So fitting that it comes down to Bears-Packers
So it comes down to two fabulously flawed football teams playing in Soldier Field for the NFC North championship.
Bears vs. Packers … frustrating or fitting?
Frustrating for the Bears, who could have clinched the division Sunday night but lost at Philadelphia 54-11.
Fitting for the Packers, who lost earlier in the day to Pittsburgh but always appreciates the opportunity to break the hearts of their rivals to the south.
How about both frustrating and fitting?
The Bears received an early Christmas gift when Green Bay lost Sunday and then re-gifted the generosity right back to the Packers.
So the Bears and Pack will be two barely mediocre teams playing for the title in a barely mediocre NFC North.
Actually, the Bears were less than mediocre against the Eagles. They must have really wanted the upcoming game against Green Bay to be meaningful. They had a chance to clinch a playoff berth on this night in Lincoln Financial Field and emphatically declined.
“We played a terrible football game in all three phases,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “We’ll throw this tape in the trash can.”
Take your pick of turning points: A Philly sack on the Bears’ third offensive play; Adam Podlesh’s 25-yard punt on the next snap; Julius Peppers’ offsides; the Eagles’ first touchdown …
All those occurred during the game’s first 5:06 and were followed by Devin Hester’s lost fumble on the ensuing kickoff. My goodness, the Bears ran only six plays by the time Philly had a 14-0 lead. When it was 21-0, the Eagles had edges of 9-0 in first downs, 149-4 in total yards and 9:30-4:33 in time of possession.
The Bears lost every advertised matchup.
“Nobody (on the Bears) played well enough to win tonight,” Trestman said.
Starting quarterbacks? Philadelphia’s Nick Foles was more productive than Jay Cutler. Premier running backs? LeSean McCoy was much more of a factor than Matt Forte. Rookie NFL head coaches? Chip Kelly’s team was much better prepared than Trestman’s.
The Eagles’ running game was supposed to shred the Bears’ vulnerable run defense and did. Meanwhile, the Bears’ passing game was supposed to shred the Eagles’ vulnerable pass defense and didn’t.
Now, Philly is 9-6 and looked like a playoff team but has to win at Dallas next week to qualify. Meanwhile, the Bears are 8-7 and looked like anything but a playoff team but still can qualify by beating the Packers.
This raises the question that if the Bears couldn’t play better than this against a team that isn’t even a lock yet for the postseason, why should they even bother to make the playoffs?
Well, first of all, the Bears fired Lovie Smith after last season for not qualifying in five of his last six years as head coach, so making the playoffs must mean something regardless of what happens afterward.
Then there’s the remote possibility that the Bears actually could do some early damage in early January. Division champions automatically play a home game, and for the Bears that could mean playing in frigid Soldier Field against a dome team or warm-weather team.
Not that Bears’ weather means anything anymore. But it would be better than trying to compete with, say, the Saints or 49ers without a climatic variable.
First things first, though.
The Bears will have to beat Green Bay to make the playoffs, and that hasn’t been easy lately unless Aaron Rodgers missed most of the game.
“We have to re-energize ourselves,” Trestman said. “I know the guys will come in excited to play Green Bay next Sunday.”
The NFC North has come down to whether the Bears or Packers is less fabulously flawed.