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Well, what's it gonna be, defensive line? Lovie (and defensive coordinator Bob Babich, I suppose, but really, this is all on the defensive-minded head coach) cannot be counted on to come up with a blitz package that creates any sort of consistent pressure when the front four can't do it. In fact, there isn't another coach in the league who is less likely to come up with that sort of scheme. So it will all come down to Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye at the ends (and Mark Anderson every once in a while) and some combination of Israel Idonije, Anthony Adams, Marcus Hamilton and Tommie Harris (listed in order of effectiveness against the Jaguars) in the middle this Thursday against New Orleans. Of course, when we say New Orleans, we mostly mean all-world quarterback Drew Brees (still on track, after Sunday's pulsating victory over Atlanta, to break Dan Marino's record for passing yardage in a single season). If the line can generate some pressure on Brees, especially early, the Bears will give themselves their best chance to win. If not, there will be a shootout . . . which the Bears might just win . . . if they can find a cure for the dropsy disease that has afflicted them of late. And if they can find a wide receiver other than Devin Hester who can create consistent space between himself and defensive backs.

There are reasons for optimism. Lovie takes it easy on his guys in the pre-season and the regular season with these late-season games in mind. The simple idea is that the Bears will have more left in their tank down the stretch. It is also that guys will be less likely to get hur,t and for the third time in the last four seasons the Bears head into the season's final few games with decidedly fewer injuries than average. Unfortunately the reasons for pessimism are more compelling. And No. 1 on that list is the fact that in their last three big games, against Minnesota, Green Bay and Tennessee, the line has been found lacking - very lacking.

We're looking forward again today - distasteful as it may be as opposed to conducting the usual post-game post-mortem - because the Jaguars simply weren't good enough on Sunday to make the game matter. Actually, Jacksonville's defense was good enough to say the home team's offense accomplished something by scoring 23 points (to 10 for the Jaguars). Except 23 points almost certainly won't be enough against New Orleans. And of those 23 points, seven resulted from the early interception that gave the Bears the ball at the Jaguar 5 and three more from Devin Hester busting out an actual impact return and putting the offense in business inside the 25.

I felt as though the lead had to be about the future, but there is still plenty of day-after news:

* There was no sign of the 'Cane or Cajun offensive set on Sunday. Those are the ones that feature direct snaps to either Hester (the former Miami Hurricane) or Matt Forte (who played his college ball at Tulane in Louisiana) that the Bears copied from the Dolphins. Side note: there were a few reports during the past few weeks that the Bears had been working on plays out of these formations since training camp, i.e. that they decided it might be a good idea to use them at the same time the Dolphins, who busted it out immediately this fall, did. Sure you did, Bears. Sure. Anyway, the Bears not using this stuff on Sunday is a good thing - because those formations require that Kyle Orton head to the sideline. And whatever the Bears might do in the last quarter of the season to try to shake things up, it absolutely should not involve Orton sitting out even one play.

* Did the Bears run one sweep on Sunday? I don't think so. If Forte can't run outside effectively - and there has been more evidence in support of that assessment this season than against - the Bears need to give the ball to someone who can, at least a couple times a game. Garrett Wolfe was a possibility before Sunday but he went out early with, what, a pulled hamstring? Even better would be Hester. If he can line up in the backfield in the modified Wildcat formation, surely he can do so behind Kyle Orton and take a pitch or three. How about some sort of two-back set with Forte, at least for a few plays, serving as the lead blocker? Get on it, Ron Turner.

* For a long time Sunday, it looked like the Vikings might just do it. They might just blow their game with winless Detroit and not only fall back into a tie with the Bears atop the NFC North but also put themselves in prime position to lose the second tiebreaker (divisional record - the teams split their games but if the Vikings had lost, the Bears would have finished a game ahead in the division with a win over the Packers in two weeks). But Minnesota didn't quite choke itself to death, taking advantage of the dubious presence of the Williamses at defensive tackle and a few other factors to pull out an embarrassingly close decision (20-16). A judge in Minnesota ruled last week that Kevin and Pat Williams should be allowed to play despite the existence of a collectively bargained NFL policy stating that if players were caught with the substance that the Williams' were caught with in their urine (a diuretic that can mask steroid use), the players would be suspended. But the judge felt the need to stop the NFL from suspending the players involved, at least for a week. What do we know about this judge's football allegiances? Anyway, if the Bears only win two of their last three, the Vikings will have to lose all three for the Bears to win the division (the third tiebreaker is conference record - the Vikings are 6-3 in the NFC and the Bears are 5-5).

* When the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in improbable fashion Sunday afternoon (after leading 13-3 in the fourth quarter) and the Redskins went down against the Ravens in the evening, visions of an unlikely Bears wild card run danced about in my head - briefly. The loser of Monday night's NFC South showdown - Carolina versus Tampa Bay, will be in the driver's seat for the first wild card at 9-4. Then there are the other teams (besides Dallas) with five losses: Philadelphia and Atlanta (both wild cards could very well come from the NFC South - I guarantee no one predicted that would happen before the season). The bottom line is, the Bears will have a shot at a wild card if they run the table and finish 10-6. But if they do that, I'll still bet the Vikings lose two of their last three and the Bears win the division. If the Bears finish 9-7, they are a long, long shot for post-season action.

* Mr. Hester, you are . . . an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, at least partially hidden by flying chunks of Soldier Field turf. Several big gains in the passing game for the wide receiver formerly known as ridiculous, at least two of which led to points, and one bright, shining punt return that did the same, were more than offset by two muffed punts and one drop in particular (on a third-down play in the third quarter that had big-gainer written all over it). Over on the radio in the first half, Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer were calling for patience with Hester, in particular with his efforts at wide receiver. But that was before the two muffed punts. Two! And oh by the way, we're officially done with calling for Hester to return to kickoff return duties - right everybody?

* Yet another embarrassing game for the Chicago Park District, the folks who are responsible for the field in Soldier Fielf. Analyst Dan Dierdorf, who along with play-by-play man Greg Gumbel made numerous references to substandard turf marring yet another Bear game, also made mention of a recent re-sod, a re-sod that was clearly ineffective. Of course, there has been at least one re-sod per season at Soldier Field for the past six years or so and none of them have resulted in turf even close to worthy of high-level professional sporting competition. The fields where the kids play football in my neighborhood, at Revere and Welles Park, are better than Soldier Field. And those fields suck. They are better than Soldier Field because at least the many patches that feature more dirt than grass give kids better traction. When teams re-sod late in the season, the grass never puts down significant roots and it will not hold. Hey CPD (this means you superintendent Tim Mitchell), one option is calling in Roger Bossard, the longtime White Sox groundskeeper who took bulldozers to the playing surface at Wrigley recently, rehabbing a field that desperately needed it and earning universal acclaim. Announce the Bears will pay whatever Mr. Bossard believes is appropriate to engage his services and to field respectable turf next time around. The other option is to switch to field turf; the latest in plastic grass now installed at all the finest fields where groundskeepers can't seem to maintain a decent playing surface.

This Bears team would be better off playing on the fake stuff. We'll know so much more about the genuineness of its playoff aspirations in only a few more days.


Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday because he loves you. You can write to him personally! Please include a real name if you would like your comments to be considered for publication.

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