A report before Sunday's game said Mike Martz will not return next season as the Bears offensive coordinator. If a painfully bad 10-3 loss to the Chiefs at Soldier Field weighs in the final decision, perhaps he won't.
But what matters now is the Bears' final four games, and suddenly they have another obstacle to overcome as running back Matt Forte was sidelined with a sprained right knee. His availability for the remainder of the season is in question, while quarterback Jay Cutler is still wearing a cast on his right hand and uncertain about his immediate future.
The Bears (7-5) lost plenty in dropping their second straight game to an AFC West opponent, and confidence has to be at the top of the list. In a muddled wild-card race, they're fortunate the Falcons, Giants and Lions also lost to keep the Bears in the fifth seed. But the focus is within after a stunning defeat that turned on a 38-yard Hail Mary from Tyler Palko — once cut by the United Football League's California Redwoods — to Dexter McCluster on the final play of the first half.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Chris Conte batted the ball directly to McCluster, who wasn't boxed out. Chiefs coach Todd Haley, a former Bears assistant, compared it to the Shane Matthews-to-James Allen heave that helped the Bears rally against the Browns in 2001. It was in the same corner of the same end zone.
"We've done it 100 times, and it's the first time anyone has caught one," Urlacher said of batting down the ball.
While still in solid position for the playoffs, Lovie Smith's team goes on the road for three of its final four games starting Sunday in Denver. If the Bears repeat this performance, they won't win another game.
A week after the offense posted its largest yardage output of the season, it was anemic. Caleb Hanie completed 11 of 24 passes for 133 yards and received next to no help. He was sacked seven times by a Chiefs defense that entered with 13 on the season, and Roy Williams dropped a potential tying touchdown pass, allowing Jon McGraw to intercept in the end zone with 4:01 remaining.
It will be futile to consider postseason opportunities if the Bears cannot dramatically improve on offense, even if reserves are asked to play leading roles. They went 0-for-11 on third down, and Martz chose not to lean on running backs Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell in a close game, putting pressure on Hanie. A similar game plan unfolded the week before in Oakland, where Hanie also was intercepted three times.
"Don't blame one guy for this loss," Smith said. "We all have a big say in what happened today."
Forte was injured on the third possession when linebacker Derrick Johnson dived and hit him on the knee with his helmet while tackling him. He hasn't missed a game in his four-year career.
"You could see a difference," said Chiefs rookie linebacker Justin Houston, who had the first three sacks of his career. "Some of the offense went out the window when he got hurt."
Martz appeared to have a creative play call in the second quarter when Hanie threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to an uncovered Barber on fourth-and-1, but it was nullified by an illegal formation call. Barber wasn't properly aligned.
Barber had a few nice runs but ended with only 44 yards on 14 carries. Bell gained 34 yards on four carries, but his 26-yard run to the Chiefs 7 in the third quarter failed to produce points. Bell was stuffed on the next play, and Hanie was sacked twice before Robbie Gould missed a 41-yard field goal.
The Bears couldn't get one takeaway from Palko, who had three interceptions and a fumble last week against the Steelers. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 157 yards, and the Chiefs got just enough on the ground from the three-headed attack of McCluster, Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle.
Former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton came in for one play at the start of the second quarter and suffered a dislocated right index finger on a flea-flicker attempt as blitzing safety Major Wright hit him. Wright was lost during the second half with a shoulder injury, and once again $3.25 million safety Brandon Meriweather didn't play.
It's going to be a pressure-filled week at Halas Hall as the Bears prepare for Tim Tebow and the surging Broncos.
"I expect to bounce back from this game," Hanie said.
He's not alone in needing improvement.
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