The Chicago Bears aren't worrying about how they made the playoffs. They're in and that's what matters most to them.
“It's not perfect,” coach Matt Nagy said.
It's far from that.
The Bears closed the regular season with a 35-16 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday. But they slipped into the playoffs for the second time in Nagy's three seasons because the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Los Angeles Rams.
The seventh seed in an expanded field, the Bears (8-8) visit Drew Brees and the NFC South champion New Orleans Saints (12-4) on Sunday. It's quite a turnaround.
Chicago lost six consecutive games in its worst skid since the 2002 team dropped eight in a row. The Bears responded by winning three straight against struggling teams — Houston, Minnesota and Jacksonville — before falling to Green Bay.
Whether that's enough to save general manager Ryan Pace's and Nagy's jobs is not clear. Nagy said he hasn't discussed his future with ownership and management, saying “that's not a focus.”
“We’re so, so extremely focused on the Saints,” Nagy said. “And it’s great that we made it two out of three years. And it’s a credit to the players, to the coaches, to the support staff, to Ryan, to (president) Ted (Phillips), (chairman) George (McCaskey), everybody. This is all of us. And there are a lot of other teams right now who are trying to figure out their flights home today and where they’re going. And we’re not.”
The offensive line. The Bears' revamped line continues to give quarterback Mitchell Trubisky the protection he needs and open holes for the running backs.
Chicago has allowed just one sack in each of the past three games. The Bears also ran for 108 yards against Green Bay, giving them six straight games with more than 100 rushing after they failed to reach triple digits in their previous seven outings.
The changes the Bears made were inserting Sam Mustipher at center while moving Cody Whitehair to left guard, and going with Germain Ifedi at right tackle and Alex Bars at right guard.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Red zone efficiency. The Bears scored just one touchdown on four trips inside the 20 against Green Bay and settled for field goals on the other three. The Bears rank 22nd in red zone efficiency, and the stingy Saints are among the league's best at keeping teams out of the end zone.
Receiver Darnell Mooney. The team's second-leading receiver with 61 catches for 631 yards, Mooney had the best game of his rookie season against Green Bay. The fifth-round draft pick from Tulane set career bests with 11 catches for 93 yards — well above his previous highs of five and 69 — before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
The defense. A unit that carried Chicago to a 5-1 start has looked a little more vulnerable over the course of the season. One big issue is the Bears aren't forcing as many turnovers as they would like. The Bears are tied for 25th in the NFL in takeaways with 18 and for 23rd in differential at minus-4.
The Bears could be missing leading tackler Roquan Smith as well as Mooney. Nagy had no update on either player.
“I think they’re both — you guys see it all year long — playing at an extremely high level, one being a rookie, the other one being somebody who might be playing as well on defense as any defensive player in the NFL right now,” he said. “We’ll just have to stay positive here and just kind of see what (trainer Andre Tucker) says as we move forward and keep an eye on all that.”
1-6 — That's the Bears' record against teams that finished with winning records. The lone victory was against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field on Oct. 8.
The Bears will try to pay back the Saints for a 26-23 overtime loss at Soldier Field. Chicago rallied from 10 down to tie it on Cairo Santos' 51-yard field goal at the end of regulation, only to lose when Wil Lutz nailed a 35-yarder. Trubisky made his first appearance since being benched for Nick Foles in Week 3 and suffered a shoulder injury on his lone play — a short run.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL