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Bears officially in free-fall mode as playoff hopes end in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

Any hope of the Chicago Bears reaching the playoffs officially ended in Sunday’s 38-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium, where John Fox’s team played its most uninspired football of 2015.

Another poor start? Check. Brutal pass protection? Check. Horrible tackling? Check. Busted coverages? Check. Costly penalties? Check. Turnovers? Check.

About all Chicago did well was surprise the Vikings with an onside kick after halftime. But of course, in typical Bears fashion, Jay Cutler fumbled and gave Minnesota the ball right back.

For a club that had shown real promise, the Bears are in free fall since their upset win at Green Bay on Thanksgiving.

This is not how the Bears want to end the year. You can forget about gaining offseason momentum if they play like this against Tampa Bay and Detroit in the final two weeks.

What it means: This is the eighth time in nine years the Bears have failed to qualify for the postseason. That is remarkable when you consider that even the Lions have made the playoffs twice in five seasons. Since 1995, the Bears have gone to the playoffs four times. The 2010 NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field feels like ancient history.

What were they thinking? Here we go again. This team is not good enough to spot the opposition 10 points. But, yet again, the Bears began the game flat and allowed Minnesota to build a comfortable first-quarter lead. It’s way too easy just to blame the players. Fox has not had the team prepared to play in three consecutive weeks. The organization probably expects more from a guy with 13 years of NFL head-coaching experience.

One reason to get excited: Undrafted rookie John Timu thrived on Sunday. Tabbed to replace Christian Jones (inactive) at inside linebacker in base defense, Timu flashed on multiple occasions. Timu is not only strong enough to mix it up at the line of scrimmage, he’s quick enough to make sideline-to-sideline plays. The Bears made a smart decision by giving Timu an opportunity to play in the final three weeks of the season. He could be a keeper. Another bright spot on defense is the continued evolution of Willie Young at outside linebacker. Young joined Brian Urlacher and Steve “Mongo” McMichael as the only players in franchise history to record a sack in five consecutive games.

One reason to panic: There are literally dozens of reasons to panic, but let’s focus on the other inside linebacker -- whoa. Is it overly harsh to suggest Chicago should deactivate Shea McClellin next week, too? McClellin missed so many tackles, I lost count. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio expressed confidence in McClellin’s ability to be the long-term solution at the position. He has not shown that ability recently.

Fantasy watch: Thanks partly to leaky pass protection, Cutler finished 26-of-37 for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (93.4 quarterback rating). Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tailback Matt Forte each had touchdown receptions.

Ouch: Jeffery suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter, but later returned. The Bears listed Jeffery as having a calf injury and illness on this week’s injury report. Jeffery has been plagued by health problems all year, playing in just nine games. The club probably will be cautious with Jeffery (a soon-to-be free agent) over the final two weeks of the season.