Bears play for pride with postseason out of reach

The Chicago Bears thought they were headed to the playoffs not

too long ago. Now, they can forget about that.

They’ll be playing for nothing more than pride when they close

the season at Minnesota this week, trying to stop their longest

slide in nearly a decade, after their playoff hopes were dashed

with a 35-21 loss at Green Bay on Sunday night.

It’s a stunning fall for a team that was cruising along not too

long ago. Injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt

Forte led to a sharp turn, and the Bears (7-8) never found their

way.

Not since the 2002 team’s eight-game skid on the way to a 4-12

finish under Dick Jauron have the Bears dropped this many in a row.

They had not lost more than four straight since coach Lovie Smith

took over in 2004, yet everything crumbled just as they capped off

their fifth straight win.

Cutler broke his right thumb trying to help make a tackle

following an interception late in a win over the San Diego Chargers

on Nov. 20, and Chicago hasn’t won a game since. It didn’t help

that Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas

City two weeks later, leaving the Bears without their two best

offensive players. Odds are they won’t play this week either, even

if Smith wouldn’t rule them out.

Cutler is scheduled to have pins removed from his surgically

repaired thumb on Tuesday, and Smith wouldn’t say if he’ll practice

this week.

”If they’re healthy and ready to go, we won’t tell them no,”

Smith said Monday. ”But there are some other guys we feel

comfortable playing. They’re making progress, but if we had other

things on the line, we would take the same approach. We would never

stop a player that wanted to play who was healthy and really ready

to go, but I don’t know if that’ll be the case.”

The Bears are probably feeling more comfortable about

quarterback Josh McCown and running back Kahlil Bell after they

turned in solid performances.

McCown got the nod over a struggling Caleb Hanie against the

Packers and completed 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards with a

touchdown and two interceptions. Not bad for a guy who had not

taken an NFL snap since 2009 and was coaching quarterbacks at a

North Carolina high school when the Bears called last month.

Bell delivered, too.

With Marion Barber sidelined by a calf injury, Bell ran for 121

yards on 23 attempts and just might have done enough to supplant

him as the No. 2 running back behind Forte.

”I’m not interested in that,” Bell said. ”I never woke up in

the morning and said I’m going out there to be the No. 2 running

back on any team that I’ve ever been on. My goal is to be a starter

in this league, and that’s what I’m shooting for. I’m not settling

for anything less.”

Smith was impressed.

”Based on what he’s done his entire time here, you would feel

comfortable,” he said. ”With a lot of players you wonder, `Well,

can they do it?’ You may be in the backup role, but you’ve never

played. But when you get a chance to see a player in a backup role

and he performs that way, you have to be excited about his

future.”

Smith also pointed out that Barber – who missed time in the

preseason with a calf problem – has ”been injured quite a bit”

and added: ”That is a factor in determining players on your

roster, what position he has and all of that.”

He also said it’s ”just one of the things that you use to

evaluate.”

The Bears might also look at costly mental and physical gaffes

by Barber that contributed to close losses against Kansas City and

Denver.

Given all that, it’s not a stretch to think Bell could be moving

up the depth chart.

”Now that I have an opportunity, I’m just going to try to run

with it, showcase my ability,” he said.

He figures to get another chance this week and so does McCown,

with Smith dismissing the idea of giving rookie Nathan Enderle a

look. Smith also shrugged off the notion that the Bears could have

gone with McCown sooner.

”We felt like the time for Josh to play was last night,” Smith

said. ”We were giving him an opportunity to catch up a little bit.

He’d been out of football. When a guy plays the way he did last

night, you can always say that. But there was nothing . to me we

followed the proper course to get him out there on the football

team.”