Sports

Bears lose 6th straight against Packers, who clinch NFC North

Minutes after Brandon Marshall said everyone involved with the Bears offense should be held accountable, he darted out of the Soldier Field locker room, leaving behind his sad-looking Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

There will be no NFC North crown underneath the tree this season for the Bears. As far as the playoffs, they no longer control their own destiny, not after the Packers thumped them 21-13 Sunday to win the division, secure a playoff berth and extend recent dominance in the series.

The 8-6 Bears have lost five of their last six games overall and six straight in the rivalry. Suddenly, they trail the Vikings in the division and must calculate wild-card tiebreakers against everyone in the NFC East except the Eagles.

Maybe what Marshall is seeking under his tree now is sweeping changes at Halas Hall.

"It's the same every single game," said Marshall, who stirred things up during the week with his passionate anti-Packers news conference. "We need to be held accountable. What I have to do is try my best to keep it together and not let this affect me because it's starting to affect me more than it should."

There is no guarantee general manager Phil Emery, who gambled in trading for Marshall, will shake things up at the end of the season and fire coach Lovie Smith, who is signed through 2013. The Bears close out the season at Arizona and at Detroit, and with 10 victories, they would have a reasonable chance at reaching the postseason.

Things are slipping for Smith when it comes to battling Green Bay, the opponent he made such a big deal of in his introductory news conference. This game was made closer by two missed field goals from Mason Crosby, whose job status is now tenuous, at best. Smith is 2-9 against quarterback Aaron Rodgers after ending Brett Favre's mastery of the Bears.

On his third offensive coordinator in four seasons and fourth overall, it's fair to wonder if the team will ever get that side of the ball right under Smith. It's also worth wondering if chairman of the board George McCaskey will play a central role in end-of-season decisions. It may come down to candid discussions about whether Smith and his staff or a flawed roster are more to blame for a painful free fall.

"We have to get to the playoffs a different way," Smith said. "That's the only thing we can think about right now."

To get to 10-6 the Bears must end the rough stretch that has dismantled the momentum of a 7-1 start. They have what appear to be two winnable games ahead but are averaging just 14.2 points in the last six games.

Once again Rodgers outdueled Cutler, now 1-7 against Green Bay. Rodgers fired three touchdown passes to James Jones, completing 23 of 36 passes for 291 yards.

The game swung late in the first half when Cutler and Devin Hester were mixed up and the ball was thrown directly to cornerback Casey Hayward. Rodgers quickly hooked up with James for their second score and Green Bay (10-4) led 14-7 at halftime.

The Packers then used a 13-play drive to open the third quarter, getting a pass interference call against free safety Chris Conte on tight end Jermichael Finley in the end zone on third-and-13 from the 17-yard line. The next play was another touchdown pass to Jones.

There were five pass interference calls in the game and four went against the Bears — three on wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, including one that negated a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 after Matt Forte failed to run it in on two tries from the 1.

"That's not what lost us this game," said Cutler, who completed 12 of 21 passes for 135 yards and a 15-yard touchdown pass to Marshall that staked the Bears to a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.

Marshall was limited to six receptions for 56 yards, and Forte caught five passes for 64 yards. The only other reception was made by running back Armando Allen on a screen. Forte carried six times for 37 yards on the game-opening drive that was sabotaged by center Roberto Garza's false start. But the back ran 14 times for only 32 yards the rest of the way.

Rookie left guard James Brown started and was pulled, and right tackle Jonathan Scott left the game with a hamstring injury. The offense used two right tackles, two right guards and two left guards in a messy rotation.

It encapsulates the second half of the season, where Marshall is the only bright spot and with him and his teammates left to wish for something.

"It's like you're in quicksand and you keep fighting and fighting, waiting for something to happen," defensive lineman Israel Idonije said. "It's tough."

bmbiggs@tribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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