Life on the playoff periphery lasted exactly seven days.
The Bears slid back toward mediocrity Sunday, losing 17-15 to the Broncos after a two-point conversion miscommunication with 24 seconds left that would have tied the Broncos at Soldier Field.
There was, along the way, the Bears’ questionable decision to eschew a fourth-quarter field goal, two costly turnovers by Jay Cutler and an inability to make a first-time starting quarterback look like one.
The Bears’ season-long tease couldn’t reach .500, presenting the ultimate ultimatum: if the 4-6 Bears want to inch back into the outskirts of the playoff conversation, they’ll have to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night.
“It was extremely important — (a win) puts us at .500,” cornerback Tracy Porter said. “That puts our toe in the playoff race.
“Now we had a little setback we have to regroup on, on such a short week and go against Green Bay, because they’re on a little skid as well. But they’re not gonna come in feeling sorry for us, because they’re trying to get out of a hole as well.”
Playing without Matt Forte (knee) and Alshon Jeffery (groin/shoulder), the Bears season-long red zone woes continued. They kicked twice when they stalled at the Broncos’ 19 and turned another one over on downs at the 4. They tried another field goal from the 28, and Cutler fumbled at the 33.
“We’re missing some guys,” Cutler said, “but that’s nothing new.”
He hinted they could return Thursday.
“I think we’re gaining respect from the teams we’re playing,” tackle Kyle Long said. “Teams that have us on the schedule down the line are taking notice of this.”
They saw the Bears’ flaws, too. Their lone touchdown came on a two-yard Jeremy Langford run with 24 seconds remaining and down eight.
The Bears tried to eke another one out of the rookie on the two-point conversion — a pass that Cutler checked into a run play — but he was stuffed. Some offensive players appeared to have thought it was a pass play.
Share Events on The CubeThe game wouldn’t have swung on a conversion had the Bears come away from their first fourth-quarter drive with points.
After throwing two incompletions from the Broncos’ 4, Cutler — who was 18-for-32 for 265 yards, an interception and a fumble — faced fourth and goal. Rather than kick down eight, the Bears decided to call a pass play, which fell incomplete.
“I loved the call to go for it,” Cutler said. “Offensively, we just have to be better.”
The Broncos were; Brock Osweiler went 20-for-27 for 250 yards and two scores.
Guard Matt Slauson said the Bears’ early offensive mistakes have been putting too much pressure on them to rally. He hoped last week’s 37-13 win would end the trend.
“We have to keep believing,” he said. “We aren’t out of this, by any stretch.”
They know who they have to beat to get there.
“That’s the NFL — every week you play great teams,” Long said. “And sometimes you play two teams in one week that are great.”
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