By Chris Burke
December 13, 2011

Marion Barber's fumble in overtime against the Broncos was his second costly gaffe of the game. (AP)

Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

"He knows better. You can't do that."

That's what Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey had to say about Marion Barber's inability to stay inbounds on a late fourth quarter run -- a mistake that saved an extra 40 seconds for Tim Tebow and the Denver offense.

Tebow, of course, used that extra time to get the Broncos into field-goal range, where Matt Prater boomed a 59-yarder to send Sunday's game against Chicago into overtime.

The extra session gave Barber a chance to redeem himself. Instead, he piled on another mistake.

On the first possession of overtime, with the Bears in a 3rd-and-7 from Denver's 38 -- within the range of kicker Robbie Gould -- quarterback Caleb Hanie handed off to Barber, who looked for a split-second like he might break free and head to the end zone for a game-winning score. Instead, Denver's Wesley Woodyard got a hand on the ball and ripped it from Barber's grasp.

Denver recovered and, nine plays later, Prater ended the game with another field goal.

Barber's mind-boggling miscues overshadowed an otherwise impressive day. Taking over for an injured Matt Forte as the Bears No. 1 running back, Barber carried the ball 27 times for 108 yards plus a shifty touchdown run against a stout Denver defense. He added 32 yards receiving on two catches.

But his two errors helped Tebow pull off another miraculous comeback, and left the Bears' playoff hopes in deep trouble.

How unexpected was Barber's fumble? Well, it was his first fumble since Week 13 of the 2009 season, a stretch of 277 carries.

The turnover wouldn't have been possible, though, if not for Barber's mental block in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. When Sunday's game hit the two-minute warning, Chicago had a 2nd-and-10 at its own 49, and Denver had no timeouts left. Even if the Bears had taken a knee twice and punted, the Broncos would not have had more than 20 or 25 seconds to drive the field.

That all changed on that second-down play, when Barber bounced to his left in an effort to get outside and allowed himself to be knocked out of bounds. The Broncos then got the ball back with 56 seconds on the clock, more than enough time to pick up the 39 yards they gained.

Even as the Bears talked about this being a team loss afterward, Barber's play was inexcusable -- especially for a seven-year pro.

The fallout now could be devastating for Chicago.

With just three weeks left in the regular season, the Bears find themselves a full game behind Atlanta and Detroit in the wild-card race and still have a trip to Lambeau Field (plus games against Seattle and at Minnesota) left on the schedule.

Chicago still has ample opportunity to claim a playoff spot, but it no longer controls its own destiny.

Given that the Bears were seconds away -- twice -- from beating a red-hot Broncos team on the road, without starting quarterback Jay Cutler or Forte, that's a pretty tough pill to swallow.

The Bears' challenge going forward may be as much mental as it is physical. Lovie Smith's postgame comments emphasized the fact:

"All losses are tough, but this one was especially tough," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "This one hurts. There's not a lot more I can say."

With Forte still sidelined for at least a couple more weeks, the Bears will again turn to Barber Sunday against Seattle. Can he put his Week 14 gaffes behind him or will his and Chicago's season unravel now?

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