Texans ruin Bears’ playoff hopes

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HOUSTON–The Chicago Bears got the help they needed to make the playoffs. They just couldn’t take advantage of it.

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HOUSTON–The Chicago Bears got the help they needed to make the playoffs. They just couldn’t take advantage of it.

Matt Schaub threw for 328 yards and two touchdown passes to Andre Johnson, and the Texans knocked the Bears out of playoff contention with a 31-24 victory on Sunday.

Minnesota beat the New York Giants to clinch the NFC North, but the Bears (9-7) could’ve made it into the wild-card game after losses by Tampa Bay and Dallas.

All Chicago had to do was beat the Texans, who were eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago. The Bears led 10-0 but then gave up 21 straight points over the next quarter and a half and never recovered.

“We didn’t seize the moment,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “We didn’t finish, plain and simple. Opportunities presented themselves, and we just didn’t get it done.”

The game followed a familiar pattern for Chicago this season. They played well at the start, struggled in the middle of the game, and needed a strong finish to try and salvage a victory.

“Every game, it’s the same stuff happening,” defensive end Alex Brown said. “It’s the same stuff happening week in and week out, and we see it and can’t correct it.”

The Bears stayed in the playoff hunt by winning their previous two games in overtime, but Houston rookie Steve Slaton sealed this one with a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left to put Houston up 31-17.

After Kyle Orton capped a last-ditch drive with a short TD run with 1:31 remaining, sure-handed Houston receiver Kevin Walter recovered the onside kick and the Texans ran out the clock.

“We’ve played pretty good at the start and finish of games,” Orton said. “We just have to find ways to make it last throughout the entire game. It seems like we go through a secondor third-quarter lapse where we don’t do a whole lot. We’ve got to find a way to get that corrected.”

The Texans (8-8) won five of their last six games and were, like the Bears, lamenting what could have been after their season finale. They’ve still never finished with a winning record or made the playoffs in seven seasons, but they rallied from an 0-4 start to reach .500 for the second straight year.

“I think we’re a better team than we were last year,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re headed in the right direction, but there’s two or three more games that you want, I want, every guy in the locker room wants, and we’ll find them.”

Having Johnson back next year will certainly be a good place to start.

He caught 10 passes for 148 yards on Sunday, his eighth 100-yard game this season. He pulled down at least 10 receptions for the seventh time this season, an NFL record, and finished with 1,575 yards, the most by a receiver since 2003.

“You know, if we would have lost the game, we would have had a losing record,” Johnson said. “So, that was a big deal to everybody, and we didn’t want to lose this game today. We started off slow, but we found a way to get it done.”

Slaton rushed 20 times for 92 yards and beat out Chicago’s Matt Forte for the rookie rushing title. Slaton ran for 1,282 yards this season; Forte finished with 1,238 yards.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself for next year,” Slaton said.

Brandon Lloyd made a leaping catch in the front corner of the end zone on Chicago’s first series. The Bears scored six touchdowns on their opening possessions this season.

Slaton caught a short pass on the Texans’ next series, but Tillman knocked the ball loose. Brown recovered and Robbie Gould kicked a 37-yard field goal to stretch the Bears’ lead to 10-0.

The Bears got the ball near midfield after a Houston punt early in the second quarter. On third down, Mario Williams tackled Orton for his 12th sack of the season.

Schaub moved Houston across midfield, then froze the Bears’ defense with a play action fake and found Johnson wide open for a 43-yard touchdown with 5:50 left in the first half.

“They got an easy one on that one,” Tillman said. “Breakdown on the coverage.”

Danieal Manning fumbled the ensuing kickoff and kicker Kris Brown recovered at the Bears 38. On third-and-goal, Johnson outfought Tillman on a timing throw from Schaub in the end zone for another touchdown.

Johnson caught multiple TDs in a game for the only time this season and the fourth time in his career.

Schaub threw long passes to Johnson and Walter on Houston’s first series of the second half. Ryan Moats capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run, his first with the Texans.

Devin Hester then caught a 37-yard pass in double coverage to move the Bears to the Texans 1 and Orton found tight end Greg Olsen open in the end zone with 5:30 left in the third quarter.

Brown kicked a 22-yard field goal with 11:55 left to put Houston up 24-17.  AP

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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