Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

November 17, 2013

NFL: Bears, Ravens looking to stay in playoff chase

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Quarterback Jay Cutler is out again and cornerback Charles Tillman won't be back unless the Chicago Bears make the playoffs. The way this season's going, that's no sure thing.

With the losses and injuries piling up, the Bears (5-4) host the Baltimore Ravens (4-5) on Sunday in a matchup between teams trying to stay in postseason contention.

For the Bears, the task is getting more and more difficult.

They're tied for second with Green Bay in the NFC North, a game behind Detroit after dropping four of six. The Lions beat Chicago 21-19 last week to complete a two-game sweep, and beyond that, the injuries continue.

Cutler suffered a high left ankle sprain in the second quarter after sitting out a win at Green Bay with torn groin muscle, forcing the Bears to go with Josh McCown on Chicago's final drive. McCown is week to week.

Tillman suffered a torn right triceps muscle in the second half and was placed on injured reserve/designated to return. He is eligible to play again in eight weeks, but with only seven games remaining, the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback is out for the rest of the regular season.

That's just the latest blow for a defense that was already missing three starters, with star linebacker Lance Briggs nursing a fractured shoulder and defensive tackle Henry Melton (torn ACL) and linebacker D.J. Williams (torn pectoral muscle) both on injured reserve.

"You don't make excuses about it," coach Marc Trestman said. "(The backups are) here because they're expected to play."

The Ravens are trying to stay relevant in the AFC playoff race and get back to .500 after breaking a three-game skid with a 20-17 overtime victory over Cincinnati. It would help if they got their run game going and more production from quarterback Joe Flacco. That largely hinges on a struggling offensive line coming together, something it hasn't done.

With that in mind, here are five things to know about this game:

MCCOWN ANSWERING CALL: So far, McCown has given the Bears all they could ask for when they've turned to him.

The veteran is 42 of 70 for 538 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in three games, including a surprising win at Green Bay with Cutler nursing a groin injury.

He nearly pulled off the comeback last week, hitting Brandon Marshall with a TD pass. But a 2-point conversion failed.

MAKING A RUN: Chicago can't stop the run and Baltimore can't get its ground game going, so maybe something will give here. Both teams have been strong in those areas over the years, but it's been a different story this season, with the Bears 31st against the run and the Ravens 30th in rushing.

The Bears are allowing 129.4 yards per game. Now, they'll have to contend with Ray Rice. But that suddenly doesn't seem like such a daunting task even with a depleted defense. Rice has just 289 yards and is averaging a mere 2.5 per carry after four straight 1,000-yard seasons.

"I know once the opportunity comes and we rip off one of those big gains, we'll be saying, 'Well there it goes,'" Rice said.

FEELING HEAT: Flacco has certainly been under pressure, and it has nothing to do with that $120.6 million contract he signed after leading the Ravens to the championship last season. It's coming from opposing defenses.

Flacco's been playing behind a line with three different starters — center Gino Gradkowski, left tackle Eugene Monroe and guard A.Q. Shipley — and he's taking a beating. He's been sacked five times in three of the past four games to bring his season total to 30, and he has thrown about as many touchdowns (12) as interceptions (11). By comparison, he had 11 scoring passes without getting picked off during a postseason run last year that culminated with a Super Bowl MVP and ultimately led to that huge deal.

"(If) you're going to put guys up in there, you're going to double-mug guys, and you're going to bring guys off the edge — you're going to do all these things — you're going to play one-on-one coverage, (then) we've got to make it hurt," Flacco said. "And we just haven't been good enough to really have teams feel the effect, or the negative effects, of them doing it."

ROAD WOES: While the Ravens are 3-1 at home, the road has not been kind to them. They're 1-4, and their lone win was by three at Miami. The Ravens gave up seven touchdown passes to Peyton Manning in a 49-27 season-opening rout at Denver. Their other losses were by six points or less: 23-20 at Buffalo, 19-16 at Pittsburgh and 24-18 at Cleveland.

NOT QUITE READY: The Bears signed former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff two weeks ago to boost their line, knowing he was two to four weeks away from being able to contribute. He won't be in uniform Sunday.

"Right now I'm just following their game plan," said Ratliff, who had a season-ending groin injury last year and was released by Dallas a month ago.

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