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Bears’ win sets up dramatic final week

Published: Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(AP photo)
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (33) celebrates his touchdown with teammates Stephen Paea (92), Nick Roach (53) and Corey Wootton (98) during the second half of a game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – All together, now.

Let’s go Packers! Let’s go Pack– … Hey, where is everybody?

Not even with a trip to the playoffs at stake will the Bears openly root for their rivals in Green Bay. The Bears’ 28-13 win against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday set up a two-part scenario in order to clinch a playoff berth in the final week of the regular season.

The Bears need to beat the Detroit Lions. The Packers need to beat the Minnesota Vikings.

Fine, no chanting. But at least the Bears could admit to being Packers fans for a week.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” cornerback Tim Jennings said.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” defensive end Julius Peppers said.

Of all people, it was tight-lipped coach Lovie Smith who confronted the issue head-on.

“I’ve always been a big Packers fan,” Smith said. “It’s not odd at all for me.”

Welcome to the upside-down world of the Bears’ last-ditch playoff push.

The Bears (9-6) cleared the first hurdle to salvage their season with a dominant win against the Cardinals (5-10), who never led in front of 62,734 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium. Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall each scored on offense for the Bears, while Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman added touchdowns for the league’s highest-scoring defense.

Maybe it was the bright sun and warm temperatures that filled the stadium, or maybe it was the dearth of talent on the opposing side of the field, but the lopsided win offered midseason memories of when the Bears routed subpar teams such as Jacksonville and Tennessee.

Starting today, those days are gone.

No guarantee exists that the Bears will leapfrog the Vikings to reach the playoffs, and even if they do, they could face a first-round contest on the road in Green Bay or San Francisco.

Both venues have proved to be unfriendly this season to the Bears. They lost to the Packers by double digits at Lambeau Field in early September, and they endured their worst loss of the season against the 49ers at Candlestick Park in mid-November.

Arizona’s inexperienced quarterback tandem of Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer provided a temporary cure for the Bears’ late-season skid, but not for a mounting list of injuries.

Bears running back Matt Forte injured his ankle on the opening series of the second half and did not return to the field. Forte’s exit followed that of safety Chris Conte, who injured his hamstring late in the first half and was not able to come back.

Meanwhile, injured Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher watched the game from the sidelines and left the visitors’ locker room before media members could enter.

Forte wore a walking boot on his right ankle as he limped to his locker.

“It’s not the worst that I’ve ever felt, but it’s the third time,” said Forte, who missed a game in Week 3 because of a sprained ankle. “It’s just getting a little aggravating.”

Forte vowed to play through pain with the postseason on the line.

“Yeah, I’ll play,” Forte said.

It’s uncertain whether the same is true for Conte, who was not available after the game. He was replaced at safety in the second half by second-year player Anthony Walters, whose only previous experience on defense had come during mop-up duty in blowout games.

In his first lengthy action, Walters said, he analyzed too much and reacted too little.

“I think I did it a little bit too much,” Walters said. “I was thinking of so many different things that could happen, and really I’ve just got to focus on the [play] that we call.”

The experience should help in the regular-season finale, if necessary.

“It helps me a ton,” Walters said. “I don’t know what the deal is with Chris, but I’ll probably get more reps in practice. I think that will give me an opportunity to polish up some things.”

“If I get an opportunity to play, I’ve just got to take advantage of it. I don’t have to do anything spectacular – just be where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there.”

It’s a simple approach.

As for the Bears’ playoff status, it’s complicated.

“Unfortunately, we can’t control whether we get in or not,” Peppers said. “But we can control whether we win next week. We’ve got to be prepared to do that.”

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