In between mentioning 10 times during Monday's press conference that the Bears are 5-9, coach Lovie Smith tried unsuccessfully to shift the focus from his job security to the 11-3 Vikings, their Monday night opponent at Soldier Field.
Minnesota has already clinched a playoff berth but has dropped two of its past three games and is probably looking at the Bears as an ideal slump buster, having handed them a 36-10 smack-down three weeks ago.
But Smith was asked if he felt that fans and the media were trying to get him fired in the wake of the Bears' sixth loss in seven games.
"I think the fans are disappointed in a 5-9 season, like we all are," Smith said. "These are the things that go along with a 5-9 season. The focus right now is to try to get it to a 6-9 season."
It's been a long, hard fall from Super Bowl XLI three years ago for the Bears, and especially for Smith, who was the toast of the town but now seems to grow more unpopular with each loss.
"Again, we're 5-9," said Smith, who was 31-19 after the 2006 NFC championship game but is 21-26 since. "It's not a happy feeling when you're 5-9. Not really looking a whole lot at what happened in the past or about the future. It's just about right now.
"One more time, we're disappointed. The only thing that's worse is when you can't do something about it, that bad taste you have in your mouth. That's not the case with us. We have a chance to play a divisional opponent this week."
Based on the way they've played while losing eight of their last 10 games, the Bears would appear destined for the role of "bug," with the Vikings as "windshield," in the primetime (mis)match. But the Vikings opened as "only" seven-point favorites.
Evidently the wise guys in Las Vegas see the possibility of a competitive game. What does Smith see that provides hope for a reversal of the downward trend?
"That's a fair question," Smith said. "Just knowing what we have here. Knowing what and how we've played at times this year. That's what gives us hope. [Sunday] there were times when we played pretty good football. We've played good football at times. We just haven't been able to put it all together. We have another opportunity to do that."
Players can't help but notice the public scrutiny of Smith and his staff or that general manager Jerry Angelo neglected to offer Smith a vote of confidence, even before the 31-7 loss to the Ravens.
"I'm not really interested in a whole lot of that," Smith said regarding the absent vote of confidence. "We're 5-9 right now. Your life isn't going to be good, you know? It's kind of as simple as that. We can keep going down that road, but the same answer, nobody's happy about it – fans, no one here. Hopefully, we'll feel better about 6-9."
A team that has struggled to stay on task all season doesn't need another distraction, especially against a Vikings team that is still playing for a division title and home field in the playoffs.
"Whenever there's something that starts to affect the players, it isn't a good thing," Smith said. "The players realize what we're going through right now. Nobody's happy about it. I'm the head football coach. It goes with the territory. The only way we can make the situation better and stop some of the talk is to play better ball. That's what we're going to try to do."
Eight-year veteran defensive end Alex Brown was around for the demise of the Dick Jauron regime, and he knows not to be distracted by matters he can't control.
"I was once told by my dad, 'If you can change it, change it. If you can't, why worry about it?' That's something I can't change," he said. "I can't do anything about that. It's not my decision, so I don't worry about that. I'm here to go play the Vikings and try to win."
NOTES AND QUOTES
"I don't know where the report came from," Angelo said. "I heard that. [It's] speculation I'm not dealing with. At the end of the year, we sit down and we talk. That's what we do. I understand where you guys are going. I'm not going to talk about anything prematurely. It makes no sense to do that. We've never done it in the past. We're not going to do it, irrelevant of how the season went."
Smith has two years remaining on his contract for a total of $11 million dollars, but Angelo said money would not be a concern as he conducts his postseason evaluations and makes decisions.
"We have three football games left," Angelo said. "I know we're not in the playoffs. Obviously we didn't meet expectations. We did have some problems, and I want to make sure that I focus on them first and foremost to make sure we understand what went wrong, and then what we need to fix it. I don't look at money in those times. It's not about money. It's about doing what we feel we need to do to be a better football team."
Asked to clarify Smith's status, Angelo was blunt: "Well, he's here. He's our head football coach. I don't know what else is there to clarify."
But Angelo did not say that Smith would be back for a seventh season.
"All I am saying is that at the end of the year, we sit down and we evaluate everything," Angelo said. "That's all I'm saying. Where you run with that, how you talk about it, you're going to say what you want, you're going to spin it the way that you want to spin it. I'm just telling you right now that at the end of the year, we will evaluate everything."
Told that it would be difficult to put any spin on a guarantee that Smith would return next season, Angelo said: "You got the point of my answer."
Because there is an unprecedented collection of highly regarded NFL head coaches currently available – Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick, Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy – Angelo was asked if that would play a role in his decision-making process.
"No, it doesn't," he said. "Not at all. We're going to do what we feel we need to do to win and become the kind of team that we know we can be. We'll go through an extensive evaluation process like we have every year. There probably will be more things to talk about this year in the offseason, yes, I'm not minimizing that. And we'll do that, and we'll do that rightly." ...
Maybe, instead of battling the elements to get here, the Bears should have stayed home. They apparently left their game somewhere between Chicago and snow-covered Baltimore and wound up getting pounded 31-7.
The area around M&T Bank Stadium was pummeled by 21 inches of snow in a 24-hour period, but the Bears were beaten worse by the Ravens. The Bears tried to get out of town Friday night, a day early, but were grounded by mechanical problems. Instead, they arrived in Baltimore just before midnight Saturday, about six hours later than their normal arrival time for a road game.
To their credit, the Bears didn't try to blame their performance on the disruption in their normal routine.
"We're not going to make excuses," Smith said. "We get paid to play. We got to the stadium and had an opportunity to play the game, so none of that matters."
The game was originally scheduled as a noon start but pushed back to 3:15 to accommodate snow-removal efforts throughout the city and at M&T Bank Stadium.
"We got here in plenty of time," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "Everybody was rested up. Everybody was ready to go. We're professionals. We know there's going to be some bumps in the road. It's not like we came in two hours before game time. We came in with plenty of time last night. We were ready to roll."
Or get rolled. ...
Cutler was asked about the difficulty of playing on a team where the future of the coaching staff is undecided.
"That's how it goes," Cutler said. "You're never safe in this league, especially when you're losing ballgames or you're not playing to the level you're expected to. That comes with the territory. Everybody understands that."
Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie played in just his second game this season when he mopped up for Cutler late in the fourth quarter and completed two of five passes for eight yards but was intercepted once. ...
Earl Bennett filled in for injured Devin Hester (calf) on punt returns and produced the Bears' only points on a 49-yard TD romp late in the second quarter that had the Bears trailing just 14-7 at halftime.
"I want to be on the field contributing no matter what I'm doing," said Bennett, who led the Bears with 50 receiving yards on two catches. "When my number was called to return when Devin went down. I was excited."
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