- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Lance Briggs, LB: What’s new, right? Briggs was credited with a team-high nine tackles in basically a meaningless outing to finish the season with 89 stops. The team hasn’t yet released tackle statistics done after “coaches’ review”, but Briggs entered Sunday’s game with 113 such tackles. The Bears are one of the 28 teams that don’t acknowledge tackle statistics compiled by NFL stat crews at games as official. One of the most consistent performers on defense, Briggs is one of just five linebackers in the NFL to produce 10 or more interceptions and force 10 or more fumbles since 2003.
2. Tommie Harris, DT: Pundits kept counting him out, but the truth is Harris is playing arguably his best ball of the season. Knee issues slowed down Harris earlier in the season, and played a role in the team taking him out of the starting lineup for nine games. But he’s since regained full health, and has started four consecutive games. Harris appears to have fresh legs, and his quickness has returned. Against the Packers, Harris contributed a sack and a quarterback hurry, drawing praise from coach Lovie Smith. Harris’ resurgence comes at seemingly the perfect time.
3. Matt Forte, RB: Forte reached the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the second time in his three-year career in the regular-season finale, and truthfully, the Bears probably could have defeated the Packers had they not stopped handing the ball off to the running back. Forte has rushed for 91 yards or more in three consecutive games, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Forte blends versatility with big-play elusiveness to significantly open up the already-diverse offense. The running back said he’s never felt as fresh as he does at this point of the season, which probably doesn’t bode well for Chicago’s opponents in the playoffs -- especially with him getting an additional week of rest because of the bye.
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Problems in protection against the Packers once again significantly affected Cutler’s production. Consistency seems to be Cutler’s main issue. This season, the quarterback hasn’t put together more than two consecutive games in which he’s generated a passer rating of 100 or better. He has finished with three 100-plus passer-rating games in a row just once in his career. By comparison, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- who is on fire right now -- finished the regular season with eight such games in a row. Cutler closed the season with four consecutive games in which he threw at least one interception. So for this team to be successful in the postseason, Cutler needs to get it together.
2. Johnny Knox, WR: Knox needed just 60 yards receiving to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career, and was limited to no catches against the Packers. Coming into the game, Knox appeared to be a receiver on the rise, having scored three touchdowns in the two previous games. But the Packers completely took Knox out of the game, and the receiver’s absence took a toll on the unit’s production. Cutler targeted Knox on eight throws (not all of them were accurate), and still the receiver couldn’t come up with a catch. The team can’t afford for Knox to disappear from games in the playoffs.
3. Greg Olsen, TE: It’s not his fault that Mike Martz’s offense renders tight ends nearly useless in the passing game as receivers. Olsen finished the season having caught just one pass in four of the last six games. Then, when Olsen received opportunities in the regular-season finale, the tight end didn’t make the most of them. Olsen managed to haul in five of the six passes thrown his way, but dropped a perfectly-thrown pass for a potential long gain in the third quarter. Olsen’s size and athleticism present matchup problems the Bears can take advantage of in the playoffs, but the tight end needs to capitalize on every opportunity because in Martz’s offense, they’re certainly limited.
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