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Bears schedule to get a lot tougher

Published: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 6:57 p.m. CST

(MCT) CHICAGO —The Bears’ schedule takes a turn for the more difficult after Sunday’s meeting with the Titans in Nashville.

This marks the eighth time since the merger with the AFL in 1970 the Bears have been 6-1 or better through the first seven games, and all the previous occasions, most recently in 2006, led to postseason berths.

Of the six victories, only one has come against a team currently with a winning record — the season-opening win over the Colts, who are 4-3. The Titans (3-5) are another sub-.500 opponent, but then the Bears face the Texans (6-1) and 49ers (5-2 entering Monday night’s game at Arizona) in consecutive weeks.

The Lions (3-4) in the Week 17 finale are the only team on the second half of the schedule that currently has a losing record. It might be hard for the Vikings (5-3) and Cardinals (4-3 entering Monday night) to continue winning, but the schedule will definitely be more challenging.

Look around the NFC and the Bears are not alone. The Falcons (7-0) count just one win over a winning team — a Week 2 victory over the Broncos (4-3). The Giants (6-2) have beaten just one team that is above .500 — the 49ers. The Niners also have just one win over a winning team, their season-opening victory over the Packers (5-3).

So, the argument that the Bears have not played anyone pretty much applies to all of the front-runners in the NFC as you size up the playoff picture nearing the midway point of the season.

“You have to forget that winning record part because we had a 1-5 team that came in here (Sunday) and played pretty good football,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “You look across the league, if you’re a true pro you don’t get into those things. Y’all talk an awful lot about letdowns and things like that, but for us I just think you look at what happened to us last week. Most of the times, a team coming off a Monday night game has a tougher time the following week, that’s what the statistics say. We fell into that group.

“I know who we play this week, but beyond that, and I know who’s coming up, but the order, we can’t look at that and think that. We just know this week we’re going on the road in a tough environment and we need to play better ball, which we’ll do.”

The Bears accomplished what good teams do in their 23-22 victory over the Panthers, winning without their best effort. It provides teaching points for Tuesday’s film review with players and confidence moving forward. But a much sharper effort will be needed to topple better competition.

What stood out was another solid effort by quarterback Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter. He completed 12 of 14 passes for 106 yards and a 12-yard touchdown to tight end Kellen Davis as the Bears erased a 19-7 deficit. Cutler has a passer rating of 132.0 in the fourth quarter this season.

He has started slow, though, with a 29.5 passer rating in the first quarter, and the Bears are looking for more consistent offensive efforts heading toward the second half of the season. They are not going to win many games when they produce just 61 yards of offense through the first 43 minutes, 30 seconds of a game, as happened against the Panthers.

“I’m looking at ball security and each week what does it take — what do we need our offense to do in order for us to win the football game,” Smith said. “I’ve been pleased with that or we wouldn’t have six wins. Now, are we going to make a jump and will we have to rely on our offense to carry us a few football games and will we be able to do that? Yes. I think that is when you will really see what we truly are as an offensive team.”

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