Huddle up: Bears and Saints have same poor record, but different goals

Alshon Jeffery has a chance for his second straight 1,000-yard season for the Bears.

What does a 5-8 record mean in today's NFL? For the Bears, it means major frustration at the tail end of a disappointing season. For the Saints, it means a share of the NFC South lead and a realistic chance to host a playoff game on the first weekend of January. Go figure.

When the two teams collide Monday night at Soldier Field, they will do so with similar struggles. But they will have very different incentives to play well. Here's our snapshot look at Monday's game.

Pressing question

With little to play for and frustration all around Halas Hall, where do the Bears go from here?

Aaron Kromer's confession this week that he suffered from loose lips as an anonymous source for an NFL Network report criticizing Jay Cutler created the Bears' latest sideshow. It was an odd twist of melodrama for a team whose offensive struggles seemingly have everyone's nerves frayed.

Kromer's tearful apology left players surprised while also threatening to undermine the trust Bears coaches want and need from them.

So how will it affect the Bears' focus and unity?

"I think the foundation should be strengthened by this," Cutler insisted. "… I wish we could communicate like that more often because things would be out in the open."

That's certainly a glass-half-full view of all the commotion. Maybe there's one last rally left in these Bears after all.

Just as likely, however, an already shaken and flustered team will see its dysfunction carry over onto the field with another woeful prime-time performance.

If the Bears suffer another double-digit loss with all their issues under the national spotlight, then what? Stay tuned.

Player in spotlight

With Brandon Marshall out for the rest of the season, Alshon Jeffery will take on a heightened role as the top receiver for the final three games. Jeffery needs just 51 receiving yards Monday night to record his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. And over his last four games, he has totaled 29 catches for 323 yards with five touchdowns.

Bears coach Marc Trestman believes Jeffery has been healthier in recent weeks, past the nagging hamstring injury that slowed him earlier in the season.

"He has come on in terms of making plays and doing some very good things," Trestman said.

Jeffery will have a competitive matchup Monday with Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis. In an otherwise susceptible Saints defense, Lewis has been one of their most reliable contributors.

Saints coach Sean Payton lauds Lewis' size, length and man coverage skills.

"He really enjoys competing and playing," Payton added. "That's the one thing you appreciate as a coach the longer you're in it — that hunger that certain guys like him have that set them apart."

Keep an eye on …

The Bears have yet to score 30 points in a game this season, joining the Jaguars, Titans and Raiders as the only teams not to do so. But Monday night provides a golden opportunity for the offense to get moving. The Saints rank 30th in points allowed (27.6 per game) and have given up at least 30 points in six games this season.

A week ago, they fell behind the Panthers 31-3 early in the second half on their way to their fourth loss in the last five games.

Injuries, roster moves

Kicker Robbie Gould returned to practice Saturday morning as a limited participant with a quadriceps injury. Gould is listed as questionable for Monday's game with 38-year-old veteran Jay Feely still around as a contingency plan.

Elsewhere on the injury report, safety Chris Conte (back) is doubtful for Monday night while defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (knee), offensive lineman Michael Ola (back) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (ankle) are all questionable.

The Bears also placed back-up linebacker Darryl Sharpton on injured reserve and promoted rookie quarterback David Fales off the practice squad to fill the open roster spot.

The elevation of Fales to the 53-man roster came after the Patriots made a push to sign him, according to two league sources.

Said Trestman: "That's the benefit of getting him up, the fact (another team) can't take him off the practice squad."

dwiederer@tribune.com

Twitter @danwiederer

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