Chicago Bears: 2012 Week 17 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Bears 26, Lions 24

December, 30, 2012

DETROIT -- Despite a fast start, the Chicago Bears wound up escaping Ford Field with a 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday to keep alive their hopes for salvaging the club's second consecutive late-season collapse.

The Bears scored 16 points off four turnovers, but the performance on offense didn't inspire much confidence about the club's prospects in the postseason, should it advance.

Let's look closer.

What it means: The Bears finish the season 10-6, but it's still unknown whether they did enough to advance to the playoffs. Chicago certainly took care of its part, but now it needs the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Minnesota Vikings. If the Packers defeat the Vikings later on Sunday, the Bears advance to the postseason as the sixth seed, and will face the San Francisco 49ers on the road to open the playoffs.

Diversity pays off: Jay Cutler completed passes to six receivers in the first half, which is the most he's hit in a game since the club's 21-14 loss on Dec. 9 to the Vikings. With the Lions geared up to shut down Brandon Marshall, Cutler fired a 55-yard strike to Alshon Jeffery on Chicago's first play from scrimmage before hitting Evan Rodriguez on the next play. By spreading the ball around early, Cutler opened up things for the entire team.

It's almost a given that on most passes, Cutler looks solely for Marshall. But against the Lions, Cutler gave his other receivers opportunities to make plays and they delivered. Earl Bennett caught a 60-yard touchdown from Cutler with 4:33 left in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-3 lead after Olindo Mare's extra-point kick.

With 13:37 left to play, Bennett and Jeffery had already combined for 185 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. The Bears certainly needed the contributions. With 6:50 left to play, Marshall caught a 19-yard pass, his fifth of the game. The Lions for the most part neutralized Marshall, holding him to just 42 yards receiving.

Turnover tally: The Bears scored 13 points off turnovers, but blew an opportunity to turn those giveaways into more; 28 points, potentially. Julius Peppers, Major Wright, and Eric Weems each scooped up fumbles, while Tim Jennings increased his league-leading interception total to nine with his pick in the second quarter.

Peppers' fumble recovery off a Israel Idonije sack and strip of Stafford marked the only takeaway the Bears turned into a touchdown (a 1-yard run by Matt Forte). Chicago settled for field goals on the rest. The Bears came into the game with a record of 50-12 in games in which they finished with a positive turnover margin.

Decision-making costly: During the week of preparation for Sunday's game, special teams coordinator Dave Toub talked extensively about the need for Devin Hester to make better decisions when fielding punts. Toub should've discussed decision-making on kickoffs with Hester as well. Hester fielded a kickoff 5 yards deep in his end zone and attempted to bring it out. Lions special teams ace Kassim Osgood dropped Hester on the Chicago 5, forcing the Bears to start in bad field position on their first drive of the second half.

The offense managed to move the ball 41 yards before punting after eight plays. But Hester would have given the offense a better chance to succeed by downing the kickoff for a touchback that would've given the group possession at the 20 instead of its own 5.

What's next: The waiting game as the Bears fly on a charter home that isn't even equipped with Wi-Fi to keep them connected to what's going on in some of the other games. With the Green Bay-Minnesota matchup kicking off at 4:25 p.m. ET, the Bears won't immediately know their postseason fate. But if the Packers win, the Bears will face the 49ers in the opening round of the NFC playoffs. If the Vikings win, Chicago's season ends and an offseason of uncertainty begins.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 17, Vikings 13

January, 1, 2012
Charles TillmanAP Photo/Jim MoneCharles Tillman's interception and 22-yard touchdown return gave the Bears two TDs in a span of 42 seconds in the second quarter.
MINNEAPOLIS -- From 7-3 on a roll, to 8-8 with no playoff date sums up the disappointing season of the Chicago Bears which ended on Sunday with a 17-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Bears coach Lovie Smith avoided the fourth sub-.500 season of his eight-year tenure, and the team used Sunday’s meaningless finale to take a closer look at backups such as quarterback Josh McCown, running back Kahlil Bell and nickel corner Corey Graham.

The victory takes on somewhat of a bittersweet feeling after defensive leader Brian Urlacher suffered a left knee injury in the fourth quarter on a collision with safety Major Wright, as the two attempted to intercept a Joe Webb pass in the end zone.

The significance of Urlacher's knee inury wasn't immediately known.

What it means: Nothing as it relates to this season, but Smith believes the win sets the tone for a positive offseason. The Bears consider themselves one of the league’s more talented teams, and claim to have learned from a significant rash of injuries that resulted in the club losing five starters -- quarterback Jay Cutler, left tackle Gabe Carimi, running back Matt Forte, left guard Chris Williams and receiver Johnny Knox -- to season-ending injuries.

The key now is for the front office to make the necessary moves in the offseason through free agency and the draft to bolster this team’s depth at several key positions, while seriously upgrading the talent at other spots such as receiver.

Tillman enters record books: Bears cornerback Charles Tillman tacked on another honor to his 2011 Pro Bowl season on Sunday by returning his fifth interception for a touchdown to break a team record.

Tillman snagged a Christian Ponder pass that ricocheted off the fingertips of Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, and returned it 22 yards untouched for a TD with 13:47 remaining in the second quarter to give the Bears a 14-10 lead after Robbie Gould’s extra-point kick.

Tillman’s return broke a tie for the franchise record in interception returns for TDs with Mike Brown and Benny McCrae.

Tillman has returned two INTs for TDS this season and has 535 yards in return yards over his career, which ranks as the second most in franchise history, trailing Richie Pettibon (643). He’s got 30 career interceptions.

Block party: Julius Peppers blocked his 11th career kick (second most in NFL history) Sunday when he batted away a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter by Ryan Longwell. Interestingly, the Bears have now blocked 23 kicks since 2004, which ranks as the most in the NFL over the last eight years, followed by Detroit (17), and four other teams (Arizona, Oakland, Seattle and Tennessee) with 16 apiece.

Peppers finished the season with two blocked field goals, with Israel Idonije tacking on another blocked kick in a Week 14 loss at Denver.

Peppers sighting: While we’re on the subject of Peppers, he finally made an impact on defense, too, after not registering a single statistic in the team’s Dec. 25 loss at Green Bay.

In addition to the blocked field goal, Peppers posted half a sack. He finished with 10.5 sacks on the season.

What’s next: The offseason. The Bears will hold a season-ending press conference on Monday along with exit physicals.