Another disappearing act for Bears

Steve Slaton flattened Lance Briggs and the Bears when it counted. (Tribune photo by Scott Strazzante)

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.