With their longest skid of the season in the past, the Baltimore Ravens are confident they can make a serious push for a third straight AFC North title.
The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, hope a growing list of injuries won't keep them from remaining a contender in the NFC North.
Looking to win consecutive games for the first time in almost two months, the Ravens try for their first victory at Soldier Field against the Bears on Sunday.
Though Baltimore (4-5) still had problems running the ball, Joe Flacco struggled at times and the defense blew a 17-0 halftime lead, last Sunday's 20-17 overtime win over division-leading Cincinnati ended a three-game slide and instilled some confidence.
"They showed the heart of champions," said coach John Harbaugh, whose team is one-game behind the Bengals in the loss column." Where this will lead us, we'll find out."
Though the Ravens never felt their season was over after losing to Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cleveland by a combined 11 points, they understand there's work to be done.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for 61 of the team's 85 rushing yards, and Baltimore ranks 30th averaging 73.1 per game and is tied for last at 2.8 per carry. Rice rushed for at least 1,143 yards in each of the last four seasons but has 289 and averages 2.5 per attempt in 2013.
"We need to get better with our run game," Harbaugh said. "We gained a few more yards (against the Bengals), but that to me is negligible because we're not as a successful as we want to be. Not even close."
Baltimore, which hasn't won back-to-back games since Sept. 15-22, could improve against a Chicago team that ranks 31st giving up 129.4 rushing yards per game, and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in two straight and three of the last four games.
Flacco, meanwhile, has thrown seven touchdowns and three interceptions in four games but two of those picks came last weekend. He also fumbled and was sacked five times for the second straight contest and third time in four games.
The Ravens have allowed more than 19 points once in four games, but the defense collapsed in the second half last Sunday and allowed the Bengals to force overtime when Andy Dalton's 51-yard desperation heave was caught by A.J. Green for a TD as time expired.
"(Last Sunday's win) can start something," Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "But we can't let this get over our heads, thinking we're something that we're not. We've just got to get back to that film and keep getting better, and better, and better."
The Bears (5-4) wish things were better in the health department.
Defensive tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and linebacker D.J. Williams are all out with season-ending injuries, while fellow linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) are currently sidelined. Making matters worse, star cornerback Charles Tillman was placed on injured reserve/designated to return with a torn triceps and quarterback Jay Cutler will miss at least this contest with an ankle injury.
'It just so happened, the injury bug, it has a hold of our team for some reason," Tillman said.
Cutler missed Chicago's 27-20 win at Green Bay on Nov. 4 with a groin injury he suffered in a 45-41 loss at Washington on Oct. 20. He hurt his ankle in last Sunday's 21-19 defeat to Detroit, but stayed in the game until Chicago's final series and finished 21 of 40 for 250 yards with a TD and interception.
Backup Josh McCown went 6 of 9 on the final drive and hit Brandon Marshall for an 11-yard TD pass with 40 seconds left, but the 2-point conversion attempt failed. The 34-yard McCown has thrown four TDs and no INTs while posting a 103.2 passer rating in three games, including a start against the Packers.
"We know what Josh can do," center Roberto Garza said. "Obviously, (at Green Bay) was a testament to what his preparation is, and we just got another sample of Josh's ability to lead this team and step in to situations like that."
Marshall has 14 receptions for 246 yards and three TDs in the last two games. Alshon Jeffery has topped the 100-yard receiving mark four times, and 200 once, in the last six.
Chicago's Matt Forte is seventh in the league with 691 rushing yards but hopes to bounce back after he was held to a season-low 33 on 17 carries versus Detroit. Baltimore is 10th in the NFL allowing 102.6 yards per game on the ground.
Though Baltimore hasn't recorded a touchdown while being outscored 34-9 in two losses at Soldier Field, the Ravens won the most recent meeting, 31-7 at home in 2009. Flacco went 21 of 29 for 234 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in that contest.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved