LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Jay Cutler said it’s on the offense now for the Chicago Bears.
The Bears are banged up on both sides of the ball, and with Brian Urlacher sidelined by a hamstring injury the defense may be without its leader for the remainder of the season.
“We have to find a way,” Cutler said Wednesday. “We got to score more points. We got to be more efficient. Third down has been getting better. First down has been getting better. Red zone when we get in there we’ve done a good job. We just got to get more points, whatever it takes.”
Mostly, they need to play to expectations. That’s something they haven’t done, and with the defense starting to show some wear and tear after leading the way in a dominant start, the Bears are looking as vulnerable as any playoff contender.
They’re tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead at 8-4, but things could get dicey if they lose at Minnesota this week.
Their only remaining home game is Dec. 16 against the Packers, who won the first meeting at Lambeau Field. After that, the Bears visit Arizona and Detroit to close out the regular season.
At the moment, they’re limping along with three losses in four games and a mounting list of injuries to go with Urlacher’s, all while trying to secure a playoff spot.
“When you start getting depleted and trying to make that run for the division, trying to position yourself for the playoffs or whatever it is, and you don’t have your main guys out there, it could be difficult,” Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said.
“At the same time, you’ve got to have that next-man-up mentality because everybody is in the league for a reason; everybody gets a paycheck. You have to step up and fill the void when need be.”
Cutler had to sit out the loss at San Francisco on Nov. 19 with a concussion and the Bears really took a beating the following week in a win over Minnesota, with Devin Hester sustaining a concussion and starting guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer suffering knee injuries.
Louis has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the remainder of the season. Spencer sat out last week’s overtime loss to Seattle. Edwin Williams started for him at left guard and Gabe Carimi got the nod at right guard for Louis. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said he doesn’t expect any lineup changes this week.
The Bears do hope to get receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee) and Hester back this week, but they could be without receiver Earl Bennett after he left the Seattle game with a concussion.
They also lost Urlacher and cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) on the final drive against the Seahawks. Neither practiced Wednesday, and coach Lovie Smith said he wasn’t sure exactly how bad Jennings’ injury is.
There’s more clarity on Urlacher, who told a Chicago TV station Tuesday that doctors expect him to miss two to four games. He has officially been ruled out for this game.
If the Bears miss the playoffs, it’s possible he has played his last down for them because of an expiring contract. For now, they will likely go with Nick Roach in the middle and move Geno Hayes into the lineup at strong side linebacker without Urlacher.
“Brian is definitely the heart of our team. I recognized that right away when I got traded here,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. “We have a lot of leaders in the locker room, just on that side of the ball alone you have Lance (Briggs), Julius (Peppers), Peanut (Charles Tillman), Tim, Nick, so there’s a lot of guys that will pick it up and make plays while he’s out.”
It would help if the offense came through, although it could be difficult against Allen and the Vikings. They kept Allen at bay last time, although he did deliver the hit that ended Louis’ season on an interception return.
The offense really hasn’t functioned the way the Bears envisioned after acquiring Marshall in the offseason and reuniting him with Cutler.
Big things were expected. They just haven’t come.
Marshall has been as advertised, but Matt Forte hasn’t really gotten going. The blocking remains a huge issue, and the offense simply hasn’t put up big numbers.
That group ranks 30th overall and 31st in the passing game. Chicago is averaging 24.5 points, but the defense has played a big role in that with seven touchdowns on interception returns.
And the Bears are averaging just 14.5 points the past four games, even though they’ve gotten off to better starts in their last two.
“Guys are going to have to step up as other guys have … and we’re just going to have to find a way,” Cutler said.