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updated: 12/1/2013 7:39 PM

Bears' playoff hopes on life support after loss

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  • Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, after almost single-handedly lifting the Bears to victory with a pair of highlight-reel touchdown catches, can do little but look on from the sideline during Sunday's overtime.

      Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, after almost single-handedly lifting the Bears to victory with a pair of highlight-reel touchdown catches, can do little but look on from the sideline during Sunday's overtime.
    Associated Press

  • Quarterback Josh McCown walks off the field after Sunday's overtime loss to the Vikings evened the Bears' record at 6-6.

      Quarterback Josh McCown walks off the field after Sunday's overtime loss to the Vikings evened the Bears' record at 6-6.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Trestman on OT loss

 
 

Let's face it.

The Bears are just where they ought to be, sitting at .500 and on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff picture.

After playing another dreadful game, this time a 23-20 overtime loss in Minnesota on Sunday, the Bears (6-6) are -- effectively -- 2 games behind Detroit (7-5) in the NFC North.

And after losing again in the division (2-3), the Bears are 3-6 in the conference, pretty much eliminating them from any chance at a wild card.

At 9-3, Carolina has virtually ensured that two playoff teams will come from the NFC South, and of all the teams conceivably competing for the second spot, including 8-4 San Francisco (5-3 in NFC), the Bears have the worst conference record and would lose tiebreakers on that basis.

As for catching Detroit, which owns the division tiebreaker after defeating the Bears twice, the Lions look to have at least 2 victories on their schedule, meaning the Bears would have to win out against Dallas, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Green Bay to win the division or sneak into the wild card -- and even then they would need help.

That hardly seems impossible given the quality of opponent, but the Bears also couldn't finish off a Minnesota team that was 2-8-1 coming in and ranked 30th in defense.

"There's a lot of different ways it doesn't end the season," said Bears coach Marc Trestman. "There's historical points of view that show that. There's four games to go, a long way to go. We know what our record is. There's a lot of football to play."

Falling to .500 for the first time this season feels worse because the Bears were at various times 3-0, 4-2 and 6-4, but looking at it objectively the Bears had every right to lose three or four games they ended up winning.

In their final game in the Metrodome, they found just enough ways to lose a game they should have won.

"We had a lot of ways to win the game today," Trestman said. "We had opportunities in all three phases, and we didn't get it done."

It was as much on Trestman and the offensive play-calling this time as it was on the defense, which wasn't great but probably played its best game in a month.

It's no coincidence that it happened on a day when Julius Peppers showed up to play. When it happens, it's unmistakable because of the havoc he can wreak, but it happens so infrequently that it's easy to think Peppers invisible for weeks or months at a time.

And then Peppers does what he did Sunday.

With 4 sacks coming in, Peppers had 2 sacks, 8 tackles, one stuff of Adrian Peterson for a loss and 2 pass deflections, one of which looked like it might win the game for the Bears.

With the Bears up 13-7 middle third, the Vikings were third-and-goal from the 14 when Matt Cassel had Peterson wide open out of the backfield over the middle. It looked like it might go for the score, but Peppers stuck his left paw up and knocked down the pass.

Minnesota settled for a field goal, Josh McCown hit Alshon Jeffery for the catch of the year on the next drive, a 46-yard touchdown, and the Bears were up 20-10.

Jeffery (249 yards receiving) was Megatron good Sunday. He was Larry Fitzgerald good. He was all-time Bears good. But for some reason the Bears stopped throwing the football, even with the Vikes down to their seventh- and eighth-string corners, and couldn't score again.

Minnesota drove the length of the field for a touchdown with 7:47 remaining, and then went 79 yards in the final two minutes to tie the game on a field goal and send it to OT.

The Vikings had a game-winning field goal taken off the board in overtime following a penalty, and that affected Trestman's decision to kick on second-and-7 from the 29 with 4:12 left in OT, when the Vikings knew the Bears wouldn't throw the football.

"There's no guarantee we'd get any yards on second down or third down," Trestman said. "We were in range, and we have one of the best field-goal kickers in the league. I didn't want to risk a penalty, as happened on the other side, or risk a fumble there."

Robbie Gould, who will become the most accurate place-kicker in NFL history before this season ends, missed the 47-yarder wide right, and Trestman will no doubt get skewered for that decision.

Of course, if Gould had made it, no one would be second-guessing Trestman today.

"I understand Marc's thinking on that," McCown said. "You just watched them kick and get a penalty. We have a lot of faith in Robbie. He's the best in the game. Rather than risk a mistake, give Robbie a chance to win it.

"That's not why we lost the game. Mistakes and lack of execution is why we lost. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities and we left points out there."

Yes, Minnesota gave up the fewest points it has all season, and the Bears looked again in all phases undisciplined and poorly prepared.

Making matters worse, they await the arrival of Dallas (7-5) for a Monday night game at home, with Dallas having been off since Thanksgiving.

"We can't worry about the standings," McCown said. "The standings don't matter if you don't win football games. We have to win a football game."

But after winning games they should have lost, now the Bears are losing games they should win.

On the other hand, it gives them extra time to start thinking about the draft.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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