Bears

Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

326451.jpg

Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
9:35 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The 2010 season has continued to play out as Lovie Smith envisioned it (or as much as it can with three losses in seven home games.) The Bears played their way into a reasonable (4-3) if not commanding position through October, then ran off a 4-0 November that carried over one week into December.

The New England game rocked them backwards but the Bears are now in a new position that has been missing in two of the last three seasons and was blown in 2008 when they had a playoff berth in front of them before a final-game loss to the Houston Texans.

Its nice to have games that mean something in December, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We havent had that in a while. Two years after the Super Bowl, we had a chance to go to the playoffs, and we lost that game at Houston.

But to have a few games here at the end of the season that actually mean something, its fun. Youre practicing for a reason, for a purpose. Its easy to come to work when you know you have a goal in mind to get to, and its still attainable.

It clinching the NFC North division title for the first time since 2006 -- is indeed attainable after the Green Bay Packers teetered to the brink of playoff elimination with their loss to the Patriots. The Bears can accomplish that with a win over Minnesota.

But it is far from a given.

The 2008 missed opportunity should still be seared into their minds, losing on the road to a team that had nothing particular to play for beyond an 8-8 record, not unlike the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. It helped place Smiths job in jeopardy.

Be careful with teams like that. They got one mission and thats to start knocking off playoff teams and guys still in it will make a run for it. So weve got to take them seriously, a tough team. We played well against them the first time. Still doing a lot of similar stuff offensively and defensively.

The 1993 Dave Wannstedt Bears stood 7-5 and proceeded to lose their final four games, failing to score more than 14 points in any of them.

The 7 points scored against New England last Sunday should be an anomaly for an offense that has averaged just under 20 per game. But the home team has won 15 of the last 17 games between Minnesota and Chicago and last year it was the Bears who upset the playoff-bound Vikings, at home.

And Minnesota is the only NFC North opponent against which Smith does not own a winning record.

Playoffs is one thing that youre playing for, but theres a lot more than that, especially when youre playing a division opponent, Smith said. Well get their best effort. I dont have any doubt on that.

Whats missing? The football

The running of Adrian Peterson, the play of a rookie Minnesota quarterback (Joe Webb), the ability of the Bears offensive line to control the line of scrimmage against a stout defensive front all are points of analysis. Same with Bears LT Frank Omiyale vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen; footwear and field conditions; or Jay Cutler playing at night, which he doesnt do very well.

But Bears defensive players and coaches are of one mind on the one true key to this game and most:

Take what the offense gives you, beginning with the football.

During the Smith era the Bears are 36-7 when they have a more takeaways in a game than giveaways. They are 5-0 this season with a plus-turnover ratio.

They are also 3-2 with a negative turnover margin, a tribute to their defense delivering stops after giveaways. But they are 1-2 when the defense produces zero takeaways, which was the case against New England and Detroit the past two weeks. They were also takeaway-less in the loss to Seattle.

And that has killed not only some chances for wins. It also sapped out some of the swagger that had come to characterize the defense through the Bears winning streak.

Weve got to get takeaways, Urlacher declared. We havent gotten a takeaway in two weeks. So we need to get takeaways again, start getting to the quarterback, and just start having fun again. Were a fun group when were playing well. So weve got to start doing that again.

Peterson once could be counted on to turn the ball loose. He has not done it once yet this season.

Obviously hes very conscious of it, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. You can tell. Its not been popped out yet so its credit to him. Hes cleaned that up but part of our deal is weve got to go take it away.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

10-22johnfox.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: