GREEN BAY, Wis. — Lovie Smith's decision to play his starters throughout Sunday's game at Lambeau Field might have created more questions about the Bears' playoff viability than anything else.
Looking for momentum heading into the team's first postseason appearance in four years, the Bears instead were reminded of the obstacles they have had to overcome to become the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Mike Martz, who had been the only NFL coordinator to call more rushing plays than passes over the previous eight games, forgot the run. The offensive line reverted to its early-season form in not protecting Jay Cutler, who once again made questionable throws. An otherwise stout defensive effort was done in by a secondary that allowed two big pass plays.
So the Bears must answer where they are following a 10-3 loss to Green Bay that secured a playoff berth for the Packers as the No. 6 seed, earning them a trip to Philadelphia on Sunday. The Bears (11-5) will host a divisional-round game on Jan. 16 at Soldier Field at noon.
Safeties Chris Harris (shoulder) and Major Wright (leg) and linebacker Nick Roach (shoulder) suffered injuries, but Smith said they're not serious. It appears his team made it through the game unscathed when its health was a primary focus.
"Knowing we had the bye, we weren't playing for an awful lot," Smith said. "But we wanted to keep momentum going. We hadn't peaked yet. We still thought there were some things we could improve upon, and that's what we went into the game to do."
Center Olin Kreutz said the game was just what the line needed in an effort in which Cutler was sacked six times, the most since the Oct. 17 loss to the Seahawks. Kreutz's point was the raucous crowd will prepare the Bears for the Georgia Dome, where the NFC Championship Game would be played if the top-seeded Falcons advance.
"There is a concern that we lost and there is concern that we gave up six sacks, but we'll treat it like all the other losses. We'll learn from it," Kreutz said. "We haven't been in this kind of atmosphere as a line where they pretty much take your communication away with the crowd noise. That's something we had to learn."
Kreutz said the Bears didn't play in any tough road stadiums until Week 17. The usually noisy Metrodome was not used two weeks ago. Maybe the Bears didn't consider New Meadowlands Stadium and Cowboys Stadium very loud.
The crowd noise had nothing to do with the play selection, though, and what's surprising is Martz got away from what had been working well. The Bears trumpeted the fact they had been so balanced offensively, then they went pass crazy. Martz called 47 drop backs and 18 rushes despite the fact the game was never out of reach.
Matt Forte carried the ball 15 times for 91 yards to finish with 1,069 on the season. The passing game for an offense that scored 78 points the previous two weeks never clicked as Johnny Knox was held without a catch and Devin Hester had one reception for 16 yards.
The Packers' blitzes troubled the Bears' line, and Cutler finished 21 of 39 for 168 yards with two interceptions — one by safety Charlie Peprah in the end zone and one by safety Nick Collins at the Packers' 11-yard line with 14 seconds remaining to seal the game.
"As an offense, we're still very confident in our ability to move the ball and score," Cutler said. "They took some stuff away from us. But we've got to keep going."
The Bears led 3-0 at halftime on a 30-yard Robbie Gould field goal after the offense stalled on the Packers' 4-yard line. The defense held the Packers at the 1 in the third quarter, and Mason Crosby's 23-yard field goal tied the game.
The turning point for the Bears came at the end of the quarter when, on third-and-15, a dump-off pass to Chester Taylor picked up a first down at the Packers' 39. In confusion, though, Smith called timeout before the snap, wiping out the gain. The Bears punted and the Packers drove 75 yards — getting 46 when receiver Greg Jennings beat Zack Bowman and Danieal Manning — to go ahead on a 1-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Lee.
The Bears' rally fell short. And we won't know for two weeks if what happened here will have any impact on their postseason.
"This wasn't a playoff game for us," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We have an off week and we'll be ready to go."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun