1:00 PM ET, December 28, 2008
NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
For the Chicago Bears, last week couldn't have gone more perfect as they not only took another overtime victory, but also got losses from four other teams to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
If they want to clinch that playoff spot, the Bears (9-6) will need a win -- and more good fortune -- against the Houston Texas on Sunday.
Chicago needs a win over the Texans (7-8), and Minnesota, which has the tiebreaker over the Bears, to lose to the New York Giants to steal away the NFC North. The Bears can also sneak in as a wild card with a victory and losses by Dallas and Tampa Bay.
"Now it's down to one game," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "All we can do is get another win and see what happens."
After Dallas, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia all lost in Week 16, the Bears made some of their luck by rallying for their second straight overtime victory -- 20-17 Monday night over Green Bay.
Special teams have played a large role in those overtime wins. In Monday's game, Alex Brown blocked Mason Crosby's 38-yard field goal attempt with 18 seconds left to force the extra period, when Robbie Gould made a 38-yarder for his second game-winner in as many weeks.
Danieal Manning, who had an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 27-24 win over New Orleans on Dec. 11, set up a field goal with a 70-yard return in Monday's game. Chicago also recovered a punt that went off Green Bay's Jarrett Bush to pave the way for a touchdown.
Those plays aided a flagging offense, which was held to a season-low 210 yards against Green Bay and has failed to produce more than 300 in each of the past four games.
However, the Bears have gotten production when it's counted.
In Monday's game, Chicago used an eight-play, 51-yard drive in the fourth quarter to score the tying points on Matt Forte's 3-yard touchdown run and gained 47 yards on six plays in overtime before Gould's winning kick. Against the Saints, Kyle Orton completed 8 of 11 passes for 61 yards on the team's final drive to set up a Gould's tying field goal at the end of regulation.
"A lot of times when your backs are really up against the wall, the best in you comes out," Smith said. "That's what happened to us."
Forte gained 51 of his 73 yards in the second half and overtime on Monday, but the Bears rookie running back has struggled with an injured toe recently, averaging 58.7 yards in his last three games.
But the second-round pick has set the Bears rookie record with 1,188 rushing yards and also has a team-high 60 catches for 452 yards. Forte leads all rookies and is second in the league behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson with 1,640 total yards from scrimmage.
The Bears defense, though, suffered a blow this week with starting safety Mike Brown getting placed on injured reserve due to a calf injury.
After winning a franchise-record four straight games -- capped by a victory over the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans -- Houston suffered a 27-16 loss last week in Oakland, a defeat that denied the Texans a chance at their first winning season in their seven-year franchise history.
The best Houston can hope for is to match last season's 8-8 mark.
"We were looking forward to having the first winning season in our history," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "When you play the way we played last week, with a big win over a big team, you have to find a way to play with the same effort, and we didn't do it."
The Texans have experienced an up-and-down season, starting 0-4 and alternating three-game win and loss streaks before their recent run.
Their play at home, however, has stayed consistent.
Houston can match its franchise-best 6-2 home mark from 2007 with a win, and the Texans have gone 9-2 in their last 11 home games dating back to last season.
Houston boasts the third-best offense in the league at 377.2 yards per game. Most of that is generated by a passing attack that ranks fourth in the NFL at 262.6 yards per contest, but the Texans have also gotten a breakout season from rookie running back Steve Slaton.
With 1,190 yards, Slaton has topped Domanick Williams' team record of 1,188 set in 2004.
Slaton passed Williams thanks to four 100-yard performances in his last six games. Although he was held to 66 yards on 18 carries against the Raiders, Slaton is 38 yards behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson -- the leading rusher among rookies.
Houston won the only meeting between the two teams, 24-5 on Dec. 19, 2004, in Chicago.
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Johnson won't make this must-win game for Chicago easy
For the second straight week the Bears win in overtime to keep their postseason hopes alive, which should make this an intriguing matchup. The Texans will want to get back on track after dropping a game to Oakland in Week 16. Houston had won four in a row before stumbling last week and has plenty of firepower to give the Bears problems. This should be a hard-fought battle.
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Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Houston leads 2-0|
|Dec 19, 2004||CHI 5, HOU 24|