Are the Bears still in the playoff hunt?

If there was a Chicago Bears bandwagon after the team’s comeback wins over Pittsburgh and Seattle, no one is driving it right now. It’s parked, sitting abandoned on the side of the road somewhere along the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago.

Two straight losses. One, in Atlanta, where turnovers and multiple plays left on the field ended with the Bears on the cusp of reaching the end zone — without a running game to work with.

The second, an embarrassing loss in Cincinnati, where the only thing missing was a Chad Ochocinco samba dance after a touchdown. I wrote earlier this week that it was the worst performance by a Chicago defense under Lovie Smith, and I still feel that way. Matt Forte? Six carries for 24 yards.

A buddy called during the first quarter and told me that if the game were at Soldier Field, he would be in the car at that moment — headed home.

Is it time to panic in Chicago and move on to the Blackhawks, or Derrick Rose and the Bulls? I don’t think so, not yet. But this season is teetering on the verge of collapse — because after this week, it isn’t going to get any easier.

The Bears host Cleveland and that circus act at Soldier on Sunday. A win, you would think, but after that, the schedule isn’t as pretty. Let’s check out the month of November, when football seasons are basically won or lost in this league.

Nov. 8: vs. Arizona (4-2)
Nov. 12: at San Fran (3-3)
Nov. 22: vs. Philly (4-2)
Nov. 29: at Minnesota (6-1)

Only one divisional opponent in Minnesota, but three of the four November games are against NFC opponents. And when you think about this team as a possible wild card, those games are huge when we start to scramble playoff hopefuls come the end of December.

But does the schedule even matter for a team that’s now struggling on both sides of the football?

On offense, the Bears rank 21st in total yards at 312.2 per game, but what’s alarming for a Bears football team is the rushing aspect of this offense. Chicago is currently sitting at 29th in the league, averaging just over 80 yards a game, with Forte’s yard-per-carry average at 3.5. That’s not good enough, but we all know where this discussion is leading — and that’s to Jay Cutler.

Cutler is good, very good. He has the tools and now a new contract and control of this huddle for the foreseeable future. But where are the results, right? He does force passes, he does let his emotions direct his play at times, and he seems to try and win games with his arm — no matter the circumstances. And yes, that has to change, just as this entire offense has to change to play to the strengths of both Forte and Cutler. The running game is, well, a joke, and that is one of the main reasons this team is forced to put the game plan in Cutler’s lap in every crucial situation. But even the best quarterbacks need some help. Right now, the Bears aren’t efficient enough up front to run the Power O, or even the Lead Open. They need to become more creative. Use Forte as a single back, spread the field and operate like an offense in a nickel situation — because that’s what the Bears are in 2009.

They aren’t a power running team, despite the history of this franchise, and until they understand that and adjust to cater to their offensive players, we can expect more of the same.

And on defense, which has head coach Lovie Smith on the hook, it comes down to execution and accountability. As our own Brad Biggs reported, Tommie Harris has already been shown the bench, and the Cover 2, well, it isn’t going anywhere. But the players in that system have to make plays that change games, protect leads and do what’s required in this defensive scheme — force turnovers. Right now, the Bears are minus-5 in turnover ratio, which is unacceptable for a Lovie Smith defense, or a Tampa 2 defense in general. This scheme is designed to create turnovers, with an emphasis on scoring.

Some think it’s time to shut down the scheme, but all you have to do is look to Buffalo, which runs the Tampa 2, to see the recent results — 10 turnovers in the past two games.

Maybe by writing this I’m offering too much hope, or beating on issues that have already existed. But to count out a 3-3 team, with a possibility to get back in the NFC North race with a win on Sunday and a Packers victory over Minnesota, isn’t right.

Yes, the Bears are still in it — but they’re hanging on. Right?

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