Bears still hope to salvage season

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The struggling and disappointing Chicago Bears have only one touchdown in their last two games, have lost five of six and have watched their playoff chances sink.

LAKE FOREST, Ill.  — The struggling and disappointing Chicago Bears have only one touchdown in their last two games, have lost five of six and have watched their playoff chances sink. What — if anything — can they do to salvage their season? Whether it’s unbridled optimism or blind faith, the Bears (4-6) insist they can still make a run and possibly slip into the playoffs. Chicago missed the postseason at 9-7 last year, and to get to 10 wins, all the Bears have to do is go undefeated the rest of the way. That would mean beating old nemesis Brett Favre and the Vikings twice, staring this week. Considering Minnesota is 9-1, the chances appear slim, but Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said he’s not ready to give up. "I think the day I lose hope is the day I retire," he said Monday. "I’m always hopeful. I think this team’s always hopeful. It seems like when we are hopeful, we get criticized for not being negative. … Coach (Lovie) Smith gets criticized for being so positive all the time. I think it’s great that he’s positive. That’s why he’s a good head coach." Yet even Smith, who often sees sunshine in a downpour, realizes the odds are as long as some of those passes by Jay Cutler during the 24-20 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday night. "We were 9-7 last year and weren’t able to get into the playoffs then," Smith said. "For us, I think it’s only fitting to look ahead and see what’s in front of us if we take care of business this week." What’s behind them is a long line of breakdowns in just about every area. They’ve allowed more than 40 points twice during this slide, and when the defense isn’t getting trampled, the offense is going nowhere and giving the ball away. Cutler has taken big hits and the running game has been reduced to little more than a rumor; Chicago is ranked 29th after managing 126 yards against Philadelphia, 72 coming on a single run by Khalil Bell. The Bears keep falling behind early, and Cutler isn’t helping. A big source of optimism following the blockbuster trade with Denver in the offseason, he’s been throwing too many passes to opponents while collecting a league-leading 18 interceptions. At least on Sunday he didn’t get picked off until the final minute after throwing 12 in the previous five games, although that did seal the win for the Eagles. For much of the night, he was just off target. At one point, he overthrew a wide open Greg Olsen and Devin Hester back to back on possible deep touchdown passes along the sideline, forcing Chicago to settle for a field goal. He also overthrew an open Johnny Knox on another deep ball, though Smith brushed aside those misses. The coach pointed out that Cutler led the Bears on a touchdown drive after Donovan McNabb threw a 48-yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson, giving the Bears a 20-17 lead late in the third quarter that they couldn’t protect. "He made good decisions (Sunday) night," Smith said. "He overthrew a few passes. That happens with all quarterbacks." What’s happening to the Bears is this. They’re sinking — fast. The losses are mounting and the coaches are coming under criticism, as is general manager Jerry Angelo, yet the players insist they’re not tuning out. They continue to endorse Smith. "The message is still getting across," safety Danieal Manning said. "I think the point is getting across. Right now, things just aren’t falling our way." And they’re still clinging to hope even as it fades. "We absolutely believe in ourselves," defensive tackle Israel Idonije said. On the injury front, Smith said he expects tight end Desmond Clark (neck) and safety Kevin Payne (back) to play this week after missing the Eagles game because of injuries. Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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