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Sunday, December 23, 2012
Glimmer of hope not very hopeful

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If this is what hope feels like, um, yippee?

The Chicago Bears left themselves a glimmer of a chance for a playoff berth with their 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. As the saying goes, they did what they had to do.

As the saying also goes, they are still who we thought they are.

Tillman
Charles Tillman's third pick-six of the season gave the Bears nine defensive touchdowns this season, one shy of the NFL record.

The Bears defeated a bad team in much the same way they have won five previous games against non-playoff-caliber teams. They scored two defensive touchdowns. They overcame a clunky offensive effort in which they converted just 3-of-13 third-down opportunities. And in the end, they made mistakes -- this time with abysmal special teams play -- that would have doomed them against a decent opponent.

Not to be a scrooge or anything, but optimistic about their outlook? Bah, humbug.

Granted, the Minnesota Vikings' victory over the Texans in Houston was unexpected and makes things tougher as the Bears are now forced to root for a Packers' victory next week over the Minnesota Vikings. And, oh yes, they must beat the Lions in Detroit.

But they're hopeful for the return of the injured Brian Urlacher, Henry Melton and Jonathan Scott next week. And Matt Forte, who left the game early in the second half with a sprained right ankle and did not return, vows he will play next week.

"You never know in this league," Cutler said of the Bears' playoff chances.

Unfortunately, he could say the same about the Bears' offense after he completed just 1 of his first 11 passes Sunday for 30 yards (to Brandon Marshall), while his Cardinals' counterpart (Ryan Lindley), whom some on the Bears' defense could barely name, was good on 10 of his first 18 for 98 yards.

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is that the press box and Twitter world were abuzz when the Bears put together a scoring drive in the final two minutes of the first half in which Cutler completed passes to not one, not two, but THREE of his receivers (with one thrown to Forte for good measure) for a total of 76 yards.

Cutler I knew we were throwing some misses and balls were hitting the ground. You can't really worry about it. That's why I like playing with these guys. We were struggling and got in a two-minute situation and guys were still working to get open and made some catches for me.

-- Jay Cutler

"I was aware it wasn't pretty," Cutler said of the offense to that point. "I knew we were throwing some misses and balls were hitting the ground. You can't really worry about it. That's why I like playing with these guys. We were struggling and got in a two-minute situation and guys were still working to get open and made some catches for me."

Forte's play, at least, was encouraging as he broke off a beauty of a 36-yarder in the first quarter, and another for 19 yards in the second. And the offensive line could not be faulted Sunday.

"This gave us a little life," Devin Hester said of the win.

Hester, however, didn't have a single pass thrown his way and had three punt returns for 18 yards to go with one kickoff for 40. He also could fairly be blamed for the punt that bounced off D.J. Moore and ended up in the Cardinals' possession for an eventual field goal.

"On some of the returns, I could have warned our guys to get out of the way," Hester allowed.

Unfortunately, that would not have helped on Arizona's blocked field goal attempt by Bears' kicker Olindo Mare, which resulted in a fourth-quarter touchdown that did not impact the game but did serve as another reminder that the team misses Robbie Gould and will continue to miss him.

The good news is that the Bears absorbed the blunders with an ample cushion provided by none other than their defense, which scored on a fumble recovery and 1-yard roll into the end zone by Zack Bowman and the third pick-six of the season by Charles Tillman.

That pushed the total to a staggering nine defensive touchdowns by the Bears, approximately a third of their total touchdown output. Julius Peppers also had three sacks, which always helps. Can they will themselves to do it again next week and beyond?

"Our playoffs have already started," Peppers said.

Perhaps the most telling sign about the Bears right now is that more intriguing than how they will play is how the various scenarios will impact the future of coach Lovie Smith. What if the Bears win next week and still don't make the playoffs? Will management fire a 10-6 coach whom they would have to pay off to the tune of nearly $6 million? Would they fire him if the Bears squeak into the playoffs, then lose in the first round?

In both scenarios, I'm betting against it for no other reason than it's not Bears-like. In both scenarios, we're also forgetting about what's most important. But 'tis the season to be grumpy.