Call them the Little Bears That Could. If they can, that is. The Bears (9-6) haven’t so much put on a playoff rush as they have coughed and sputtered and pulled wins out by their fingernails.
Call them the Little Bears That Could.
If they can, that is.
The Bears (9-6) haven’t so much put on a playoff rush as they have coughed and sputtered and pulled wins out by their fingernails. But they do have a three-game winning streak for the first time in three years, and one more win Sunday in Houston, plus a Minnesota loss to the Super Bowl champion Giants, will give Chicago the NFC North title. Losses by Dallas and Tampa Bay would also offer a wild card alternative.
“We’ve been finding ways to win. We’ve got to find another way to win this game,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said.
What’s wrong with the old way? The Bears have won ugly and rallied in the final seconds to edge the Saints and Packers in overtime the last two weeks, despite being outgained by more than 100 yards both times.
“That shows our mental toughness,” Ogunleye said. “We could have easily thrown it in, but instead we went out there and fought and did things to win the game. Ugly win, that shouldn’t be a statement. Any of those games we lost early, I would love to have had an ugly win.”
The Texans (7-8) could have used an ugly win or two, also. Instead, they’ve specialized in pretty defeats. Houston has passed for a franchise-record 4,146 yards. Andre Johnson leads the NFL with a team-record 1,427 yards receiving on 105 catches and rookie Steve Slaton has set team records with 1,190 yards rushing and a 4.8-yards per carry average.
Yet Houston has been held to 16 points or fewer in three of its last five games.
“We’re moving the ball up and down the field,” Johnson said in a conference call. “We don’t have the points to show for the yardage, but we’re hitting on all cylinders and moving the ball very well.”
The Bears have been sputtering along on one or two cylinders.
“It worked in the end. That’s all that matters,” left tackle John St. Clair said. “It’s unbelievable the resiliency we have on this team.”
Matt Forte made it work in the end last week. The rookie had 65 of his 101 total yards on Chicago’s final two pivotal drives against the Packers.
“We finally just dug deep and said we had to make the play,” quarterback Kyle Orton said. “He is certainly our work horse. We are going to give it to him in crunch situations.”
The Bears would like to take it away from Johnson, Slaton and quarterback Matt Schaub.
“We haven’t scored in a while on defense,” Ogunleye said. “This would be a good game to get back on the board.”
The Bears are tied for the NFL lead with 31 takeaways, but have only six in the last four games.
“We need to get some takeaways,” defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. “We need to get pressure. It’s a big part of our game. Whether by the front four or a blitz, we need to get pressure. We want the ball to come out quick. It allows us to make plays.”
And the offense finds a way to make plays at the finish.
“Sometimes it doesn’t start out like you want it to,” receiver Rashied Davis said. “All you can do from that point is show your character, finish and not give up.”
Orton said “the guys seem to get it done in those situations,” but he’d rather not go there.
“Hopefully, we don’t need to depend on just late in games,” Orton said. “Hopefully, we can take a lot more pride in playing a full game.”
And, with the right help, extending their season.
“It is hard to think this might be it for us, but we put ourselves in this situation,” Ogunleye said. “I have faith that everything will pan out. I think if we finish 10-6, good things will happen.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or email@example.com.
Bears keys to the game
Discover a passing game. Maybe leaving Soldier Field’s arctic conditions for Reliant Stadium’s retractable roof will help the Bears top 200 yards passing for only the second time in nine weeks. “It’s always a lot easier when everything is a lot warmer and it doesn’t take much to get warmed up,” receiver Rashied Davis said. “We love Bear weather, but as a receiver, you want to be able to get loose and run around.”
Danieal Manning, Part IV. Manning has returned at least one kickoff more than 50 yards three weeks in a row to take over the NFL lead in kick returns. Devin Hester also showed signs of life with a 24-yard punt return to set up Chicago’s game-tying, fourth-quarter TD Monday. “We’re gong to need some big returns from Devin or Danieal,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said.
Remember Steve Smith. Steve Slaton (1,190 yards, 4.8 average) scares the Bears, but Andre Johnson (1,427 yards on 105 catches) is even more dangerous. The Bears should do to Johnson what they should have done to Smith when he destroyed Chicago with 12 catches for 218 yards in an infamous playoff loss three years ago: double cover him wherever he goes.
No more brain locks. Kyle Orton has thrown eight interceptions in the last three and a half games, mostly on bad reads. But he has eight games with zero interceptions. Make it nine and the Bears should win.
— Matt Trowbridge