GLENDALE, ARIZ. — The Bears’ playoff hopes are still alive.
Because the Minnesota Vikings already had upset the Texans in Houston earlier Sunday, a Bears loss to the Cardinals would have eliminated them from the playoffs.
“We were focused on us,” defensive lineman Israel Idonije said. “Everything that’s going on with needing help, this and that, that’s not our focus. Our focus is in-house.
“What do we have to do as a team to win football games. That’s it.”
Though the offense started slowly, Idonije and the defense flashed their early-season brilliance, scoring a pair of touchdowns in a workmanlike 28-13 victory to improve to 9-6.
Another victory over the Lions in Detroit on Sunday could send Lovie Smith’s team to the postseason for just the second time in six seasons. But only if archrival Green Bay also knocks off the Vikings in Minnesota.
“We couldn’t really talk about all the different playoff scenarios,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We just knew we had to get in position to get that 10th win, which we’ve done.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler was nothing short of awful for the first 28 minutes Sunday, missing 10 of his first 11 passes, several of them badly, and getting sacked once.
“I had a lot of missed passes,” Cutler said. “It wasn’t pretty. I wish we had a few (plays) back, but we got the win, which is the big part.”
Go-to wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was targeted 14 times but caught just 6 passes for 68 yards, took some of blame, saying, “I stunk up the field.”
But late in the second quarter, Cutler heated up faster than a microwave. He lofted a perfectly placed ball down the sideline to a well-covered Alshon Jeffery, who made a diving catch for a 35-yard pickup.
A 16-yard bullet over the middle to Earl Bennett and then an 11-yard TD strike to Marshall in the corner of the end zone gave the Bears a 21-6 lead with 19 seconds left in the half.
Cutler was 5-for-5 on the TD drive, jacking up his passer rating from 39.6 to 81.8. He finished with a mediocre 76.8 mark, completing 12 of 26 passes for 146 yards, but he was not intercepted.
After disdaining the ground game early, the Bears got a 36-yard cutback run from Forte on the final play of the first quarter.
The Bears came out passing with no success as Cutler started off 0-for-7, including 5 passes that were intended for Marshall, who was closely covered by Patrick Peterson with safety help.
Eight of first 11 plays were passes, including a sack of Cutler.
But two plays after the long run by Forte (88 yards on 12 carries before leaving with a sprained ankle), a double-covered Marshall made a difficult adjustment to a Cutler pass over his back shoulder for a 30-yard gain to the Cardinals’ 4-yard line.
Forte scored on the next play to put the Bears up 14-3 just 1:48 into the second quarter.
That was the extent of the offense’s contribution, but it was more than enough when combined with a defense that throttled the Cardinals (5-10) and scored 14 points of its own.
Those defensive scores — the Bears now have 9, which is 1 short of the NFL record — were missing from the recent slump that included 5 losses in six games. Without defensive scores, it seems the Bears struggle to win.
“We always feel that way,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “It just gives us a better chance to win games when we score.”
That was the formula that helped the Bears to a 7-1 start: getting take-aways and scoring defensive touchdowns against bad teams.
Sunday it helped them jump out to a 7-0 lead. Cardinals running back Beanie Wells fumbled without being touched just outside his own end zone, when his knee buckled, and Bears cornerback Zack Bowman recovered at the 1 and fell into the end zone.
“Hey, Johnny on the spot,” said Bowman, who set the play up by downing Adam Podlesh’s punt at the 4-yard line. “It’s the giving time, it’s the holidays, and I got my Christmas present early. I appreciate it.”
The Bears went back to the same formula to put the game out of reach early in the third quarter, when Charles Tillman stepped in front of a pass intended for Andre Roberts and waltzed 10 yards into the end zone for a 28-6 lead.
The defense also limited Arizona to 29 rushing yards on 19 carries, a 1.5-yard average. And it sacked rookie starter Ryan Lindley (55.0 passer rating) twice and forced the Cards to pull him in favor of Brian Hoyer (51.4 passer rating), who also was sacked twice and picked off once (by Kelvin Hayden).
“They had a young quarterback in, and he had to have a bad game,” Bowman said. “That’s what we talked about all week.”
Now the Bears have to defeat the Lions and play the unlikely role of rooting for the hated Packers to help them out.
“I’ve always been a big Packers fan,” Smith said, drawing big laughs. “It won’t be hard. But all we can do is win against Detroit.”
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