Another disappearing act for Bears

Tribune staff reporter

Adewale Ogunleye's eyes boiled with anger as he glanced at the statistics sheet. He shook his head, then fired the booklet into a nearby trash bin.

Indeed, the Bears' playoffs chances went straight into the garbage on Sunday.

All postseason hope relied on the Bears coming into Reliant Stadium and beating the Houston Texans. But a 31-24 loss left them out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The Vikings, 20-19 winners over the New York Giants, wrapped up the NFC North title minutes before the Bears-Texans game ended.

"What happened? We didn't finish," defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. "We played hard, but we didn't play hard enough.

"This is life. What changes do we need to make to be able to finish? I don't know. I'm not a head coach."

Before Ryan Longwell's 50-yard field goal won it for the Vikings, the Bears tried use their division rival's struggles as a rallying point.

"We were talking about it in the huddle, the score of the other game," Devin Hester said. "It was like, 'Hey, Minnesota's losing to New York.' That was motivation for us. But we didn't do our part."

With Tampa Bay losing to Oakland, the Bears had a remote chance for a wild-card spot, but their loss and Philadelphia's victory over Dallas in a later game secured the final wild-card spot for the Eagles, heightening the Bears' disappointment.

"All the scenarios would have been great if we would have won this game," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "None of that stuff really matters now."

The Bears played with a sense of urgency for a half. An early 10-0 lead and a hot start by Kyle Orton, featuring his 4-yard touchdown toss to Brandon Lloyd, left reason for optimism. Then the Bears succumbed to the same inconsistency that characterized their season.

A defense that was strong against the run much of the year allowed the Texans to accumulate 127 yards on the ground.

Rookie Steve Slaton's 47-yard, fourth-quarter sprint up the middle set up his 2-yard touchdown run, giving the Texans a 31-17 lead.

Houston kept the drive alive by winning a replay challenge for the first time this season. Officials overturned what was originally called a Slaton fumble—nose tackle Anthony Adams caused it and Danieal Manning recovered.

Slaton followed guard Chester Pitts and an offensive line that routinely handled the Bears up front.

The run defense "was fine," Urlacher said, "until that one run."

Actually, the defense was the Bears' biggest liability. The secondary, playing without starting safety Mike Brown, allowed Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson to catch 10 passes for 148 yards and two second-quarter touchdowns, including a 43-yarder when newly inserted safety Manning was out of position.

"I bit up on the run [fake]," Manning said. "I know what coverage we had, I just bit up on it."

Johnson couldn't believe how open he was.

"I was running a route and I saw the safety take off running down to the box, and I'm looking at him like, 'What is he doing?' " Johnson said.

Manning also fumbled away a kickoff return.

On his 3-yard TD reception before halftime, Johnson outmuscled Tillman for the ball on a fade route.

"He just made a great play," Tillman said. "I had it, and it was coming out, and I thought I knocked it out but he caught it."

Yielding 21 unanswered points forced the Bears to play catch-up the entire second half. Orton answered Ryan Moats' 2-yard touchdown run with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen, setting it up with a 37-yard completion to Hester on a deep middle route.

With 3 minutes 24 seconds remaining, Orton drove the Bears 72 yards in 11 plays, capping it with a dive in from the 1 and bringing the Bears within 31-24. But Robbie Gould's onside kick attempt bounced right to Texans receiver Kevin Walter, and the Libertyville High School grad covered it.

The Bears surrendered a season-high 455 yards to the league's third-best offense. Schaub completed 27 of 36 passes for 328 yards and wasn't sacked.

Orton completed 22 of 37 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. But he could have used more of top weapon Matt Forte, who was limited in the second half after aggravating a toe injury. Forte finished with 50 yards on 13 carries.

Forte, the team's probable offensive MVP, reflected on what could have been a better ending to a stellar rookie season.

"Some people might say I had a successful season," he said. "But from my perspective, I want to make the playoffs and make a run at the Super Bowl. That's a successful season to me."

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