GLENDALE, Ariz. — Before the Bears ever took the field for Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was out testing his injured hamstring in a series of sprints and cuts.
Urlacher had already been ruled out of the game, but there remains the possibility that he could play in the season finale next week in Detroit, and in the playoffs — if the Bears make it that far.
When you live and die in a city that sheds Bear tears — a city that hasn’t tasted a title since January of 1986 — any sign of hope is a lifesaver for that annual sinking feeling.
“All we can control is what we do on the field,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “That’s where our best hope is.”
Hope is exactly what the Bears delivered with a 28-13 win over the quarterback-challenged Cardinals on Sunday. Chicago did it by following its time-tested script.
The defense forced three turnovers and scored off two of them while setting the offense up at the 10-yard line on the third.
Like he generally does when the play-calling gives him a chance, running back Matt Forte impacted the game with 12 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an ankle injury.
Receiver Brandon Marshall had an off-day by his lofty standards, catching just six balls for 68 yards, but he still hauled in the kill-shot touchdown late in the first half for a 21-6 lead.
And quarterback Jay Cutler was in classic streaky form, completing just one of his first 11 passes — a 30-yard completion to Marshall — before tossing 10 straight completions as the offense did just enough to hold its own.
This was vintage Bear football.
“I would definitely say that,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We have won a lot of games that way.”
The mission for the Bears now is simple: win one more. With the Giants losing in Baltimore on Sunday, the Bears are ahead of all but one team for the final wild card spot, the Minnesota Vikings, who stunned Vegas with a win in Houston.
If the Bears win next week in Detroit and Minnesota loses at home to red-hot Green Bay, the Bears will be in. Which of course means the Bears will have to root for their hated rivals.
“I’ve always been a big Packer fan,” Smith quipped. “It won’t be hard for me.”
Whether the Bears will have Urlacher for that game is still unclear, although Smith had to stop himself from going where he rarely goes with injury updates when asked if he was hopeful that Urlacher would be back.
“We are definitely thinking that way,” he said after Sunday’s game. “We didn’t want anyone to see him running out there, but I know he’s feeling pretty good about where he is.”
So is the Bears defense after a rash of recent, late-game failures had cast questions over this aging unit’s ability to finish games — and seasons.
Cornerback Zack Bowman staked Chicago to an early 7-0 lead when he recovered Beanie Wells’ fumble at the Arizona 1-yard line and walked those three feet into the end zone. Cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley for a pick-6 to cap the Bears’ scoring, and corner Kelvin Hayden picked off Cards backup QB Brian Hoyer, whom the team just signed last week, to set the offense up at Arizona’s 10-yard line.
“It’s Christmas time, the time of giving,” Bowman said of his easy score. “I got my gift for the year.”
With a little more luck, and another performance like Sunday’s, the Bears may be in line for a much bigger reward.
“I don’t think it’s anything that’s too big for this team,” Cutler said. “We have a lot of veterans and it’s a confident group. We knew we were going to get this one and we’re going to be confident about next week, too.”