Losses are mounting and so is the criticism, yet coach Lovie Smith insists he’s not thinking about his future with the Chicago Bears.
He’s only focused on the task at hand: Salvaging something from this crumbling season.
At 4-7, the stumbling and bumbling Bears are staring at their third straight postseason miss since the 2006 team’s run to the Super Bowl, and Smith said he understands the scrutiny.
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“I realize we haven’t played as well,” he said Monday. “There were high hopes, especially after the way we started. As far as why, there’s a lot of reasons why, but we realize where we are. And that’s why we’re going to continue to look at what we’re doing, which we do each week – try to evaluate everything we’re doing from scheme to calls we’re making to just the players. We’ll continue to do that and try to get a win, but yeah, we realize exactly where we are.”
The Bears hit another low Sunday in a 36-10 loss at Minnesota in which Jay Cutler threw two more interceptions and the defense allow 537 yards – the most by Chicago in 27 years.
Injured star linebacker Brian Urlacher questioned the team’s direction in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, wondering why the Bears are emphasizing the pass instead of the run.
“Look, I love Jay, and I understand he’s a great player who can take us a long way, and I still have faith in him,” Urlacher told the Web site. “But I hate the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we’d rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that’s the truth.”
Of course, the trade that sent Orton to Denver for Cutler sent optimism soaring in Chicago. Finally, for the first time in decades, the Bears had a franchise quarterback. But now? They’re simply a mess.
Cutler leads the league with a career-high 20 interceptions, including 15 in the past seven games, and is doing little to silence critics who wonder if he will ever develop into a winner.
Urlacher’s comments are probably just more fuel for them even if he wasn’t necessarily ripping the quarterback. It also lends some credibility to those reports over the summer of a rift between them, even though both players denied there was one.
More important, though, is where the Bears go from here.
They went from five wins in Smith’s first season in 2004 to 11 in 2005 and 13 during the 2006 season. Whether that early progress is enough to buy him at least another year – if not the remaining two on his contract – is to be determined.
Smith insisted he’s only thinking about the upcoming game against St. Louis.
“When you’re in a situation like this, you don’t look any farther than that,” Smith said. “All of your thoughts are occupied by trying to put a better product on the football field.”
As for Urlacher’s comments?
“I can see why everyone that’s a part of our football team is frustrated right now,” Smith said. “Brian’s a part of that. As far as our identity changing, I think every team in the National Football League needs to be able to run the football. They’ll all say that. And at times, they need to be able to pass it. Sometimes, you need to pass it more than you need to run it. That’s what we are.”
Center Olin Kreutz added: “The way we look on the field right now, the way we’re performing, none of us are happy with that.”
Cutler has been victimized by poor protection and poor decisions, and when he hands the ball off, the Bears simply go nowhere. They rank dead last in rushing, and the defense can’t bail out the offense.
Urlacher suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the opener at Green Bay, setting a bad tone that continues to ring. The Bears also lost starting strongside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to a season-ending knee injury against the Packers, and Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs was undergoing more tests after leaving the Vikings game with a sprained left knee.
Cornerback Charles Tillman (mild concussion) and left tackle Orlando Pace (strained groin) did not return after leaving the game in the second half, while defensive end Alex Brown played after bruising his right leg.
“We realize we’re missing some good football players but all teams are at this time of the year,” Smith said. “I know the team that we played, they were definitely better than us (Sunday).”