Playoffs possible if Bears can find answers
There were more questions than answers at Bears coach Lovie Smith's Monday news conference.
Smith's fast-fading team faces the same problem after losing five of six games to ruin a 7-1 start and imperil its postseason plans.
The Bears, along with their NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings and the NFC East's Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants are among five 8-6 teams locked in a tight playoff race.
The sixth and final playoff spot currently belongs to the Vikings. But if the Bears win out and Minnesota loses to the Texans in Houston this week or at home against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, the Bears would pass them.
The Bears also need the Giants to lose one of their final two tests: at Baltimore against the Ravens or at home vs. the Philadelphia Eagles to slip into the No. 6 spot.
According to the team's website, the Bears also would earn a wild-card berth by winning their final two games coupled with any of the following scenarios:
•One Vikings loss and 2 Seahawks losses;
•One Giants loss and 2 Seahawks losses
•One Vikings loss, 1 Redskins loss and 1 Cowboys loss
•Two Seahawks losses, 1 Redskins loss and 1 Cowboys loss.
"We haven't gone over every scenario and how it happens," Smith said. "We just know that there's a lot of us in it. For us, it's about finishing 10-6. In order to get to 10-6, it's just about beating Arizona and getting to 9-6."
On paper, the Bears may have the easiest path to the playoffs among the five contenders, considering their opponents: the 5-9 Arizona Cardinals and the 4-10 Detroit Lions. On Sunday, the Cards ended a nine-game losing streak by embarrassing the Lions 38-10.
Smith contends he hasn't compared remaining schedules with all the other contenders.
"We're just looking at how we can get to 9 (wins)," he said. "You don't look at all the scenarios. You just look at what you need to do. We need to win a game this week, and then win another one the following week."
But considering their current malaise, it's fair to wonder if the Bears can even hold up their end of the deal by defeating two lousy teams.
They haven't scored more than 17 points in any of their last 5 losses, and Smith doesn't know what's causing the group to sabotage its own efforts.
"I can't just tell you why," he said. "I just know that it can't continue to happen for us to win these next two games."
Penalties were a problem against the Packers, starting with the opening drive when center Roberto Garza's false start at the Green Bay 31 turned a third-and-1 into a third-and-6 and resulted in a punt.
Three offensive pass interference calls against Alshon Jeffery negated a 1-yard TD and gains of 10 and 36 yards, all in the second half.
"The third-and-1 penalty, you can't do that," Smith said. "There were other penalties that we had, offensive pass interference penalties, all of those were big plays in the game."
The biggest question mark all season, the offensive line, remains a juggling act with a starting five to be named later.
Undrafted rookie James Brown got his first NFL start Sunday at left guard. Right guard Gabe Carimi was benched in favor of Chris Spencer, but later Carimi had to be reinserted at right tackle after Jonathan Scott left the game with a hamstring injury.
Carimi started the first 10 games at right tackle before he relinquished the job to Scott.
"Believe me, we would have liked to have had the same five offensive linemen start the season and finish it, but it just doesn't work that way," Smith said. "You have to get through the week, see exactly who you have and see what your options are to allow us to win a football game.
"That's what we'll do this week."
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