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The Chicago Bears are halfway toward their best-case endgame after Thursday night's overtime victory over New Orleans.
Based on the current NFC standings and tiebreakers, the Bears essentially need to win their final four games to ensure a legitimate opportunity for a postseason berth. They've won the first two games in that stretch and have now shifted the onus to Minnesota, which has a tough matchup Sunday at Arizona.
A Bears loss Thursday night -- one that seemed likely as quarterback Kyle Orton started falling to the turf on a sack with four seconds remaining in regulation -- would have given the Vikings a chance to clinch the division as early as Sunday. At worse, the Vikings would have maintained a one-game lead in the division with two weeks left in the season. Now, the Bears would be tied for the NFC North lead if the Vikings lose to the Cardinals.
I'm sure I was not the only one who considered that scenario an impossibility during the final minute of regulation Thursday night, when the Bears displayed no interest in playing for a win until it made no sense. The Saints had run off 17 consecutive points to take a 24-21 lead, and the last thing the Bears should have been hoping for was overtime.
But Chicago took only one shot into the end zone on the 13-play drive that ended regulation. Yet the Bears inexplicably tried to squeeze in one more play with seven seconds remaining, running the risk of a pre-snap penalty that would have ended the game after a 10-second runoff. Indeed, Chicago fans watched in horror as Orton was sacked, but he was able to call a timeout with two seconds left to allow kicker Robbie Gould to send it into overtime.
I realize that sequence didn't impact the outcome of the game, but I needed to get it off my chest. Ultimately, the difference came down to the overtime coin toss and a 38-yard pass-interference call drawn by receiver Devin Hester.
In the end, we're on track for extended drama in the NFC North title chase. The Bears still need help from Minnesota to win the division championship, but they did what they had to Thursday to keep the pressure on.