Bears hold off Detroit but get no help from Packers
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Sun-Times Media December 30, 2012 11:42PM
Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) recovers a loose ball and is stopped by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the second quarter of an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Updated: December 31, 2012 12:37PM
DETROIT — The Bears couldn’t take their eyes off the TV. They watched it while getting dressed. They watched it while eating pizza. They watched it while talking to the media. They watched it while on the plane.
They watched and hoped for the Green Bay Packers — of all teams — to win. Their fate was out of their control, and they needed their hated rivals to beat the Minnesota Vikings to make the playoffs.
But in the end, they watched themselves get eliminated on a field goal by Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.
The Bears barely did their part, holding off the Detroit Lions 26-24 on Sunday at Ford Field. But the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn’t do enough to hold off the surging Vikings and running back Adrian Peterson in a 37-34 loss at the Metrodome.
The Bears finish 2012 with a 10-6 record. That’s typically a solid season and worthy of a playoff berth, but it’s deceiving. The Bears lost five of their final eight games after a 7-1 start.
“We got off to a fast start, but we also put ourselves in this situation to [need] help from another team,” cornerback Tim Jennings said.
The Bears’ skid has led to speculation about coach Lovie Smith’s future. He has one year left on his contract, but like the Bears’ season, Smith’s era might be over if general manager Phil Emery decides so. Considering the Bears have made the playoffs once since 2007, changes seem inevitable.
In some ways, the Bears’ victory Sunday was a microcosm of their season. They started fast, began falling apart, then did just enough to keep hope alive.
The Bears took a 20-3 lead thanks to takeaways, an opportunistic offense and numerous Lions blunders. But after Matthew Stafford capped three 80-yard scoring drives with touchdown passes, the Lions trailed by two with 6:55 left in the game. The Lions took possession once more but punted. The Bears held the ball the rest of the game.
Jay Cutler finished 18-for-31 for 257 yards and a touchdown. He also had a crucial 19-yard scramble on a late third down. Brandon Marshall had five catches for 42 yards, but Earl Bennett (five catches, 109 yards, touchdown) and Alshon Jeffery (four catches, 76 yards) produced. Matt Forte ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts.
Despite the production, Olindo Mare was called on five times as the offense continued to stall. He made field goals from 33, 40, 28 and 20 yards and missed from 43.
Jennings had his ninth interception, and Israel Idonije had a sack and a forced fumble to pace the defense.
“We couldn’t worry about what was going on in the game after us,” Bennett said. “We just knew we had to come here and get a win to have a chance.”
But the Bears were worried afterward. Some didn’t want to talk about a possible Vikings victory. Some seemed convinced the Packers would prevail. Defensive tackle Henry Melton said it would be “really hard” if the Bears didn’t advance.
“I feel we’re definitely a Super Bowl-caliber team,” he said. “And for us not to get in is going to be heart-breaking.”
Then it happened.