The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have nothing left to play
for but pride in the regular season finale. Bears coach Lovie Smith
might have a little more at stake.
Smith could use another strong showing from his team Sunday in
Detroit to bolster his chances of returning next season.
Chicago (6-9) will miss the playoffs for the third straight time
since its Super Bowl run in 2006, which ended with a 29-17 loss to
At best, the Bears are looking at their second 7-9 finish in the
past three years under Smith, who is 51-44 since taking over in
2004. At worst, they’ll have their first 10-loss season since
finishing 5-11 in Smith’s first year.
A 36-30 overtime win Monday night over NFC North champion
Minnesota might have helped turn fortunes in the coach’s favor.
Beleaguered quarterback Jay Cutler, who has an NFL-worst 26
interceptions, matched a career high with four touchdown passes,
including a 39-yard strike to Devin Aromashodu for the deciding
“I think the game made a statement about our football team and
where we are and what we can be in the future, no more than that,”
Smith said. “As a football coach your job is at stake every day you
go to work. … It’s like that with everyone. I realize where I am
and where we are. It’s been a disappointing season and I’m the head
The thrilling victory came one week after general manager Jerry
Angelo’s tepid response to questions of whether Smith would return.
The coach knows nothing is assured even if his team beats the Lions
(2-13) for the fourth straight time.
“I’m confident that I’ll be coaching (against) the Detroit Lions
this week, and that’s about as far as you need to go,” he said.
“You coach and you work that day. You don’t look any farther than
that, and it’s been that way for me since I’ve been here. Nothing
The Bears will play the finale without starting cornerback
Charles Tillman, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after
breaking his ribs in Monday’s win. The statuses of defensive
back/kick returner Danieal Manning and wide receiver Johnny Knox,
who scored on a 102-yard kickoff return in a 48-24 home win over
Detroit on Oct. 4, are also unknown.
Knox was carted off the field after injuring his ankle, while
Manning has a strained calf – the same injury that’s kept wide
receiver Devin Hester out of the past three games. Hester’s is also
uncertain for Sunday.
If neither receiver can play, the burden might fall on Matt
Forte to carry the Bears to another win over Detroit. The
second-year running back’s only 100-yard effort of the season came
in the October meeting, when he ran for 121 yards and a touchdown.
However, he managed only 36 yards on 15 carries in last season’s
visit to Ford Field.
Despite being plagued by a sophomore slump, Forte is 172 yards
from reaching 1,000 after compiling 1,238 as a rookie.
Cutler threw for a modest 141 yards in the victory over the
Lions earlier this season, but with two touchdowns and no
interceptions – one of his three games without a pick since joining
While the Lions will conclude this season with a better record
than last season’s 0-16 debacle, Detroit would like to avoid
finishing it with a sixth straight loss.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz could look to veteran Daunte Culpepper
again after giving Drew Stanton his first career start at
quarterback in last week’s 20-6 loss at San Francisco. Culpepper
entered that game in the fourth quarter after Stanton threw his
third interception and finished 7 of 12 for 51 yards.
“We’re not going to make a decision based on getting a better
look at a guy – we’ll make the decision based on who helps our
offense and who gives us the best chance at winning the game,”
Schwartz said. “In the last few games, our quarterbacks have not
Culpepper hasn’t started against the Bears since a 28-3 loss
with Minnesota on Oct. 16, 2005. He’s 5-7 lifetime versus
Culpepper also replaced No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford, who
underwent minor surgery on his right knee earlier this week and
will not play Sunday, in the fourth quarter of the October loss to
The Bears are trying to snap a five-game road losing streak.