1:00 PM ET, December 7, 2008
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
After squandering an opportunity to take control of the NFC North last week, the Chicago Bears have little margin for error over their final four games if they are to make the playoffs.
The Bears look to bounce back from last week's disappointing loss and continue their pursuit of a playoff spot on Sunday when they host the disappointing Jacksonville Jaguars, who are trying to avoid losing four straight for the first time in five years.
Chicago (6-6) plays its next three games at Soldier Field, and although it might not necessarily have to win its final four games to make the playoffs, that's the mentality the players are taking.
"Win out. Win the NFC North. We know what we have to do to get in (the playoffs)," center Olin Kreutz said.
The Bears find themselves in this position after a 34-14 loss at Minnesota on Sunday night.
Chicago entered tied with the Vikings atop the North with the chance to take a one-game lead -- which would have essentially been a two-game lead with a season sweep of Minnesota -- but left the Metrodome a game back in the standings.
The Bears appeared to be in position to take a control of the game -- and the division -- but their offense was shut down on a pivotal series in the first half.
With a 7-3 lead and five minutes left in the second quarter, Chicago had a first down at the Minnesota 1, but turned the ball over on downs. The momentum completely shifted after that, as Gus Frerotte and ex-Bear Bernard Berrian hooked up for a 99-yard touchdown pass on their first play.
"We're definitely running out of time with four games to go ... but we still have time," Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. "Nothing has been decided right now. We're one game out of first place. We need a little bit of help."
The Bears may have received a break, as the Vikings, who play winless Detroit Sunday, may be without All-Pro defensive linemen Kevin and Pat Williams for the final four games for violating the league's anti-doping policy.
Regardless of what happens with the Vikings, Chicago needs Kyle Orton and the offense to return to form.
The Bears averaged 27.9 points in their first eight games, but have been held to 14 or less in three of their last four.
Orton clearly hasn't been himself since he was carted off the field with a sprained right ankle near the end of the first half against Detroit on Nov. 2.
He sat out against Tennessee the following week, and has thrown for 418 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions -- all against the Vikings -- and has a 61.2 quarterback rating in three games since returning. He threw for 903 yards, five TDs, no picks and had a 106.2 passer rating in three games before the injury.
"When Kyle got hurt and missed that game, it kind of disrupted the rhythm," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "That's not a knock on Rex (Grossman); the rhythm of the offense was disrupted a little bit."
Orton and the offense try to get back on track against the Jaguars (4-8), who have allowed 84 points during their three-game skid.
Jacksonville had lofty expectations this season after going 11-5 in 2007 and beating Pittsburgh in the wild-card game. The Jaguars, though, have been one of the league's biggest disappointments, sitting last in the AFC South, seven games behind Tennessee.
"This is unimaginable," running back Fred Taylor said after Monday night's 30-17 loss to Houston. "We never thought before this season we'd be at this point."
The Jaguars had three turnovers on Monday, and their two touchdowns came in the final 3 minutes of the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
Jacksonville has lost four of five, and is trying to avoid dropping four straight for the first time since Sept. 7-28, 2003.
"We have to find a way to get out of this little sandtrap that we're in," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said.
Jones-Drew was limited to 49 yards on 12 carries last week, and has rushed for 119 yards on 32 attempts during the losing streak.
Chicago's rush defense is sixth-best in the league (88.8 yards per game), but has been inconsistent lately, alternating stellar and poor performances in its last four games. The Bears have allowed 189.0 yards on the ground in their two disappointing outings, but 17.0 yards in the other two games in that stretch.
The Jaguars and Bears haven't met since Jacksonville's 22-3 home win on Dec. 12, 2004. These teams have split their four meetings.
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The Bears are still very much alive in the NFC North race, but this is a must-win game, while the Jaguars continue to play out their disappointing season. Chicago's cold-weather elements will be a factor, especially because the Jaguars are coming off a short week. Both teams will rely on their running games to set up their quick, controlled passing attacks. How will the Jaguars handle the Bears' run-blitz schemes on early downs? Look for both defensive game plans to revolve around stopping the run, while playing maximum zone coverages on the back end.
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|Avg Points Allowed||22.5||21.4|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||JAX|
|Rush Yds Allowed||JAX|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Chicago leads 2-1|
|Dec 12, 2004||JAX 22, CHI 3|
|Jan 6, 2002||JAX 13, @CHI 33|