More than anything, Sunday's game reinforced how reliant the Bears are on their special teams and defense in staking them to a lead and in some cases maintaining it as well. The Bears offense couldn't move the ball on their first drive, but Zack Bowman downed a punt at the Cardinals' 4-yard line, and two plays later, he recovered a Beanie Wells fumble for a touchdown. Quarterback Jay Cutler started the game with 10 incompletions in his first 11 attempts, a performance that could have scuttled the Bears' chances had the defense not started strong. Overall, the defense scored two touchdowns, had four sacks -- three by defensive end Julius Peppers -- and forced three turnovers in a game the Bears won by 15 points. For as much as the Bears thought their offense would carry their share of the load this season, it just hasn't developed.
The Bears' offensive line has gotten so much grief this season that it's worth noting it limited the Cardinals' aggressive and productive pass rush to one sack. Based on press statistics, that sack was the only hit Cutler took in the game. That's a pretty amazing statistic considering the Bears were starting their fifth different combination of linemen in this game because of right tackle Jonathan Scott's hamstring injury. Rookie James Brown started at left guard, Chris Spencer started at right guard and Gabe Carimi was back at right tackle. We'll see if Carimi earned back his starting job and if he can re-establish himself at this position before the offseason begins.
The Bears will be in some trouble if tailback Matt Forte doesn't make a quick recovery from sprained ankle that was significant enough to require a walking boot Sunday. Backup Michael Bush is already on injured reserve because of a rib injury, leaving the Bears with Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen as their remaining healthy running backs. Both have experience, but the Bears are literally in a must-win situation and Forte is one of their best players. Forte is pledging to be ready for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, but willpower alone can't get it done.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
We know the Bears must win this game to get in the playoffs. Do they need to win in order to save coach Lovie Smith's job as well? A loss would leave the Bears out of the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons since they reached the Super Bowl in 2006. They would become just the second team in the 23-year history of this playoff structure to miss out on the playoffs after a 7-1 start, and at best Smith would be looking at a lame duck contract for 2013. We have no idea what the McCaskey family and general manager Phil Emery are thinking, but the possibility exists that Sunday could be Smith's final game with the team.