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JENSEN: Bears’ receivers allow shot at victory to slip through their fingers

MinnesotVikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley right breaks up pass intended for Chicago Bears tight end Kellen Davis (87) during first half

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, right, breaks up a pass intended for Chicago Bears tight end Kellen Davis (87) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

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MINNEAPOLIS — Devin Hester undressed slowly in the background as Brandon Marshall optimistically — and loudly — talked up the returner-turned-receiver’s impact and potential.

But when Marshall headed for the shower, Hester struggled to articulate his emotions beyond making no excuses for his dropped pass that likely would have resulted in a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

‘‘I don’t know, man,’’ Hester told the Sun-Times, his head down, his voice low. ‘‘I don’t know what to say right now. It’s just frustrating. We just can’t keep digging ourselves in a deeper hole. We’ve got to close this hole before it’s too late.’’

After quickly falling behind 14-0, the Bears had chances to rally throughout the second half. But their pass catchers literally dropped the ball. Over and over.

† Rookie Alshon Jeffery dropped what would have been a 39-yard touchdown pass with just more than a minute left in the third quarter.

† Tight end Kellen Davis dropped what would have been at least a 15-yard gain midway through the fourth.

† Hester dropped what would have been a 23-yard touchdown pass on third-and-six.

† On the next play, Marshall dropped a fourth-down pass that would have kept the Bears’ faint comeback hopes alive.

‘‘Nobody is perfect out here, but we have to pick each other up,’’ Davis said. ‘‘We can’t count on one guy to make all the plays all the time. Everybody has to step up and make the plays when they can. We’ve just got to get more consistent because we have the guys with the talent to do that.’’

Accountability isn’t an issue. Jeffery (‘‘I just flat-out dropped it,’’ he said), Hester (‘‘I just dropped it,’’ he said), Davis (‘‘I should have had that one,’’ he said) and Marshall accepted responsibility for their mistakes. Quarterback Jay Cutler even shifted the blame to himself when asked about the drops.

‘‘There were a lot of problems,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t play well.’’

But three games remain, and accountability must give way to consistency and reliability. Those qualities are what championship-caliber teams are made of.

The Bears entered the game Sunday tied for 20th in the NFL with 20 drops, according to STATS, well behind the league-leading Detroit Lions (36 drops). But the beleaguered Bears offense can’t afford to squander scoring opportunities, such as Earl Bennett’s drop against the Seattle Seahawks or Marshall’s against the Houston Texans.

After Marshall’s fourth-down drop, Hester slammed his helmet down, sending pieces flying in different directions. Some Vikings reveled in the moment as Hester quickly picked them up.

‘‘Just frustrated,’’ Hester said, referring to his drop on the play before.

Ever the optimist, though, Marshall talked up Jeffery, Hester and Bennett, insisting the group would raise its level of play in the final weeks of the regular season.

‘‘I’m just excited about our group and what we showed today and what we didn’t because now we understand what we are and we’re not,’’ he said. ‘‘These last three weeks are going to be tough.

‘‘The thing about this team, we have high character in this locker room. This is the type of group — of any group — to get it done down the stretch.’’

We all will find out soon enough.



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