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Bears’ efforts to save Lovie Smith should’ve come sooner

Under Lovie Smith Bears have excelled favorable situations struggled face adversity. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Under Lovie Smith, the Bears have excelled in favorable situations and struggled in the face of adversity. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 30, 2012 12:06PM



DETROIT — ‘‘Win one for Lovie’’?

It’s a little too late for that.

If the Bears are good enough to come up with a supreme effort with their beloved coach’s future hanging in the balance, they should have done that a long time ago — like against the Green Bay Packers, the Houston Texans or the San Francisco 49ers. Or the Seattle Seahawks. That was the time to win for Lovie.

A command performance in a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs Sunday against the 4-11 Detroit Lions at Ford Field would almost be an indictment more than a statement of loyalty and affection for Smith. Why do the Bears always seem to love him most against losing teams? That doesn’t say much for them.

This team might love its coach too much. Maybe that’s why the Bears have had such a well-defined personality the last nine years. They’re great when the schedule is softer, the roster healthier and the venue friendlier. When the degree of difficulty is raised just a notch — against good teams, in domed stadiums, with injuries affecting the lineup — they struggle.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has earned the right to say almost anything he wants, was willing to insult Bears fans in defense of Smith.

Everybody follows his lead. Asked if there was a sentiment in the Bears’ locker room this week that the team would ‘‘win this for Lovie,’’ linebacker Lance Briggs went a step further. The Bears aren’t just playing for Lovie, they’re playing for their way of life under Lovie. That might not be such a good thing.

‘‘More than just Lovie. Win it for us,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘If you’ve enjoyed your time here in Chicago and the way that Lovie has treated you and us together and this camaraderie that we have, then win for that.

‘‘If Lovie is not here, that goes with him. I’ve enjoyed every moment here in Chicago. And I don’t intend on that changing. So it’s time to go out and beat Detroit, and then we’ll pull for the Packers.’’

One game isn’t going to change that. The Bears have been playing for Smith every game of every season since 2004. After nine years, there’s nothing the Bears can do against the Lions to redefine his tenure.

Even after last week’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the prevailing thought was not an unfamiliar one at University of Phoenix Stadium: The Bears were who we thought they were. They’re as good as any in the NFL at gorging on low-hanging fruit. Their nine defensive touchdowns have come against the St. Louis Rams (7-7-1), the Dallas Cowboys (8-7), the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13), the Carolina Panthers (6-9), the Tennessee Titans (5-10) and the Cardinals (5-10). Only the Cowboys have a chance to make the playoffs. Against the Texans (12-3), Packers (11-4), 49ers (10-4-1) and Seahawks (10-5), they came up empty.

Smith has one out left: If the Bears make the playoffs and pull off upset road victories over the 49ers (or Seahawks) and Falcons to reach the NFC Championship Game, he can’t help but survive with Chicago’s blessing. Road playoff victories — of which Lovie has none to date — command respect.

A victory over the Lions — no matter how impressive — only buys him another day.



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