A Bears rally for Lovie
A week after general manager Jerry Angelo had little positive to say about a season gone wrong for the Chicago Bears, Lovie Smith rallied his team for its most impressive victory of the season.
The Bears stunned the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings on Monday night at Soldier Field, leaving their rivals reeling with its third defeat in four games, and only fueling debate about Smith's future in Chicago.
Angelo, speaking to reporters before the game in Baltimore last week, characterized a report that Smith was definitely returning for a seventh season as speculation and said money wouldn't play a factor in the decision. The Bears had lost eight of their last 10 games before the 36-30 victory over the Vikings in overtime, and speculation has mounted for weeks that the McCaskeys would do something unprecedented in franchise history and can Smith with two years and roughly $11 million remaining on the contract extension he received after leading the team to Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season.
"You can't live in the past. It's been documented how the season has gone — not the way we envisioned it," Smith said. "When you get to this point, all you can do is play your best ball with the few opportunities you have left. This was one of the opportunities. When the playoff hopes are over, but you still see guys giving their best effort, it's encouraging to see what we will be in the future."
"It was an opportunity to show what we can be in the future. That was enough. At times, we haven't been pleased with our play or the power of our play. But we're moving on."
It's a complicated situation as there was a power shift when Smith was rewarded with his new deal. At that time, he and Angelo became nearly equals. Angelo will make a recommendation to team president Ted Phillips and the McCaskeys after the season, but he doesn't hold a singular voice in the process. The Bears brought back Dave Wannstedt after a 4-12 season when he had two years remaining on his contract. They brought back Dick Jauron after a 4-12 season when he had two years remaining on his contract. The Bears could get to 7-9 with a victory on Sunday at Detroit, but this marks the third straight season the team has finished out of the playoffs.
Smith has opened himself up to further scrutiny this season as he's acted as his own defensive coordinator. It was the defense that nearly failed Chicago Monday night. Minnesota trailed 16-0 at halftime but rallied for 30 points in the second half and would have won the game on a six-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Sidney Rice in the closing seconds if Israel Idonije had not blocked a Ryan Longwell extra point in the third quarter.
The season has been defined by fourth-quarter flops. Chicago blew two games in the fourth quarter to rival Green Bay, blew chances in the final minutes at Atlanta and San Francisco and squandered a fourth-quarter lead to Philadelphia. There have been four blowouts of 20 points or more, raising questions whether or not Smith has had the team prepared.
But scouts say they see the Bears playing hard on tape. It's expected that offensive coordinator Ron Turner will be removed at season's end and the organization will seek to build a program around quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw four touchdown passes in the Monday night victory. The question at Halas Hall is how deep those changes will run. The feeling is that when you consider past history — and the McCaskeys are slow to change — and factor in a spirited win over the Vikings, Smith may be safe.
Angelo said the day Smith was hired that he wouldn't go through the process again, that the next autopsy would be his. The GM is signed through 2013. It's impossible to say, but right now speculation is Smith returns with a new offensive staff. And he'll have to win in 2010.
Follow me on Twitter: BradBiggs
Is Brett Favre to blame for the Vikings' woes? Check out this article from Bleacher Report to find out.