The playoffs still are a long shot for the Bears, but the Lions always provide a glimmer of hope.
After back-to-back victories over the Vikings and Buccaneers, the 5-6 Bears’ biggest obstacle to an improbable seven-game run-of-the-table that just might put them in the playoffs arguably is up next — a road game on a short week against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
The eye test says there’s no way. The Bears’ victories over the last-place Vikings and Buccaneers were as unimpressive as they come — the Bears had to overcome 10-0 deficits at home to win both games. And the Lions will be primed to reassert their playoff status after back-to-back losses to the first-place Cardinals and Patriots. They won’t be traveling on a short week. And they have Ndamukong Suh and the No. 3-ranked defense in the NFL against a Bears offense that needed a helping hand in gaining all of 204 yards Sunday against the 27th-ranked defense in the league.
Then again, they’re still the Lions. They’re the Bears of Detroit, with a history of disappointment and second-half failures that will hang over them like an ominous dark cloud until they clinch a playoff berth. The Lions have made the playoffs once in the last 14 seasons. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. They haven’t won an NFL championship since the Eisenhower administration.
With their playoff status a little shaky after two consecutive losses, the game against the Bears on Thanksgiving at Ford Field is a moment-of-truth of sorts for the Lions (7-4), too. In the Matthew Stafford era (2009-14) they are an NFL-worst 12-31 (.279) in the final eight weeks of the season. They are 1-9 in their last 10 Thanksgiving Day Games — the only victory coming against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers last year.
That, in fact, was their lone victory in the final seven weeks of last season, when the Lions went 1-6 after a 6-3 start to finish 7-9 and out of the playoffs. Firing Jim Schwartz and hiring the more even-tempered Jim Caldwell has paid off so far for the talented Lions. But they still have a lot to prove.
2. Never underestimate the parity and mediocrity of the NFL. The Bears’ five victories have come against teams with quarterbacks who rank 15th or lower in the NFL in passer rating: Matt Ryan (15th 92.5), Colin Kaepernick (16th, 92.1), Josh McCown (28th, 77.9), Teddy Bridgewater (30th, 75.7) and Geno Smith (32nd, 65.6).
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is 26th (81.0 — 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions). The Bears will face the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, who is ranked second in passer rating (111.4), on Dec. 4 at Soldier Field. Romo is 1-3 in his career against the Bears, including three consecutive losses in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
3. This is not a good sign: Jay Cutler’s 4.81 yards per attempt against the Buccaneers — an abysmal number for a player with is cap number — is his lowest since the Bears’ 40-32 loss to the Lions at Ford Field last season.
Cutler was 27-of-47 for 317 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions for a 65.6 passer rating in that game.
3a. On the other hand, one of Cutler’s most underrated performances of his Bears career came in a 24-13 loss to the Lions at Ford Field, when Cutler was under siege virtually the entire game and never flinched. He was 28-of-38 for 249 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 99.6 passer rating.
4. The Bears had hoped to take advantage of Cutler’s proficiency on the run by moving the pocket against the Buccaneers, but — like a lot of offensive plans — it didn’t quite work out. One of the few times Cutler did roll out, he hit Martellus Bennett for a 26-yard gain — his longest pass play of the game.
“We were so out of sequence in the first half, we didn’t get as much opportunity to do that,” coach Marc Trestman explained. “We hit Marty in the flat on one and Marty made a nice catch on the over route on the other one. I don’t know that we were going to run it anymore, but we were out of game plan or out of sync with our game plan in the first half.”
5. It’s going to be difficult for the Bears to make any kind of run with Brandon Marshall on tilt. Marshall had a quiet three receptions for 32 yards against the Buccaneers, committed three penalties — including two illegal blocks in the back — and was snippy and curt in a 74-second post-game interview in the locker room.
5a. That Marshall struggled with his blocking is a bit of a red flag. Marshall is the best blocking wide receiver in the NFL. Last year Marshall not only had the highest pass-blocking rating in the NFL by Pro Football Focus (18.1), but his rating was three times better than the next starting receiver (Jerricho Cotchery, 6.0). This year he again is No. 1 (7.6) but just ahead of the Cardinals’ Michael Floyd (7.4).
6. Who’d a thunk it dept.: The victory over the Buccaneers marks the third time the defense has bailed out the Bears’ once-vaunted offense this season. The Bears’ 3.6 yards per play is the lowest in a victory for any team in the NFL this season. And their 204 total yards is the second fewest in a victory (the Rams had 193 in an upset of the 49ers).
In fact, only five times has a team won with fewer than 265 total yards this season and the Bears have done it thrice: against the 49ers (216), the Jets (257) and the Buccaneers (204).
7. Maybe the Bears need another bye week, because they appear to be at a loss to explain or resolve their offensive issues. The Bears are 19th in the NFL in points scored, 16th in total offense and 14th in passing offense. In 2013 they were second in points, eighth in total offense and fifth in passing offense.
“It’s been disturbing that we haven’t been able to move the ball the way we would like to,” Trestman said. “We’ve got another opportunity Thursday to move forward and we’re going to do everything we can to get that done. It’s not what we want.”
8. While Tommie Harris in his prime was more devastating, Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff could be the Bears’ most productive defensive tackle pairing since the glory days of Steve McMichael and William Perry.
Paea is third in the NFL in sacks among defensive tackles with six after getting two against the Buccaneers on Sunday — he also had a forced fumble and two tackles-for-loss. Ratliff had one sack against the Buccaneers and has 4.5 for the season.
Ratliff, in fact, is rated 10th among defensive tackles by Pro Football Focus. He and the Lions’ top-rated Ndamukong Suh are the only tackles in the league to have a positive rating in every game this season. Paea is ranked 26th by PFF.
9. You can’t blame Trestman for refusing one final snap at the end of the first half after the Buccaneers were called for an illegal block on a kickoff after a field goal. With no option of a re-kick, the 15-yard penalty would have given the Bears one snap from their 26-yard line. The way the Bears had been going, the risk outweighed the potential reward.
“I thought it was in the best interest of our team to get off the field, get into the locker room and move forward with the day,” Trestman said.
10. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Kyle Orton bounced back from a rough game against the Dolphins to lead the Bills to a 38-3 rout of the Jets at Ford Field in Detroit on Monday night. Orton was 24-of-32 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 115.4 rating.
Orton threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions and had a career-high 142.8 rating i a 43-23 victory over the Jets on Oct. 26 at the Meadowlands. Orton is 4-3 in seven starts for the Bills. He has a career-best 96.2 passer rating (12 touchdowns, three interceptions).