The addition of Jay Cutler was expected to help the Chicago Bears get back to the playoffs. With a month remaining in the regular season, though, the team is staring at its third straight postseason miss.
The stumbling Bears try to avoid losing five straight for the first time in more than seven years Sunday when they host the hapless St. Louis Rams.
The Cutler era in Chicago (4-7) got off to a solid start with the team winning three of its first four games, but has since gone 1-6 to essentially eliminate it from playoff discussion.
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The Bears, who haven’t made the playoffs since advancing to the Super Bowl following the 2006 season, have been out of sync since their Week 5 bye, and hit a new low in last Sunday’s 36-10 loss to Minnesota.
Chicago managed season lows of eight first downs and 169 yards, and netted a mere two yards on 12 plays after halftime. Not exactly eye-popping numbers for a team that traded for a Pro Bowl quarterback in the offseason.
“With as good a football team that I think we have in here, to go out week after week and not live up to our own expectations, that’s the tough part,” said Cutler, who threw two more interceptions against the Vikings to bring his season total to a league-worst and career-high 20.
As bad as Cutler has been, his play isn’t the only problem for the Bears, who haven’t lost five straight since an eight-game skid from Sept. 22-Nov. 11, 2002.
The once-vaunted defense gave up 537 yards last week – the most allowed by the franchise since Dec. 26, 1982, against the Los Angeles Rams – and has surrendered at least 30 points in three of the last six games.
“I think pride is going to become an issue here,” defensive end Alex Brown said. “It’s going to be heart, pride and who really enjoys playing the game of football.”
Chicago could be without Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs for this contest after he left last week’s game with a sprained left knee. This would put the Bears in a difficult position for trying to slow down the Rams‘ Steven Jackson, who is second in the NFL with 1,120 rushing yards.
Jackson rushed for 89 yards in last Sunday’s 27-17 loss to Seattle, snapping a string of five straight 100-yard games. He was bothered by back spasms earlier in the week and ran behind a makeshift offensive line with two starters inactive and center Jason Brown (right knee) sidelined near the end of the half.
Brown said X-rays showed a sprain and he hoped to be back for this game.
Jackson, who sat out last season’s 27-3 loss to Chicago with a thigh injury, has been the lone bright in an otherwise terrible season for St. Louis (1-10), losers of 20 of its last 21.
While the Rams‘ rushing offense has been a positive, the team’s defense against the run has been awful lately. St. Louis has yielded 556 rushing yards in the last three games.
“All that matters is the next snap, and we’ve got to have that mentality,” defensive end Chris Long said. “Nobody is going to dig us out of a hole except ourselves.”
Chicago’s Matt Forte will be the next running back to try and break the St. Louis defense, but the Bears have virtually abandoned their running game over the last few weeks.
Forte had 27 yards on eight carries against the Vikings, and has been limited to 135 yards on 47 attempts during the losing streak. He rushed for 139 yards on 21 attempts with two touchdowns last season against the Rams, Chicago’s second straight victory in the series after four consecutive losses.