DETROIT — Talk about an odd scene in the visitors’ locker room at Ford Field — Chicago Bears players watching the televisions and rooting openly for the Green Bay Packers.
The Bears needed the Packers — playing the late afternoon game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings — to win. If not, the Vikings would make the playoffs and the Bears would be done for the season.
The Bears did what they had to do. They beat the reeling Detroit Lions, 26-24, to finish the season 10-6.
“It’s a funny feeling, waiting on Green Bay, (knowing) our rivalry,” safety Major Wright said. “But you know, right now we’ve got to become big fans.”
Added quarterback Jay Cutler: “I don’t usually say this, but ‘Go, Pack, go.’ “
Cutler’s words of encouragement didn’t help. The Vikings beat the Packers, 37-34, to claim a wild-card spot and a rematch next week in Green Bay.
The Bears’ defense forced four turnovers — an interception and three fumbles — and the offense did enough to keep their playoff hopes alive for a few more hours.
Cutler threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett, Matt Forte ran for a 1-yard touchdown and Olindo Mare kicked four field goals (33 yards, 40, 28, 20).
The Bears also held Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson to five receptions for 72 yards. Johnson needed 108 to become the first receiver in league history with 2,000 receiving yards in a season. It also snapped Johnson’s record streak of eight games with 100 yards receiving or more.
“Anytime you can hold a guy that’s trying to get over 100-some yards, you got to be able to do it,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “You don’t want him having 150 yards or whatever he needed to get 2,000 yards. We just wanted to kind of minimize his game.”
The most disappointing part for the Bears was the offense’s failure to capitalize when the special teams and defense gave them the ball deep in Lions territory three times.
“When you get the ball in the red zone, you need to get TDs, and we didn’t do a good job of that today,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “But we got the points we needed.
“Earl had a great game, especially with that long TD, but you have to give Brandon (Marshall) a lot of credit for that one. That’s not a play that is necessarily designed to go the distance, but Brandon made the block to open it up.”
The Bears would have been in a better position to make the playoffs had they played better after a 7-1 start. They went 1-5 after that, then closed out the season with two straight wins, against the Arizona Cardinals and Lions.
“To get this run going, you go to win out,” said Jennings, who had the interception to bring his season total to nine. “We needed these two wins to give us a little sense of hope, and we were able to do that.
“So now we need a little help, and got to wait and see what happens. Coming off two wins gives us a lot of confidence, and we need that.”
They also needed a Packers victory, which the Bears didn’t get.