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Chargers’ offense is closest to Packers’ attack that Bears will see

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers ranks 18th NFL with passer rating 80.2 but he's capable much more.  |  Lenny

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers ranks 18th in the NFL with a passer rating of 80.2, but he's capable of much more. | Lenny Ignelzi~AP

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Updated: November 20, 2011 12:58AM

The Bears took a huge step toward the playoffs with their victory last week against the Lions. This week, they get a chance to take a step toward a level many people didn’t think they’d have a shot at reaching:
the Packers.

Philip Rivers and the Chargers aren’t Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. But they’re close enough to simulate the best offense in football. In fact, if you stuck around for the end of the Packers-Chargers game two weeks ago in San Diego, you saw just how dangerous the Chargers can be.

The two teams — and quarterbacks — practically switched roles in the fourth quarter. After the Packers opened a 45-24 lead with 10:37 left, Rivers led the Chargers to two touchdowns in the next four minutes — a combined 135 yards on 10 plays.

After Rivers connected with Vincent Jackson on a 29-yard touchdown pass to get the Chargers to 45-38 with 6:25 left, the Packers were rattled and Rodgers suddenly looked human. Charles Woodson returned the ensuing kickoff from just inside the end zone to the Packers’ 9.
Rodgers had an awkward scramble for two yards, a short pass to Greg Jennings for one yard and an incomplete pass intended for Jennings. The Packers had to punt.

Dangerous quarterback

Rivers couldn’t finish the job — that’s one reason the Chargers are the Chargers and the Packers are the Packers — but the flurry should have resonated in Chicago. It was a small hint that even though the unbeaten Packers are the best team in the NFL and Rodgers might be having the best season an NFL quarterback has had, they’re not invulnerable.

And it served as a warning that even though Rivers is having the worst season of his career, he’s still dangerous. In fact, during that sudden burst, the Chargers looked a lot like the Packers: Rivers to Antonio Gates, Rivers to Vincent Brown, Rivers to Gates, Rivers to Brown, Rivers to Mike Tolbert, Rivers to Jackson for the touchdown. It had all the rhythm of Rodgers to Jennings, Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, Rodgers to James Starks, Rodgers to Jermichael Finley for the touchdown.

That’s what the Bears are in for Sunday — and it’s just what they need. The Bears can’t afford to coast toward the finish line; they need to finish with a flourish. And if the offense is going to tiptoe its way toward the next level, it’s going to be the defense that carries the bigger share of the load. And you don’t get there by having your way with Blaine Gabbert and Curtis Painter.

Bears’ defense ready

The Bears are ranked 25th in the NFL in total defense, but they’re in better shape than they know. They’re conditioned to take the next step. They’re healthy. They’re rested. And no defense in the NFL has played a tougher schedule.

The Bears are the only team in the league that hasn’t played an offense ranked among the bottom 10 in the league. In fact, eight of their first nine opponents are ranked in the top half of the league in total offense, four of them among the top six.

The point is, the Bears’ defense is primed like no other in coach Lovie Smith’s eight seasons as head coach.

‘‘Yeah, we can get better,’’ linebacker Brian Urlacher said last week. ‘‘We had a good game [against the Lions], obviously. We got some takeaways and some points, [but] we always feel like we can get better. We still made a few mistakes, a few missed tackles. The effort can always be better.

‘‘I think our coaches are always going to harp on that. We could have zero loafs, and we still could be better. That’s what they say. We want to keep building on what we have now.’’

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