpeted the "Randy Ratio."

The scheme - to direct 40 percent of all passes at Pro Bowl receiver Randy Moss - didn't quite work in a 6-10 season.

Viking fans, you may not care anymore, but Tice is back at the Metrodome, and he's quietly depended on "Marshall Math." Moss Vikings.jpg

The Bears offense has struggled for consistency this season, except in feeding the football to Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. He's the third-most targeted receiver in the NFL, according to STATS.

So here's the math: of the Bears 354 pass attempts, 138 of them have been aimed at Marshall. That's 39 percent. Not exactly 40 but close enough.

A few weeks ago, Tice didn't want to talk about the "Randy Ratio."

"No, no," he said. "We don't talk about that."

But the Bears have struggled to do anything else going on a consistent basis. The running game has been erratic, and no other receiver has stepped up to complement Marshall. And even another receiver is open, starting quarterback Jay Cutler clearly has more confidence in targeting Marshall instead. Two weeks ago, Marshall had 12 catches against the Vikings in a 28-10 Bears victory at Soldier Field. But he gained only 92 yards, his lowest per-catch average of the season.

Can't imagine either team expects that to happen again.

Alshon Jeffery, Dec. 7.jpgCornerback Tim Jennings officially was ruled out of Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, but wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (knee) and Devin Hester (concussion) are expected to play against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) previously were ruled out for Sunday's game. That leaves the Bears without four starters Sunday. Guard Lance Louis (knee) suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Vikings two weeks ago.

Kelvin Hayden will replace Jennings at cornerback. Nick Roach moves from the strong side to the middle to replace Urlacher. Reserve linebacker Geno Hayes will play the strong side for Roach.

Running back Michael Bush (ribs), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot) and guard Chris Spencer (knee) all practiced on a limited basis and are expected to play Sunday.

For the Vikings, wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) is out. The only other players on their injury report, including defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder/back) are probable.

Despite being without four starters, coach Lovie Smith was upbeat about his team's health going into the final four weeks of the regular season.

''We have a few injuries, but for the most part we have our team ready to go,'' he said. ''The guys are excited. You can't ask for anything more.''

Doomsday scenario: Bears could still make it at 8-8

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Bears vs. Seahawks.jpgCould the 8-4 Bears lose their final four games and still make the playoffs?

With 10 of the 16 teams in the NFC .500 or below, it's not an improbable scenario. The biggest threats would be the Redskins (6-6) and Vikings (6-6), both of whom would have to finish 7-9 because they would win 8-8 tie-breakers with the Bears. And the Redskins are on a roll with three consecutive victories behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin.

It's possible the Giants (7-5) and/or Seahawks (7-5) -- both currently in the NFC playoff bracket -- could fail to make the playoffs, which would open up an additional berth for an 8-8 Bears team to sneak in. The Giants have lost three of their last four games; The Seahawks will be without cornerback Brandon Browner, who dropped the appeal of his four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy and will miss the rest of the regular season. But both teams would win tie-breakers with the Bears and would have to finish 7-9.

linebears.jpgThings will remain the same. At least for the start of one more game for the Bears; offensive line.

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said the Bears' staff felt that their patchwork offensive line held up well against the Seattle Seahawks and that they don't envision making changes for this Sunday against the Vikings in Minneapolis.

"We felt like the line played solid football -- certainly not great football, but solid football," Tice said. "Any time with a line, you want to have the same guys in there, so there's no sense at this point of the week making any drastic changes. We're just trying to keep building on some of the things we've done the last two weeks."

So for the time being, the Bears will stick with a line of J'Marcus Webb, Edwin Williams, Roberto Garza, Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott.

The Bears excelled in pass protection. The Seahawks didn't record a true sack of quarterback Jay Cutler, whose fourth-quarter fumble led to Seattle being credited with one.

The 23-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday was a costly one for Brian Urlacher.

Not only did the Bears middle linebacker strain his right hamstring, Urlacher was also fined $21,000 for a horse collar tackle on Seahawks running back Leon Washington late in the second quarter, according to a league source. Urlacher Hammy.jpg

That's his second violation in as many weeks.

On the play, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed a screen pass to Washington on 2nd and 8 from Seattle's 39-yard line. Urlacher appeared to grab Washington in the back and pulled him down, with the running back landing on top of him.

Urlacher was fined $15,750 the week before for a horse collar tackle against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. It's believed he won his appeal and had that one reduced.

According to the 2012 fine schedule, a second horse collar tackle offense costs $31,500. But Urlacher was fined $21,000 instead. He'll likely appeal that one, as well.

Urlacher is expected to miss at least three games with a right hamstring strain. Nick Roach will start in his place.

Bears haven't beaten anybody, but they're not alone

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Bears vs. Andrew Luck.jpgLosses to the Texans (11-1), 49ers (8-3-1) and Seahawks (7-5) in the last month has added more legitimacy to a common criticism of the Bears -- they haven't beaten anybody.

After losing to the Seahawks in overtime at Soldier Field on Sunday, the Bears are 1-4 against teams that currently have winning records. The only victory is against the Indianapolis Colts (8-4) in the season opener at Soldier Field.

Even that is a somewhat dubious achievement. Andrew Luck was making his NFL debut in that game, was playing on the road and threw three interceptions. The Colts have won seven of their last nine games. The Bears have lost three of their last four. It's looking more like they caught the Colts at the right time, just as they caught the Falcons at the right time in last season's opener.

The rematch: Didn't the Bears just play the Vikings?

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Adrian Peterson vs. Bears.pngA quirk of the NFL schedule has the Bears playing the Vikings for the second time in three weeks. Does either team have an advantage?

For the Vikings, the 28-10 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field on Nov. 25 is fresh in their minds. Then again, Jared Allen's blindside hit on Lance Louis that caused Louis' season-ending knee injury is fresh on the minds of the Bears.

''I haven't been in this situation before. I really don't know,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ''I would say there's not an advantage or a disadvantage. Both teams are under the same conditions.

''We know each other well, anyway. Being a division opponent, I don't think it's going to matter an awful lot. I would like to be playing them again at Soldier Field.  But since we have to go up there, I don't think it really does [make a difference].''

Bears injuries 4x4.pngBears coach Lovie Smith didn't even offer the perfunctory ''making progress'' when announcing the injured players who did not participate in practice Wednesday. It's the wrong time of year to have a lengthy injury list.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) officially is out for Sunday's game against the Vikings at the Metrodome. Cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder), wide receivers Brandon Marshall (coach's decision) and Earl Bennett (concussion), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot) and running back Michael Bush (bruised ribs) also did not practice.

Smith's injury rundown was even more cryptic than usual.


The news that Brian Urlacher may be done for the rest of the regular season with a hamstring injury has overshadowed one big storyline of the Bears' rematch against the Vikings in Minneapolis.

The Bears get a crack at Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who ended right guard Lance Louis' season with a hit during an interception return on Nov. 25. Louis suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on the play.

Allen, though, won't exactly be looking over his shoulder this Sunday.

Why not?

"There is nothing to retaliate," Allen said during a conference call with Chicago media on Wednesday. "It wasn't malicious. It wasn't done out of ill will. We had an interception. A guy was running towards our guy to make a tackle and I threw a block. Again, like I said, my condolences are to him. The intent is never to hurt anybody. You never want to hurt anybody. Unfortunately, that's part of our game and it happened.

"But you don't go into a game wandering what if."

decicco.jpgDom DeCicco estimates that he's been 100 percent healthy for about three or four weeks now since undergoing surgery to correct a sports hernia. After getting re-signed by the Bears this week, the linebacker is hoping to show it.

"It's a chance to show them that they made the right choice in bringing me back in and it's definitely an opportunity," DeCicco said Wednesday. "I'm just trying to prove them that they made the right decision in bringing me back."

With linebacker Brian Urlacher out at least three weeks with a hamstring injury, DeCicco was brought in as insurance. Nick Roach will move from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while Geno Hayes takes Roach's spot with Urlacher out. DeCicco should back up both of them.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler directed 14 of his 26 pass attempts last Sunday to Brandon Marshall.

His BFF responded by catching 10 of them for 165 yards, including a 56-yarder that set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.

With four games remaining, Cutler isn't going to change his approach. Cutler Marshall.jpg

"The passing game's going to run through him," Cutler told Minnesota-based reporters in a conference call. "We're going to try to find ways to get him the ball and get him involved as much and as early as possible."

Marshall has 91 catches, which trails only league-leader Wes Welker by one. Marshall, though, is the NFL's third-most targeted player, behind Reggie Wayne (153) and Calvin Johnson (144), according to STATS. Marshall has been targeted on 138 passes this season.

Wayne is tied for third in the league with 88 catches while Johnson is fifth with 86.

While the Bears have lost three of the last four, the offense has played increasingly better the last two games. Much of that is because of an emphasis on shorter, quicker passes and improved pass protection.

"They're playing better. I don't know if it's because I'm yelling at them more or what's happening," Cutler said. "But guys are playing well.

"I think we have good game plans going into it. Mike [Tice has] done a great job of mixing up and spinning the play calling and keeping teams off-balance."

Why is Lance Briggs not an option to replace Urlacher?

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Briggs-Urlacher.jpgWith Brian Urlacher out because of a hamstring injury, the Bears' Plan B is set in stone: Nick Roach moves from the strong side to replace Urlacher in the middle and reserve Geno Hayes replaces Roach at the strong side.

Lance Briggs stays at the weak side. He always does.

But the question still stands: Would the Bears be better off if Briggs replaced Urlacher in the middle and Hayes replaced Briggs at the weak side?

Briggs is a seven-time Pro Bowl player at weak-side linebacker. But he's certainly qualiified to play the middle. He's a great athlete who played safety and running back in high school and fullback at Arizona before moving to inside linebacker as a sophomore. He has the experience and intelligence and is vocal enough to play the ''quarterback'' role in the defense.

Bears receiver Earl Bennett, who scored a first quarter touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks, is likely to miss Sunday's game in Minneapolis, a league source said.

Bennett didn't play in the second half of of the 23-17 overtime loss to the Seahawks with a concussion. The Bears have not played Jay Cutler, Devin Hester and Shea McClellin the game after suffering a concussion. Bennett Catch.jpg

The loss of Bennett would be a significant blow to the Bears, who are also not expected to have two key defensive starters against the Vikings. Linebacker Brian Urlacher will miss at least three games with a right hamstring strain while cornerback Tim Jennings is still struggling with a shoulder injury he suffered on a collision with Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson.

The Bears will hold their first practice of the week at Halas Hall later today.

While Bennett may be out, the Bears are hopeful that Hester and rookie Alshon Jeffery may return to action to face the Vikings in a key game. The Bears are 8-4 and tied with the Green Bay Packers atop the NFC North.

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher could miss at least the next three games with a right hamstring injury, a league source confirmed.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Urlacher has a "Grade 2" hamstring strain, citing two sources.

Urlacher suffered the injury on the second to last play of the 23-17 overtime loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks. He waved for assistance at the end of the play, which was a 12-yard completion from quarterback Russell Wilson to receiver Jonathan Baldwin. On the next play, receiver Sidney Rice scored the game-winner from 13 yards out.

Urlacher leads the Bears with 88 tackles, and he's tied with Lance Briggs for a team-high seven tackles for loss. Urlacher also has four quarterback pressures, one interception, seven passes defended, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

The Bears are expected to start Nick Roach at middle linebacker and slide veteran Geno Hayes to strongside linebacker.

For depth, the Bears re-signed Dom DeCicco today.

The Bears enter a crucial stretch in the regular season. Currently 8-4, the Bears head to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday then return for a game at Soldier Field against the Green Bay Packers. Then, the Bears finish on the road in Arizona and Detroit.

It was a good sign that Bears kick returner/receiver Devin Hester was out and about Tuesday as he continues to recover from his concussion.

In front of a jubilant crowd of students, Hester presented Calumet PSD 132 with a $10,000 NFL Play 60 grant for health and wellness programming.

"For any Chicago Bear player to come in here and present an award to these guys, it's a big honor," Hester said.

As far as his own health, Hester is taking things one day at a time. He suffered his concussion in the Bears' victory against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 25. He sat out the Bears' loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and hasn't practiced since getting diagnosed with a concussion.

"I'm getting better as the days go," Hester said. "I can't really tell from this point on, but the progress is getting better and better.

"I'm playing it safe, and when the time comes when they clear me, I'll be ready."

Hester said he didn't know how many tests he has left to pass in order to play this week against the Vikings.

"Pretty much all I know is I'm getting better each and every day," Hester said.

With Brian Urlacher ailing, Bears re-sign LB Dom DeCicco

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Dom DeCicco.jpgWith Brian Urlacher's status for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings and beyond in doubt, the Bears have re-signed linebacker Dom DeCicco.

DeCicco, who played for the Bears last season after signing as an undrafted free agent, was waived with an injury settlement after suffering what eventually was diagnosed as a sports hernia in the first preseason game against teh Denver Broncos.

DeCicco became a key contributor on special teams last season. He was the Bears' second-leading special-teams tackler with 17, behind only Pro Bowler Corey Graham, who had 22.

DeCicco, a safety/linebacker for Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh, was technically the second-team middle linebacker behind Urlacher in training camp. But when Urlacher was slowed by knee problems, the Bears moved strongside linebacker Nick Roach to then middle, with Geno Hayes replacing Roach at the strong side.

Still, the Bears saw DeCicco's NFL future at linebacker in the middle.


As expected, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will appeal the $10,000 fine he was handed for taunting Minnesota Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson on Nov. 25.

"I was surprised. Actually, I was shocked by that one," Cutler said Monday during his weekly radio show with ESPN's "Waddle & Silvy" on WMVP (1000). "I didn't see that one coming. I think we'll appeal that and go through the process and we'll see what happens."

Cutler was penalized for taunting after he whimsically tossed the ball at Jefferson. Cutler stiff-armed Jefferson as he made his way out of bounds after a good scramble. He was notified last Tuesday about the fine.

The Bears were fined a total of $41,500 for actions in the Vikings game. Brian Urlacher was fined $15,750 for a horse-collar tackle on Adrian Peterson. Henry Melton was fined $7,875 for a facemask penalty against Peterson. And Eric Weems was fined $7,875 for a late hit on Jefferson.

With an evening and morning to digest the 23-17 overtime loss, Bears coach Lovie Smith still isn't sure why the defense struggled to contain Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

"I wish I knew. If I knew that, believe me, we would have done everything we possibly could to contain him," Smith said. "We contain most guys but sometimes it happens like that.

"Sometimes they're better than you on that day and that's how it was yesterday." Wilson Run.jpg

Wilson kept the Bears defense off balance with his mobility and accuracy. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions as well as nine runs for 71 yards. On the final two touchdown series, Wilson was nine of 12 for 118 yards with two touchdowns, and he also ran the ball five times for 47 yards.

With injuries ravaging the team's receivers corps, the Bears leading man at the position recommended a friend of his could help Sunday.

"There are guys that are hungry. You have Joe [Anderson], a guy on our practice squad, works really hard and he's really hungry right now. Can't wait to see him. You have guys that aren't here. Free agents that are hungry. Guys like Mike Sims-Walker, my best friend, my brother. So maybe he gets a shot," Marshall said after the Bears 23-17 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. "There are guys that are hungry. It doesn't matter if it's Mike Sims-Walker that's on the street right now that's hungry or Joe Anderson who's hungry right now.

"We definitely will make the right decisions and move forward."

Bears coach Lovie Smith shot down that idea, noting that he's hopeful that Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery might return for Sunday's game. Sims-Walker.jpg

"We're going to go with the guys that we have right now. We're going to get some guys back this week and we'll be fine," Smith said. "I think sometimes when you guys are asking about certain guys - I've got a lot of old buddies, too.

"I think Brandon feels pretty good about the guys that we have here that he's playing with."

Bears receiver Earl Bennett, who scored a first-quarter touchdown, left Sunday's game with a concussion. But a league source said it was considered a "mild" one, casting hope that he could play against the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears, though, have held all players who suffer a concussion out at least one game this season.

Brian Urlacher says he has "sore hammy"

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Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher didn't finish Sunday's overtime loss, gingerly walking off the field before the final play.

"Sore hammy. It's sore," Urlacher said on Fox Chicago. "Our trainers will look at it."

Fox Chicago sports anchor Lou Canellis jokingly asked if he'd need to carry Urlacher out. Urlacher Sprint.jpg

"I'll be able to walk out. It's not an injury," Urlacher said. "It's just sore right now. That's all it is."

Nick Roach, as he did in training camp, stepped in at middle linebacker with Urlacher out. On the final play, though, Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson completed a touchdown pass to receiver Sidney Rice.

The Bears defense allowed touchdown drives of 97 and 80 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.


Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson didn't look like a rookie at all against the Bears.

Wilson completed 23 of 37 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Running the read option, Wilson also beat the Bears with his legs, gaining 71 yards on nine carries.

Wilson's poise also was exceptional. He orchestrated a 97-yard drive in the final minutes to give the Seahawks a 17-14 lead and then led them on an 80-yard game-winning drive in overtime. On those final two drives, Wilson had five runs for 47 yards and completed 9 of 12 passes for 118 and two touchdowns.

Afterward, the Bears had only great things to say about the young emerging star from the University of Wisconsin:


The Bears has to play without two starters for much of their game Sunday against Seattle Vikings. Wide receiver Earl Bennett suffered concussion, while free safety Chris Conte left with the flu.

Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery inactive for Bears

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Receivers Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery are inactive for the Bears, which means Dane Sanzenbacher should get on the field today against the Seattle Seahawks.

Sanzenbacher, who was active for all 16 games last season as a rookie and started one, has been active for only three games this season, the last Oct. 22 against the Detroit Lions. Dane Sanzenbacher.jpg

The other Bears inactives are : quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback D.J. Moore, guard Chris Spencer, defensive tackle Matt Toeaina and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu.

For the Seahawks, starting outside linebacker Leroy Hill and nickel cornerback Marcus Trufant are inactive. Starting defensive end Red Bryant, who had been listed as questionable, is active for the Seahawks.

Undrafted out of Ohio State, Sanzenbacher ended up being pressed into a lot of action in 2011. He had 27 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns.

Jeffery had a knee scope after the 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers Nov. 19. Before today's game, he was conditioning and even caught a few passes, although he looked limited in his movement. The initial timetable was two to four weeks, which means he's inching closer to a return.

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