NFL Preview - Chicago (8-6) at Arizona (5-9)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - For the Chicago Bears, the playoffs begin now.
But unlike most tournaments, winning may not be enough to keep the Bears'
All slumping Chicago can do at this point is try to take care of things on the
field and step one is snapping a three-game losing streak this Sunday against
the Arizona Cardinals.
Not only did the playoffs seem like a foregone conclusion for the Bears
earlier this season, but a 7-1 start had the squad in control for the NFC
North crown. Those thoughts are gone now, with the Green Bay Packers having
claimed the division title for themselves with last weekend's 21-13 road
victory over Chicago.
Even more pressing for the Bears is the fact that they are now on the outside
of the playoff picture thanks to losses in five of their past six games. They
are one of four teams in the race for the conference's second wild card spot
-- the 9-5 Seattle Seahawks own the first berth -- and don't control their own
"There are a lot of 8-6 teams and that is the message and how it affects us,"
said Chicago head coach Lovie Smith. "We haven't gone over every scenario and
how it happens; we just know there are a lot of us in it. For us, it's about
finishing 10-6. In order to get to 10-6, it's just about beating Arizona and
getting to 9-6."
Smith's squad was limited to just 190 yards of offense versus the Packers,
with quarterback Jay Cutler throwing for 135 yards on 12-of-21 attempts. He
completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who
ended with six catches for 56 yards, and was also intercepted while getting
sacked four times.
Chicago was also whistled for 10 penalties for a season-high 91 yards.
"We had opportunities throughout the game that we didn't take advantage of,"
said Smith. "We were up there at first, but we had some things there that
changed momentum. Again, it's very disappointing and we have to find a
different way to make it to the playoffs now."
The Bears do seem to have a favorable schedule down the stretch as they visit
5-9 Arizona before ending the season against a hosting Detroit team that has
lost six in a row.
The extension of the Lions' misery was thanks to the Cardinals, who halted
their own nine-game slide with a 38-10 home victory over Detroit last weekend.
Arizona won for the first time since Sept. 30, the final victory of a 4-0
start. The Cardinals scored four touchdowns off four Lions turnovers,
including a pair of interceptions returned for scores by corner Greg Toler and
safety Rashad Johnson.
"This game's about winning, and when you go through a stretch like we did it's
tough," Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It's really hard, but our
guys stuck together."
Beanie Wells took advantage of some great field position to score touchdowns
from five- and one-yard out in the second quarter before logging his career
high-tying third touchdown of the game with a 31-yard run in the fourth.
Wells ran for 67 yards on 17 carries for an offense that only accounted for
196 yards in the game. Ryan Lindley won his first career game, throwing for
104 yards with an interception.
Still, the Cardinals' defense helped the club log its highest point total of
the season and avoid losing 10 in a row for the first time since 1943 when the
franchise was, coincidentally, located in Chicago.
This series dates back all the way to 1920, when both clubs were located in
Illinois. The Bears lead the all-time matchup 57-27-6 and have won five of the
past seven encounters.
The Cards won the most recent meeting 41-21 in Chicago in 2009, but the Bears
have won three of the four games played in Arizona.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Touchdowns have not come at the pace the Bears would like and the club ranks
16th in the NFL with 22.9 points per game. Chicago has scored nine touchdowns
in its last six games and has been held without a rushing score four times in
the last five outings.
Running back Matt Forte has run for 903 yards on 212 carries, but has scored
only three rushing touchdowns on the season. Michael Bush leads all Chicago
backs with five scores, but was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday due to a
Even through the struggles, Marshall has shined after being reunited with
Cutler this past offseason. He leads the league with 107 catches, already a
Bears single-season record, and has a career-high 1,398 receiving yards with
Marshall is on the verge of breaking Marcus Robinson's franchise single-season
record of 1,400 receiving yards set in 1999.
Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had a pick-six and sack in his last meeting
with the Cardinals and has logged five sacks over his last six games against
Two ball-hawking cornerbacks will take the field for this game, including
Chicago's Tim Jennings. He leads the NFL with eight picks on the season,
though he hasn't had one in the past three games.
Cards defensive back Patrick Peterson, meanwhile, has an interception in four
straight games and has seven picks on the season. He is the first Cardinals
player to log an interception in four straight games since Aeneas Williams in
1994 and is aiming to become just the fifth player in NFL history to have a
streak of five straight games with a pick.
Peterson was not among the Arizona defensive backs to score last weekend. That
list included Toler, who took his a franchise-record 102 yards for a momentum-
changing score with 30 seconds left until halftime.
Sunday's game also served as a highlight to Arizona safety Adrian Wilson's
career. He came up with a sack against the Lions and become only the sixth
player in NFL history to reach 25 sacks and 25 interceptions in a career.
"He's worked very hard for this organization for a long time and been a very
good player, as his evidenced by his Pro Bowls and all the recognition he's
gotten," said Whisenhunt. "To think that he is only the sixth player in the
history of the league to do that, that's pretty staggering. I couldn't see it
happening to a better guy."
After becoming the eighth rookie quarterback to win a game this season,
Lindley gets the call again this weekend. He seems to have no where to go but
up as his passer rating sits at 45.0 and he is averaging just 4.3 yards a
completion with six picks to zero touchdown passes.
Arizona's inefficiency in the passing game has limited stud wide out Larry
Fitzgerald to 61 catches this season for 674 yards with four touchdowns.
However, fellow receiver Andre Roberts has been a solid compliment, notching
career highs with 56 catches, 697 yards and five touchdowns.
This matchup isn't likely to feature a plethora of offense. Not only do the
Bears and Cardinals feature two of the lower-ranked offenses in football, but
both have performed well on the defensive side of things.
Arizona ranks fourth in the league against the pass and leads the NFL with 22
interceptions. The Bears are right behind with 21 picks and are tops in
football with 37 takeaways to fuel the league's fifth-ranked defense.
Cutler has thrown for 630 yards with five touchdowns and two picks in two
career starts versus Arizona, which is holding opposing quarterbacks to an
NFL-low 68.0 passer rating.
The Bears certainly have more to play for, but was a Cardinals team that
features a number of players battling for jobs next season.
"We're down, but we're not out," noted Cutler. "There are two games left. We
need to remind the guys that there are two games left, and there is a lot of
football left. We've got to get back together."
Chicago, though, has zero momentum and Cutler's play and attitude this season
have raised more questions than provided praise. A loss here would put the
final nail in the Bears' season and the Cardinals may just have the defense to
force enough mistakes and pull off the upset.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 16, Bears 14
12/20 13:47:45 ET