Never fear, those of you that listen to Lovie Smith. Regardless of what has happened to this point in the 2012 season, or those before, the Bears only face the fourth in a series of four-game seasons in Lovie-speak. Win their final three games and the Bears are in the playoffs.
This is true, to a degree, but it dismisses the reality that the Bears are now 8-5 after starting the season 7-1. They are 1-4 in their last five games, and the losses have been ugly in different ways. It also dismisses the reality that like it or not, 2012 is resembling the finish to the 2011 season in which the Bears spiraled out of playoff contention.
In yesterday’s 21-14 loss at Minnesota, I don’t think the Bears were ever truly in the game. For much of it they looked as if they were playing at a different level of intensity than the Vikings. On the game’s first play, Adrian Peterson ran for 51 yards. The Bears did start to contain Peterson, but at the same time they consistently self-destructed on offense.
Does anyone continue to think this team has the chance for a deep playoff run as we did when they started 7-1 against mostly inferior competition?
The playoffs may not be there at all, as the Green Bay Packers stand directly in front of the Bears. Smith began his head coaching career by famously stating the Bears number one goal is to beat the Packers. Smith started strong in that regard by going 6-2 against pre-Aaron Rodgers Green Bay teams. Since 2008 his Bears teams are 2-7.
Smith’s 2012 Bears controlled the NFC North for much of the season, but in the last two weeks have allowed the Packers to open a two-game lead. Not only this, but the Bears’ losses have allowed teams like Seattle, Minnesota, Washington and Dallas to creep back into the NFC Wildcard race with real chances to supplant the Bears.
Certainly the Bears will make the playoffs if they win out, finishing 3-0 with an 11-5 record including a win against their arch-rivals. Although even if they do beat Green Bay, their chances of a division title and a home playoff game are gone barring an epic Packer collapse. But should the Bears sneak in at 10-6 or 9-7 and have to travel to New York or San Francisco, how are we feeling about their chances? Yes, I will hope that they can go on a Giant-style run and catch fire through the playoffs on the road. But what would make me believe that will happen?
A common topic of conversation these days is that if his Bears miss the playoffs this season, Smith will be fired, as he will have then missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons and in six of his nine overall. There are many, many questions to consider when deciding if a coaching regime should be retained over a decade or more. The first factor in the decision, I believe, should be the organization asking itself if a 30% record of reaching the playoffs is good enough. Doesn’t seem so to me.
But-as I said when the Bears fired Dick Jauron, although I wanted Jauron fired I questioned what truly better alternatives were out there to replace him. In what I believe to be the rare possibility that the Bears do fire Smith, who besides Bill Cowher and John Gruden are sitting on the sidelines? Who would be a coaching upgrade over Smith, who at the very least has kept the Bears competitive year-over-year (unlike his two predecessors)?
Personally, given the McCaskey family’s love for Smith, I think that even if the Bears finish the season 1-2 and miss the playoffs they will not fire him. It will be odd to see a coach go into the final year of his contract without an extension, but I think that is more likely to happen than a Smith firing.
I don’t think he should be fired just to fire him without a better replacement being identified, but then again how do you continue to go on with a coach who has shown the inability to beat his biggest rivals and a record of making the postseason only 30% of the time?
Focusing on the coming Sunday, it would be nice to be a part of a new era in which the Bears-Packers rivalry is a back-and-forth affair. But is has proven to not be this way in the Smith era. Unfortunately I’m preparing to once again go to Soldier Field on the 16th, see tons of green and gold in the crowd, and walk out embarrassed.
Interesting that I remember Dave Wannstedt’s final game as Bears coach was at Soldier Field in a loss to the Packers. Michael McCaskey noticed the stadium filled with Packer fans and realized how his fan base was eroding. While it may look like it’s approaching this again on Sunday, I doubt that will trigger the same reaction by the family. And unless there is a sure-fire upgrade in the coaching staff identified, I don’t know if that would be the right answer anyway.