- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Bears missed out on the NFC North title and a playoff berth with the heartbreaking loss to the Packers. So their season is over, and they’ll now set upon the task of evaluating the roster internally, in addition to turning the focus toward improving for 2014. The Bears have several veterans with contracts coming to an end. So they’ll have to make a determination on which players to bring back. The club has already identified some of the veteran free agents they’d like to pursue in the spring, and the personnel staff will also now turn the focus toward the upcoming Senior Bowl and NFL combine in preparation for the draft.
No timely stops: Despite playing a fairly solid game on defense, the Bears failed in clutch situations too many times during the moment of truth. During Green Bay’s final drive, the Packers converted two fourth downs on a run by John Kuhn and a 6-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. In that same drive, Rodgers converted another third down with a 5-yard scramble, but Chicago’s defense held the Packers to minimal gains during that sequence.
Then, on what should have been the final play of the game: a fourth-and-1 with just 46 seconds left to play, Rodgers scrambled around in the pocket before firing a 48-yard bomb to a wide-open Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown. What’s worse, it appeared the Bears busted the coverage on the play as Chris Conte seemed to let Cobb run right by without the safety dropping back to account for him.
More takeaways: The Bears entered Sunday tied for 12th in takeaways, and generated two more against the Packers to run up their total on the season to 28 (nine fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions). Conte and Tim Jennings each picked off Rodgers passes, with the Bears scoring seven points off one of the miscues.
For the most part this season, the Bears have capitalized when they generate takeaways. Entering the contest ranked sixth in the NFL in points scored off takeaways (97), the Bears boosted that to 104 points when Matt Forte scored his first touchdown of the game on the drive that followed a Conte interception in the end zone.
Status of Mills unclear: Right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a foot injury during Chicago’s first possession, and was ruled out for the game. But the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately disclosed.
A rookie fifth-round pick, Mills became the starter at right tackle at the beginning of the season and started 15 games. Veteran Eben Britton filled in for Mills.
Hester tries for record: With the matchup against Green Bay potentially his last as a Chicago Bear, return man Devin Hester made a strong push to break the NFL’s record for career return touchdowns. Hester owns the NFL records for total kick return touchdowns (18) and career punt return TDs (13), but he needed only one more return score to break Deion Sanders' record for total return TDs (19).
Hester took his first kickoff 39 yards, and broke a punt return 49 yards in the third quarter. He’ll eventually break the record, but the chances of doing that as a Chicago Bear remain uncertain. Hester is in the final year of his deal, and there’s a chance either he or the club could elect to go in a different direction in 2014.
What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to clean out their lockers and likely take care of end-of-the-season physicals as their season comes to an end. The club will also hold final meetings and start the task of performing internal personnel evaluations.