Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Vikings (12.09.12)

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After their fourth loss in five games, time is running out on the Bears -- and possibly Lovie Smith's job.
After their fourth loss in five games, time is running out on the Bears — and possibly Lovie Smith’s job.

I can’t say that I was surprised by the end result of the Bears’ 21-14 loss to the Vikings on Sunday. After all, I had predicted a loss and an Adrian Peterson field day. But what was most discouraging was the manner in which it occurred.

Never did the Bears seriously threaten the Vikings. There were points in the game, of course, where the Bears were just a touchdown behind and were shutting down the Christian Ponder-led Vikings offense. But the closest the Bears came to evening up the score was when they entered the half trailing 14-7, received the second-half kickoff, and drove from their own 14-yard-line into Vikings territory on a nine-play drive that featured three first downs. It was downhill after that.

The Bears defense got punched in the mouth on the opening drive of the game when the Vikings’ Peterson busted off a 51-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Five plays later, Peterson found the end zone and the Vikings took an early lead — and the early momentum.

The offense didn’t help out, either, when on its first possession, a Cutler pass intended for rookie Alshon Jeffery was intercepted after Jeffery slipped on the play. The ball was returned to the 5-yard-line and Peterson scored three plays later.

Facing a 14-0 deficit with only six minutes off the clock could have meant almost certain doom — the feeling was sobering enough — but give credit to the Bears for fighting back and finding their pride.

Peterson still managed to have his way with the defense, but the Bears largely kept him in check, enough to force Ponder to attempt to make plays with his arm — which the Vikings quarterback could not do.

Early in the second quarter, the Bears began a drive from their own 3-yard-line and Cutler engineered a fine-looking march down the field. Brandon Marshall caught a great pass in traffic for 39 yards, Matt Forte broke off a 15-yard run, and then another Marshall catch for 23 yards put the Bears inside the Vikings red zone. Unfortunately, left tackle J’Marcus Webb was flagged for holding on that last play and after a sack, the Bears were pushed well out of field goal range.

The offense seemed to gather some momentum with that failed drive, though, and went right back to work on its next possession. Cutler connected with Devin Hester and Marshall (twice), and then found Jeffery down the sideline for a 23-yard touchdown strike.

With the momentum heading into the half and knowing that the Bears would receive the second-half kickoff, the dynamic of the game seemingly had shifted. But that feeling was only short-lived.

After the teams exchanged a few punts in the third quarter, Cutler threw a pass too high for Marshall that was intercepted and returned 56 yards for a score. That put the Vikings up for good, 21-7.

Playing from behind by two touchdowns on the road proved to be too much for the Bears. The defense got the necessary stops it needed but the offense ran out of time. Not before putting up its second touchdown of the game on a 10-play drive by Jason Campbell that ended with a 16-yard touchdown to Marshall. After a failed onside kick attempt, though, the Vikings ran out the clock.

The most discouraging aspect of Sunday’s game was the loss itself, but closely behind it was the fact that Cutler suffered another injury and had to exit the game prior to the Bears’ final drive. Cutler was being tackled from behind by Jared Allen and as he was going to the ground, defensive end Everson Griffen delivered a shot to Cutler’s head. The play was flagged, of course, but the penalty was offset by a Webb holding foul. Go figure.

Rumors began almost immediately about whether it was another concussion Cutler had suffered. But evidence countered that claim in the form of both a sideline report noting it was a neck injury, and camera shots of Cutler pointing to his neck and demonstrating how his neck flew backward on the hit. See… cameras can do more than just pick up Cutler’s demeanor and body language.

Cutler’s health is certainly a top story line moving forward, but perhaps a bigger question is can the Bears pull together and rally the troops to make a playoff run? They went from 7-1 — second-best record in the NFC — to 8-5, having lost four of their last five games. Injuries are piling up all over the place and the team seems to have lost some of its swagger.

The irony is that with one strong performance and a victory over the Packers, all of that swagger and momentum could come back quickly. But a loss would secure the NFC North title for the Packers and put the Bears on the outside of the NFC playoff race looking in.

The talk after the Vikings loss has centered around Lovie Smith’s future as Bears head coach, with the “Fire Lovie” bandwagon revving its engine and more participants climbing on board. This coming just a little more than a month after there were rumors and questions about a Smith contract extension. Even though I support Smith as coach of this team, this recent slide goes to show you why no contract negotiations — with players or coaches — should take place during a season.

Smith’s first two goals — beating Green Bay and winning the division — are both on the line next Sunday. As previously mentioned, a Packers victory over the Bears next week will clinch the division title. All that would remain is Lovie’s third — and most important — goal: winning the Super Bowl. But you can’t do that unless you get into the postseason, and the Bears have their work cut out for them.

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