Bears' long-term goals intact with playoff hopes about gone

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The Chicago Bears understand their playoff chances essentially got tossed into Lake Michigan.

Right tackle Kyle Long insisted their long-term hopes did not.

"I promise you, it will get better," he said Monday. "Gosh, we're in every game. But it's not good enough and we need to be better."

The Bears (5-7) made a surprising jump into the NFC playoff race, only to get taken down by the lowly San Francisco 49ers in about the most gut-wrenching way possible at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Jay Cutler threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, Robbie Gould missed two field goals on his 34th birthday and the defense gave up two huge plays late in the game, sending Chicago to a 26-20 loss. Blaine Gabbert scrambled 44 yards untouched to the end zone to tie it for San Francisco and Gould missed the potential winning field goal at the end of regulation.

Gabbert struck again in overtime, hitting Torrey Smith for a 71-yard TD and essentially sinking the playoff hopes of a team few expected to contend this season.

As demoralizing as that was, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins insisted there is still plenty of motivation. The Bears have four games left, starting with Washington at home this weekend.

"Obviously the playoffs are a long shot," Jenkins said. "We can't go in these last couple of game saying the season is over. These last four games are definitely going to be a test of character for the whole team."

It's also a chance for some players to prove they are worth keeping, that they can help the Bears win in the future.

For all the strides Chicago made in its first season under coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace, there are still some talent gaps - particularly on defense and special teams.

Gould's struggles are jarring, given his record. He ranks among the most accurate kickers in NFL history. But he has five misses this season, tying the second-highest total of his career.

It will also be interesting to see how the Bears handle rookie receiver Kevin White. The No. 7 pick in the draft, the former West Virginia standout has spent the entire season on the physically unable to perform list because of a stress fracture in his left shin. A three-week evaluation window to decide whether White will be activated or placed on injured reserve closes next week.

White did not sound optimistic a few weeks ago about playing and the Bears would seem to have no real incentive to hurry him back, given their record and their vision for him. They saw him as a potential starter with Alshon Jeffery.

Fox said he thinks White's leg is healed and that it's simply a matter of getting him into football shape. But it's not clear if the Bears will activate him.

"We'll evaluate that deal," Fox said. "If he's cleared to play football, he'll be out there. If not, he won't."

The Bears are just 1-5 at Soldier Field and have dropped eight of nine there dating to last season. Four of the losses this season were to teams that were in sole possession of division leads or tied for first place through Sunday. Even so, that's a jarring statistic.

"I was thinking about this long and hard last night and we put a big emphasis on being road warriors," Long said. "You know it's so hard to go on the road and win in the NFL. I guess we might find that extra something when you go on the road. You know, when you know that it's us against the entire stadium, that kind of gives you that extra juice. We have to be able to find that at home."

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