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NFL: Pressure mounts on Bears

Caption
(AP)
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler reacts after getting hit during the second half of a 21-14 loss to the Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis. Cutler finished the drive, but not the game.

Caution: Coaching seat may be hot.

A late-season slump by the Bears has increased pressure on everyone at Halas Hall, including Lovie Smith. The Bears (8-5) are clinging to the No. 6 playoff spot in the NFC and will need a strong finish to fend off contenders such as the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, each of which has seven wins.

Last season, Smith guided the Bears to a 7-3 start only to lose five of the final six games. This season, the Bears were 7-1 at the halfway point of the regular season but have lost four of five games.

Smith was asked Monday whether he believed his future with the team was tied to a playoff appearance.

“It’s all based on wins and losses, really,” Smith said. “And I’m OK with that.”

Jay Cutler said he expects to be ready to play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, despite a neck injury that forced him out in the fourth quarter of the 21-14 loss to Minnesota.

“Unless something drastic happens, absolutely,” Cutler said.

A look at how the Bears graded out Sunday:

Quarterbacks: B

Cutler’s 57.0 passer rating (22 of 44, 260 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) would have looked much different if his receivers had been able to secure a couple of would-be touchdowns passes. Cutler also scrambled effectively when his receivers were covered, but his highlights were overshadowed by a terrible interception he threw flat-footed in the third quarter.

Running backs: C

A big deficit never allowed the Bears to establish the run, and Matt Forte received only 13 carries for his lightest workload in 5 weeks.

Michael Bush (two snaps) met with trainers after an early 7-yard gain and watched the rest of the game from the sideline.

Receivers: C

Drops, drops, drops. Each of the Bears’ receivers let down Cutler at least once, but the most egregious errors came on possible touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery (57 snaps) and Devin Hester (54 snaps). Brandon Marshall (74 snaps) continued to amaze, particularly on a 39-yard gain in which he leaped in front of defenders A.J. Jefferson and Harrison Smith to make the catch.

Tight ends: D

For some reason, Cutler targeted Kellen Davis eight times in the passing game. He managed three catches for 25 yards. Throw in a 10-yard holding penalty on blocking tight end Matt Spaeth, and you have another day at the office for one of the Bears’ weakest groups.

Offensive line: C

If someone told Cutler his offensive linemen would allow two sacks on 44 pass attempts, he probably would have given a thumbs-up. Yet when the offensive line failed, it failed in a big way. Jonathan Scott could not maintain his block against Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who demolished Cutler with a high hit in the fourth quarter.

Defensive line: C

A run-heavy game plan made it difficult for the Bears’ front four to hassle Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.

Linebackers: B

The Bears’ linebackers faltered on the first play of the game, an Adrian Peterson 51-yard run, before recovering.

Cornerbacks: B

Ponder managed only 91 passing yards on 17 attempts, and Charles Tillman prevented the only threat of a home-run passing play as he defended a deep ball for Devin Aromashodu in the second quarter. Kelvin Hayden was OK as a replacement for injured starter Tim Jennings, but he could not prevent an 11-yard completion to Michael Jenkins on third-and-9 on the opening drive. Peterson rushed for a touchdown two plays later.

Safeties: C

Like many of his teammates, Chris Conte has picked a bad time to slump. Peterson knocked Conte to the ground with a powerful stiff-arm on his first carry, and Conte gift-wrapped a first down for the Vikings with a defensive holding penalty in the third quarter.

Special teams: B

The Bears were forced to improvise after Robbie Gould strained his left calf during pregame warmups. Emergency fill-in Adam Podlesh bounced the opening kickoff for a touchback, and his second kickoff traveled to the Vikings’ 3-yard line before a modest 21-yard return.

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