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Bears their own worst enemy in 21-13 division-clinching loss to Packers

Packers running back Alex Green dives forward as Bears linebacker Nick Roach moves for stop first quarter Chicago Bears-Green Bay

Packers running back Alex Green dives forward as Bears linebacker Nick Roach moves in for the stop in the first quarter of the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game Sunday December 16, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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In the most pivotal of regular-season games against the rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears’ many maladies in recent years under Lovie Smith were on full display.

The unforced errors, such as Jay Cutler’s interception near midfield with 96 seconds left in the first half with the score tied. The repeated failure to convert short-yardage runs. And the inability to prevent Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from making clutch plays to extend drives and throw for touchdowns.

Even when the Packers handed them a couple of gifts — a fumble and a botched lateral on a punt return — the Bears only could muster two field goals. So with the 21-13 decision, the Packers (10-4) clinched the NFC North for the second consecutive season, handed the Bears (8-6) their sixth consecutive loss in the series and, for the moment, dropped them out of a playoff spot.

“It was a disappointment,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “They’re the NFC North champs, and we have to get to the playoffs a different way, and that’s the only thing we can think about right now.”

Since 1990, 37 teams have started 7-1, and just one — the 1996 Washington Redskins — has failed to reach the postseason, according to STATS.

“There’s still life, and that’s all that matters,” center Roberto Garza said. “This is a tough loss and a tough situation to be in, but anything can happen.”

Even if the Bears win their final two games, they’ll need help to make the playoffs.

The Bears actually started strong Sunday, running the ball on the first four plays and gaining 28 yards. But running back Matt Forte was stuffed on second-and-one, and Garza was flagged for a false start on third-and-one.

Two plays later, the Bears punted from the Packers’ 36-yard line.

Rodgers was brilliant again, even if he missed a couple of throws. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 291 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Cutler’s struggles against the Packers continued. He completed only 12 of 21 passes for 135 yards, and he was sacked four times. His interception late in the second quarter led to the Packers’ tiebreaking touchdown.

But the Packers provided the Bears ample chances to come back. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman forced running back Ryan Grant to fumble late in the third quarter, and linebacker Nick Roach recovered.

But after Forte was stuffed twice at the 1-yard line and Alshon Jeffery’s touchdown catch was nullified by a pass-interference penalty, the Bears settled for a 34-yard field goal by Olindo Mare.

Midway through the fourth, the Packers inexplicably attempted a lateral on a punt return, and Bears safety Anthony Walters recovered the fumble at the 16. Again, the Bears settled for a 34-yard field goal.

“You can’t rely on field goals in those situations,” Smith said. “We need to get touchdowns.”

The search for scores will continue next week at Arizona and in the season finale at Detroit.

And as receiver Brandon Marshall suggested, many jobs will be on the line.



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