GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith talked about wanting to go into the playoffs on a high, but the club appears to have achieved the opposite in Sunday's 10-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The offensive line regressed. Jay Cutler returned to playing like the turnover-prone quarterback everyone has become accustomed to, and the defense couldn't make stops when it needed to.
Let's get into this:
What it means: Nothing, considering the team had already clinched the No. 2 seed for the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye. Looking at it a little deeper, not only does the team lose the momentum it craved headed into the postseason, the Bears also suffered injuries to a pair of key backups in linebacker Nick Roach (shoulder), and rookie safety Major Wright.
No fear of Hester: Devin Hester entered the contest as arguably the hottest return man in the league, but the Packers showed no fear in kicking to him three times in the first three quarters. Hester returned two of the punts for 35 yards and called for a fair catch on another.
Packers punter Tim Masthay did a masterful job of pinning Hester near the sidelines with directional punts that limited the return man’s options, and neutralized him. Tramon Williams broke loose for the longest return of the day, a 41-yarder in the third quarter.
Turnover city: Bears nickel corner D.J. Moore forced a Packers turnover by forcing a Donald Driver fumble at the end of an 8-yard reception, with Charles Tillman diving under the pile to scoop up the loose ball, in addition to picking off a pass in the third quarter.
Coming into the game, the Bears ranked No. 3 in the NFL with 33 takeaways (13 fumble recoveries and 20 interceptions).
Tillman’s recovery and interception gave the Bears their 235th takeaway since Lovie Smith became the head coach of the Bears, which ranks as the most in the NFL over the last seven years. Over that span, the Bears have gobbled up 98 fumble recoveries and 137 interceptions.
Milestone men: Matt Forte needed just three carries to gain the 22 yards needed to reach 1,000 yards rushing for just the second time in his career, but receiver Johnny Knox -- who needed 40 yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career -- wasn't as fortunate.
After running twice for 3 yards during the Bears’ opening drive, Forte didn’t run the ball again until 2:28 remained in the first quarter, but ripped off gains of 25 and 21 yards on back-to-back handoffs to reach the milestone.
Forte hadn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since his rookie season, when he finished with 1,238 yards.
Knox, meanwhile, was held to no catches.
What’s next: The Bears receive a seemingly perfectly-timed bye for the first round of the NFC playoffs they’ll use to heal up nicks and bruises, while making a few tweaks in different areas before the divisional round. Similar to the way the Bears performed a critical self evaluation during the regular-season bye on Oct. 31, the club needs to re-tool with adjustments both offensively and defensively by identifying strengths and weaknesses and making the appropriate changes.