Bears to fight for playoff lives today in finale against Texans

HOUSTON – For the first time in 13 years, the Bears’ playoff fate will be determined on the final day of the regular season. A win today over the Texans in Houston coupled with a Vikings loss to the Giants in Minnesota would give the Bears the NFC North title. Chicago can also make the playoffs as a wildcard with a victory along with losses by the Buccaneers to the Raiders and the Cowboys to the Eagles. The Bears (9-6) have won three straight games for the first time 2006 and are hoping to win their final four regular season games for just the fourth time since 1959. The Texans (7-8) had their franchise-record four-game winning streak snapped last Sunday with a 27-16 loss in Oakland. The last time the Bears’ playoff fate came down to their final game was in 1995 when they defeated the Eagles at Soldier Field but failed to earn a postseason berth when the Falcons upset the 49ers in Atlanta. It appeared that Chicago would be eliminated last Monday night against Green Bay. But the Bears tied the score 17-17 on Matt Forte’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:11 left in the fourth quarter before edging the Packers 20-17 on Robbie Gould’s 38-yard field goal in overtime. The Bears offense is led by Forte, who has established team rookie records for rushing yards (1,188), total yards from scrimmage (1,649) and receptions (60). Quarterback Kyle Orton set a franchise record with 205 straight passes without an interception in six starts, but has since thrown eight picks in his last four games. The interceptions have contributed to Orton posting his three lowest passer ratings of the season in the last four games. Orton and the offense will have to contend with Texans defensive end Mario Williams. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft ranks fourth in the league with 25 sacks in 31 games over the past two seasons, including 11 of Houston’s 23 sacks this year. Defensively, the Bears will face an explosive Texans offense that ranks third in the NFL in total yards and features a game-breaking receiver in Andre Johnson and an electrifying rookie running back in Steve Slaton. Generating a consistent pass rush will be key against quarterback Matt Schaub, who has won all four of his home starts this season while completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,210 yards with 7 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 105.4 passer rating. With veteran Mike Brown placed on injured reserve Friday, rookie safety Craig Steltz is expected to make his first NFL start today. Steltz has registered five tackles on defense this season, filling in when Brown was forced to exit games against the Lions, Rams and Packers with the calf injury that landed him on injured reserve. Steltz also has contributed on special teams, compiling 13 tackles. Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowler who leads the NFL with 1,427 receiving yards and ranks second with 105 receptions. Houston’s ground game is powered by Slaton, a speedy rookie third-round pick who ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing with 1,190 yards, one slot ahead of Forte. Slaton has gained two more yards than Forte on 55 fewer carries. The Bears are looking for another strong performance from their special teams unit. Against Green Bay, Gould became the first NFL kicker to win back-to-back overtime games with field goals since the Eagles’ David Akers in 2000, Alex Brown saved the season by blocking Mason Crosby’s 38-yard field goal attempt with :18 remaining in regulation, Danieal Manning returned a kickoff 70 yards to set up a field goal, Jason Davis recovered a muffed punt to set up a TD and Brad Maynard averaged 45.8 yards per punt.

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