Still reeling from Sunday's 13-10 overtime loss at Denver, described by players as shocking, the Chicago Bears convened Monday at Halas Hall with coach Lovie Smith outlining the reality of the team's now desperate situation.
"At 7-6, we're on the outside looking in," Smith said. "You lose three games in a row this time of year, you're normally not in a great position. But we are in position, and that's what we have to keep in mind."
Having dropped their third straight game since quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a thumb injury, the Bears (7-6) sit behind the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) and Detroit Lions (8-5) in the hunt for one of the two NFC wild card slots.
The Bears put together a strong performance on the road against a red-hot Broncos team, and nearly shut them out. But aside from the incomplete performance in which the Bears blew a 10-0 lead with less than three minutes remaining, the team hasn't done much to inspire confidence about its postseason prospects.
That's why the Bears need to get past the latest loss quickly, and focus on the next three opponents, starting with Sunday's foe: the Seattle Seahawks.
"I tell them it's OK to feel as bad as we felt," Smith said. "It was a terrible feeling in the locker room yesterday. We're supposed to feel that way for a while. But then we have to get over it, and move on because we've got a lot of football left to go. That's how life goes sometimes. The breaks don't go your way. We had our opportunities. We didn't get the job done."
That can't continue if the Bears expect to make a second-consecutive trip to the NFC playoffs; especially the way it unfolded Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. With 1:55 left in regulation and the Bears leading a Broncos squad with no more timeouts 10-7, running back Marion Barber ran out of bounds and stopped the clock when the team needed to keep it running to preserve the win. Barber compounded that miscue with a fumble in overtime that led to Denver scoring the winning field goal.
The gaffes overshadowed a productive outing for Barber, who ran for a game-high 108 yards while filling in for injured Matt Forte.
"That's how it goes, when you play ball. There are going to be some days like that where you have a terrible feeling deep down inside," Smith said. "It would really be bad if that was the last game that you get a chance to play. But that's not the case for us. We're going to evaluate this video like we do after every game. But then we're going to move on. That was a mistake. That shouldn't happen, but it did. You can't let it happen again."
It took backup quarterback Caleb Hanie two games to finally correct his penchant for turning the ball over, but he finally made the needed corrections and didn't throw any interceptions against the Broncos. Although Hanie missed a few throws to open targets and didn't put together a strong outing statistically, Smith indicated the quarterback has made progress.
Hanie completed 12 of 19 for 115 yards and a passer rating of 79.9, and the offense generated 10 plays of 11 yards or longer with the quarterback completing passes for seven of them. According to Smith, Hanie wasn't asked to produce the bulk of the team's offense because the game plan going in was to lean heavily on the ground game.
"I think it was a step forward," Smith said. "You look at his numbers, they weren't terrible. We protected the football. We missed a couple of throws. But most quarterbacks, you look at every game, they miss a couple of them. Caleb did some good things, got us in position. Late in the game, even on the last drive, I think he was 3 of 4 in overtime where he moved us right down the field. (When) we needed him to pass the football more, he was able to do that. Caleb did some good things in the game."
So did the defense, but the unit didn't deliver in the clutch. Smith admitted that a miscommunication in the secondary -- which rotated cornerbacks Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman throughout the game -- played a role in Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for Denver's only touchdown with 2:08 left to play. Bowman said he was in Cover-2, and multiple players said that was the call from the sideline. But everyone in the secondary wasn't playing Cover-2 on the touchdown.
"We all weren't on the same page on that play," Smith said.
The key for Smith and the coaching staff now is to get the entire team jelling again to put the Bears back on the path to the postseason.
"We have three more opportunities in the regular season starting with this one," he said. "We're finishing up with thee NFC opponents. We can't let those same mistakes continue to happen, and then we'll get back on the winning track. Now it's how we respond, and we will respond."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.