Last Sunday's loss at Tampa was a punch to the stomach.
Saturday's 13-3 setback against Denver in rain-soaked Soldier Field was a potentially devastating blow to the head that has the Bears feeling woozy about their playoff chances.
Coach Dave Wannstedt waited until game day to name P.T. Willis his starting quarterback. Five turnovers later, four by Willis, Wannstedt was wondering if he had made the right decision.
Willis was 14 of 29 for 120 yards. He was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and had six passes tipped at the line.
"I just didn't play well," he said. "I had an opportunity and didn't take advantage of it."
The swelling in Jim Harbaugh's bruised right hand had subsided enough for him to play, but Wannstedt told the quarterbacks Friday night Willis would start.
"Jim still had some pain in throwing during the week," Wannstedt said. "That was the basis for starting P.T. He could have played, and we talked about it at halftime. If we had scored at the end, I would have considered putting him in for a two-minute drill. But Jim is our starting quarterback, and he will start next week against Detroit."
Harbaugh appeared extremely disappointed after the game about not playing.
"My hand was sore this week, but they knew it was OK to play," he said. "If they needed me, I was ready. They told me last night I wasn't going to start. It's a two-game season now, like sudden-death playoffs. I'll try to play the best two games of my life to help this team out."
But now his thin receiver corps is even thinner after Tom Waddle went down with a hamstring injury.
"Tom is probably done for the year," Wannstedt said.
The Bears, who play host to Detroit next Sunday before winding up the regular season on the road against the Rams, converted 7 of 14 third-down situations but could not find the end zone.
"We have a lot of improvement to make in a lot of areas," said Wannstedt. "How much you can do at this point is tough to say. You can't revamp an offense, and you can't make major personnel changes. We are wounded badly now in this playoff hunt, but I told our team we are not out of it."
At 7-7, the Bears are 1 1/2 games behind NFC Central leaders Green Bay and Detroit, both 8-5. The Lions host the 49ers Sunday, while the Packers take on the Vikings in Milwaukee.
The Broncos (9-5) enhanced their AFC playoff bid by scoring their 10 first-half points after fumbles by Tim Worley and Willis.
"We were fortunate we didn't come in at halftime down by two touchdowns," Wannstedt said. "The defense played like they have all year. It's a shame when you have some great effort by a lot of individuals and it doesn't show up when the game is over."
The game's first break came when Chris Gardocki's 37-yard punt touched the Broncos' Ronnie Bradford, and Ron Cox recovered the muff at the Denver 29. The Bears advanced 15 yards on three runs by Worley, starting in place of Neal Anderson, before settling for Kevin Butler's 31-yard field goal.
The Bears drove to the Denver 13 early in the second period, converting a fourth-and-1 on the way. But Willis had a pass tipped at the line for the third time in the half. It was intercepted by end Shane Dronett, who returned it to his 25.
The Broncos couldn't captialize, but they got the ball back when Worley fumbled and linebacker Dave Wyman recovered at the Bears' 9. Richard Dent sacked John Elway (14 of 24 for 113 yards) for a nine-yard loss, and Denver settled for a 29-yard field goal by Jason Elam and a 3-3 tie with 6:28 left in the half.
Then linebacker Mike Croel sacked Willis for an eight-yard loss, stripped the ball and recovered at the Bears' 17. Rod Bernstine, who rushed for 103 yards on 20 carries, gained 16 on a sweep right to the 1, and Robert Delpino dove for the TD with 1:24 left in the half to make it 10-3.
Denver went up 13-3 on its first possession of the second half. Elway directed a 14-play, 70-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes 58 seconds and ended with Elam's 24-yard field goal.
The Bears drove to the Denver 26 early in the fourth quarter, but Willis' first-down pass to Terry Obee in the end zone was intercepted by safety Dennis Smith.
"We have to make some plays down the field-it's crazy," said Wannstedt, whose offense netted only 185 yards. "The first half, our protection was not as good as we need. The second half, it seemed like the protection was fine."
Worley rushed for 72 yards on 20 carries and caught two passes for 10 yards.
"Neal was hurting a little, but that had nothing to do with the decision to start Tim," Wannstedt said. "We felt Tim would give us a chance to make some plays in the running game. Then Neal's (back and abdominal) injury flared up during the game."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun