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Time for Bears’ schedule to lighten up

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(AP photo)
Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie throws a pass Sunday against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif.

The temperature dropped about 30 degrees between the time the Bears boarded their plane in Northern California and exited their plane in northern Illinois.

That’s OK.

The remainder of the Bears’ regular season schedule is warm and mostly sunny.

The Bears (7-4) remain in good position to secure an NFC wild-card berth despite their loss Sunday to the Oakland Raiders. Although they trail the undefeated Green Bay Packers by four games in the NFC North division, they hold tiebreakers over the Detroit Lions (7-4) and Atlanta Falcons (7-4) in the push for the conference’s two wild-card berths.

To make matters better, the Bears’ schedule lightens in the final five weeks.

Three of the Bears’ remaining five opponents – the Kansas City Chiefs (4-7), Seattle Seahawks (4-7) and Minnesota Vikings (2-9) – have sub-.500 records, and almost no chance to reach the postseason.

A fourth opponent, the Denver Broncos (6-5), has defied reason by winning with an offense that is badly one-dimensional.

Then there are the Packers (11-0), who have won 17 consecutive games.

However, even with the Packers on the schedule, the Bears’ remaining opponents have combined to go 27-28 through the season’s first 12 weeks. If the Bears are able to win three out of their final five games, another trip to the playoffs is likely.

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said the team should not think too far ahead.

“One game – that’s all that counts,” Urlacher said. “We’ve got to go on another streak again. We’ve got five games left, and we’ve got to get this streak going.

“It starts next week with Kansas City. We’ve got to beat them.”

In Oakland, the Bears beat themselves.

Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie threw three interceptions in the first half, including one in the red zone that represented at least a six-point swing in a game that was decided by five points. The Bears also committed seven penalties for 61 yards.

Other plays were costly but did not show up in the box score, such as when wide receiver Johnny Knox slipped on the grass and watched a pass fly over his head.

“We all took turns doing our mistakes,” Knox said. “It was our first time playing with Caleb. We just need to learn from our mistakes and rally around him and make positive things out of our mistakes that we did [Sunday].”

Although the Bears were disappointed by the loss, they were not devastated. Support remained strong for Hanie, who improved as Sunday’s game progressed.

Knox expected Hanie’s development to continue next week against the Chiefs. Hanie will start at least a few more games in place of Jay Cutler, who broke his right thumb in Week 11 and likely will miss at least four to six weeks.

“I thought [Hanie] did a good job,” Knox said. “We had some bad plays, but he stayed poised.

“He made a lot of plays for us, and this is only the beginning. We have a few more games with him, and we’re going to keep playing behind him.”

It also helps that the Bears have a softer schedule in front of them.

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