Bears romp to keep playoff hopes alive
The Chicago Bears knew the score well before they took the field Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
If they lost at University of Phoenix Stadium, they'd get knocked out of the playoff race. If they won, they'd still be alive with a chance to snag an NFC wild-card berth.
The Bears, who lost five of their previous six games, breathed a sigh of relief and kept their postseason hopes in sight with a 28-13 victory.
Chicago (9-6) concludes the regular season next week with a game at Detroit. The Minnesota Vikings (9-6) finish with a home game against the NFC North champion Green Bay Packers. Should Chicago win and Minnesota lose, the Bears would clinch a postseason berth.
Is it going to be difficult for the Bears to cheer for the Packers?
"Probably, but you have to," said Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who got off to a shaky start and finished the day completing 12 of 26 passes for 146 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"Hopefully we take care of business in Detroit and Green Bay can keep playing well. They put up 55 points today (on Tennessee), so hopefully Aaron Rodgers can put on another show next week."
Before the Bears left Arizona, another scenario still existed in which Chicago could nab a wild card spot, but that involved the Seattle Seahawks losing their final two games. The Seahawks (10-5) erased that possibility by beating the San Francisco 49ers in the Sunday night game.
"We need to win our last game and we need some help," said receiver Brandon Marshall, who finished with six receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown, setting the Bears' single-season receiving-yards record in the process. "But the only thing we can control is going out there and playing against the Detroit Lions. I'm confident that our team will do what we have to do and that's all we can control."
The Bears got two touchdowns from their defense Sunday, including a 10-yard interception return from cornerback Charles Tillman, his third interception return for a score this season. The Bears now have eight interception returns for touchdowns, one shy of the NFL record.
The Cardinals (5-10) made another quarterback change en route to their 10th defeat in the past 11 games.
Rookie Ryan Lindley was benched following the pick-six and replaced by Brian Hoyer, who was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 11. Neither wound up with a passer rating above 55.
The Cardinals haven't passed for a touchdown since the second quarter of their Week 9 loss at Green Bay, a span of 26 consecutive quarters.
"It's tough, isn't it?," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I said it before, we're not getting the production out of that position and it's hard to win in this league if you don't do better from that standpoint. ... It's not fun, but we keep working at it."
With Minnesota's 23-6 upset win over the Houston Texans earlier in the day, the Bears knew coming in that a loss to the Cardinals would eliminate them from the wild-card race. They needed a win and they got it, although they lost running back Matt Forte to an ankle injury midway through the game and safety Chris Conte (hamstring) earlier.
Their status wasn't immediately known. Forte rushed 12 times for 88 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt.
"Those are two valuable players for us," coach Lovie Smith said, "but it's always about the next guy stepping up."
Lindley went 17-for-30 for 141 yards before being replaced by Hoyer with 12:39 remaining in the third quarter. Hoyer, who had been Tom Brady's backup in New England the past three seasons, completed 11 of 19 passes for 105 yards and one interception.
Whisenhunt wouldn't speculate on whom he would start next week against San Francisco.
"Obviously I'll feel a little more comfortable tomorrow than I do today, actually having run some plays," Hoyer said of potentially starting next week. "So we'll see what happens. That's not in my hands, so I'll prepare like I'm going to start like I always do, regardless of what I am on the depth chart."
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards.
The Bears took a 21-6 lead into halftime thanks to their first defensive touchdown of the game, plus a four-yard scoring run by Forte and an 11-yard touchdown reception from Marshall.
With Arizona facing a second-and-11 from its own 3-yard line, running back Beanie Wells slipped and fumbled. Zack Bowman recovered for the Bears and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
Wells touched the ball just once more the rest of the game. He finished with three yards on four carries.
Arizona got a 49-yard field goal from Jay Feely to cut the deficit to 7-3, but the Bears responded with a five-play, 72-yard drive, capped by Forte's short touchdown run. Forte broke off a 36-yard run to start the drive, which also featured a 30-yard catch by Marshall.
After a 35-yard field goal by Feely, the Bears answered again, this time quickly driving 80 yards on six plays, as Cutler found Marshall wide open in the corner of the end zone to make it 21-6.
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson gambled on the play, breaking inside as Marshall faded back. Safety Kerry Rhodes couldn't cover enough ground to help.
"I was supposed to be underneath looking for help over the top," Peterson said, "but they got us in a bad call and just made a play on us."
Arizona punter Dave Zastudil enjoyed a productive day. With five more punts downed inside the 20-yard line, he has 43 on the season, surpassing the NFL single-season record of 42 previously shared by three others.
The Cardinals' special teams also produced a fourth-quarter touchdown, as veteran safety Adrian Wilson blocked a 20-yard field-goal attempt by Olindo Mare, and teammate Justin Bethel returned it 82 yards for a score.
NOTES: With his first catch Sunday, a 30-yarder, Marshall surpassed Marcus Robinson's single-season franchise record for receiving yards. Robinson had 1,400 receiving yards in 1999. Marshall finished the game with 1,466 receiving yards. ... Cardinals quarterback John Skelton, who opened the season as the team's starter, was inactive for Sunday's game. It's the first time that's happened this year. ... The Bears were without injured linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring). Urlacher worked out on the field before the game, and Smith said later that the linebacker has a chance to play next week at Detroit. ... Arizona was missing safety Rashad Johnson (hamstring) and wide receiver Early Doucet (concussion). ... During the game, the Cardinals lost tight end Rob Housler to a shoulder injury.