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Bears await big rematch against Lions

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

It’s probably too late to send a Christmas card to the Bears’ practice facility at Halas Hall.

However, a get-well-soon card should arrive in plenty of time before Sunday’s kickoff.

After a day off today, the Bears will return to the practice field Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to prepare for their regular season finale Sunday against the Detroit Lions. In order to receive an NFC wild-card playoff berth, the Bears must beat the Lions and the Green Bay Packers must beat the Minnesota Vikings.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said his players could afford to worry about only one-half of the playoff equation. They will kick off at noon in Detroit, while at 3:25 p.m. the Packers will visit the Vikings.

“As much as anything, we wanted to be relevant this week in the playoff picture, and we are,” said Smith, who is seeking his fourth playoff appearance in nine seasons with the Bears. “We know we need help, but we have to earn the help. That’s by taking care of business and getting a win against Detroit.”

Smith’s team has made the playoffs one of the past four seasons, in 2010.

For evidence that the Bears can beat Detroit, see the teams’ meeting in Week 7 at Soldier Field. Neither team moved the ball easily on offense, but the Bears held on for a 13-7 win behind a Brandon Marshall touchdown and a pair of Robbie Gould field goals.

Jay Cutler avoided throwing any interceptions, but he also was sacked five times and completed 16 of 31 passes for 150 yards. Marshall caught six of those passes for 81 yards, while Devin Hester and Earl Bennett combined for six receptions for 65 yards as secondary targets.

On the ground, Matt Forte proved to be effective with 22 carries for 96 yards.

As part of a season-long trend, the Bears’ defense did most of the heavy lifting against the Lions. The defense forced the Lions into eight punts, two fumbles and an interception to go along with one touchdown allowed.

Bears nickelback D.J. Moore picked off a pass by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who posted a 74.8 passer rating. Urlacher and Julius Peppers pounced on a pair of fumbles – one by Mikel Leshoure and one by Joique Bell.

Charles Tillman was one of the game’s brightest stars as he limited Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson to three catches for 34 yards. Johnson went on to break Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards last week.

Then again, the Bears were mostly healthy when they met the Lions on a Monday night in mid-October. Rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was their only starter who was out because of an injury.

This time around, the Bears might have to play the Lions without a few injured starters. Safety Chris Conte pulled his hamstring late in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals and is a question mark for next weekend, while Forte injured his ankle early in the second half and moved slowly in a walking boot after the game.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive tackle Henry Melton and offensive lineman Jonathan Scott all sat out because of injuries, and it’s too soon to know whether they will be able to return against the Lions.

Although the Bears have veteran reserves at most positions, they were thin at safety even before Conte exited. Second-year safety Anthony Walters played 33 snaps in Conte’s absence, but it’s possible that the Bears could target depth at safety in the form of 30-year-old free-agent Chris Harris or someone else who is well-versed in Smith’s defensive scheme.

To clear a roster spot for a possible free-agent signing, the Bears waived second-year wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher on Monday. Sanzenbacher, 24, caught one pass for seven yards in four games this season after catching 27 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games in 2011.

The Bears also re-signed veteran long-snapper Patrick Mannelly to a one-year extension through the 2013 season. Mannelly, 37, owns the franchise record with 230 games played since joining the Bears in 1998.

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