Chicago BearsThe resurgence of quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense continued Sunday in a season-ending 37-23 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, but will it be enough to save the jobs of offensive coordinator Ron Turner and some of his assistants?
Even coach Lovie Smith's job security remains unsettled, and the case could be made that, down the stretch, the offense outperformed the defense, which Smith took over this season. The Bears scored 73 points in their final two games, both wins, after scoring 74 points in the previous six games combined. But the defense allowed 84 points in the final three games.
"We're going to do whatever we decide to do fairly soon," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said before the game on WBBM Radio. "That is what we have always done. We certainly have things to talk about. I am not minimizing that. We will do that once the season is over."
It ended for the Bears with a 7-9 record and a third straight season out of the playoffs. But they did win their final two games after losing eight of 10, and Angelo has said more than once that every game is important and that he would evaluate every game the same, even after the Bears were out of the playoff picture.
"That is not lip service," Angelo said. "These games are very important to us. And we want to make sure our focus is there."
The consensus around Halas Hall, among sources with knowledge of the situation, is that Turner and probably offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton will not be back.
But a compelling case for continued employment was made in the final two games, as the Bears generated 781 yards of offense. Cutler, who still wound up with an NFL-high 26 interceptions, was brilliant in season-ending victories over NFC North rivals Minnesota and Detroit, with eight touchdown passes, just one interception, 534 passing yards and passer ratings of 108.4 and 122.0.
Afterward, Smith tap-danced around any employment-related questions.
"Every year, changes happen," Smith said. "We realize that's a part of it. We're enjoying this (win) now. I think changes are necessary from top to bottom with everybody that's (had) something to do with everything, as far as improving our team. As far as changes, we just need to change some things to make it a little better and go from there."
Asked if he thought Turner did a good enough job to be brought back for the final year of his contract, Smith said: "I think all of us didn't do as good a job as we needed to, starting with me. And it goes down to all coaches, players and everyone who's involved in our organization. (We) didn't do as good a job as we need to — to get back to where we belong."
Asked if he was confident that he would be back, Smith said: "Until someone tells me otherwise. After a game, I normally come to work trying to improve our ball club. I'll do the same thing (Monday)."
Smith took over the defensive play-calling duties this season, but there wasn't any improvement in the final product, and that may be a job he looks to fill before next season, freeing himself up.
"I don't necessarily see it as a burden most of the time," he said. "It definitely took up more of my time. It was a chore, but winning football games is a chore in general. I definitely enjoyed it at times, but I had my hands full doing both."
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The young group of wide receivers showed progress across the board. Earl Bennett, who did not catch a pass as a rookie in 2008, had 54 receptions for 717 yards. Devin Hester, who missed four games with injuries, still bettered last year's numbers, improving his catches from 51 to 57 and his yardage from 665 to a team-best 757. Rookie Johnny Knox, a fifth-round pick from Abilene Christian, caught 45 passes for 527 yards and five touchdowns. Devin Aromashodu, after kicking around the league for four years, mostly on practice squads, caught 22 passes for 282 yards in the final four games after making two receptions for 16 yards in the first 12.
Even disappointing QB Jay Cutler finished with a flourish, tossing eight TD passes and just one pick in his final two games, while posting passer ratings of 108.4 and 122.0 in back-to-back games.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Jay Cutler still led the NFL with 26 interceptions, and although some of them can be attributed to an inexperienced corps of receivers, he also made some blunders in judgment. Another reason for his sometimes skittish performances was an offensive line that was poor in the early going but showed improvement late in the season when 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams was moved from tight tackle to left tackle.
Overall, though, pass blocking was below average and run blocking was worse. The Bears finished 30th in rushing yards, and Matt Forte seemed to get slower and less powerful a year after his impressive rookie season.
The defense was supposed to be better with head coach Lovie Smith taking over the play-calling duties, but that didn't happen. They were absolutely awful on third downs, ranking 28th in the league.
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A year after posting the NFL's first 0-16 season, the Lions finished with the league's second-worst record at 2-14. And they lost to the only team that finished worse: St. Louis.
Had the Lions won that Nov. 1 game, the Rams would have been the second NFL team to go 0-16 and set the record for most losses in a two-year span. But they didn't. So the Rams, who went 2-14 last season, sit at 1-15, and it's the Lions with the record for most losses in a two-year span with 30.
The Lions also own the record for most points allowed in a two-year span with 1,011 — 517 last year, second most all-time; 494 this season, fourth-most all-time. They also own the record for most losses in a 40-game span with 37 and in a nine-year span with 111.
"Just because we won two games, it doesn't make it feel better," said linebacker Ernie Sims, the No. 9 overall pick in 2006. "Losing is losing, and that's what I've been experiencing ever since I've been here. We need to turn this thing around. I'm sick of losing."
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Lions drafted without general manager Matt Millen for the first time since 2000, and it looks like they hit on some picks: quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas, linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill.
Stafford, the No. 1 pick overall, gives the Lions a QB to build around. He helped the Lions snap their 19-game losing streak Sept. 27 with a 19-14 victory over Washington. He gave the Lions their highlight of the season, suffering a separated left shoulder, hopping up off the turf, eluding the medics and throwing the winning touchdown with no time left to beat Cleveland, 38-37.
Delmas' 101-yard interception return Dec. 20 against Arizona was the longest by a rookie in modern NFL history — second all-time to the 103-yarder Columbus' Pete Barnum posted in 1926 at Canton. It made Delmas the first rookie — and only the second NFL player, after the Rams' Rod Martin in 1984 — to score on an interception return, a fumble return and a safety in the same season.
"I see something really special in that kid," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "I defy you to find a guy that's done more for an organization than Louis Delmas."
WHAT WENT WRONG: Stafford, Pettigrew and running back Kevin Smith all ended up on injured reserve and had knee surgeries, while the Lions continued losing at their historic rate. The streaks mentioned above aren't the only ones. The Lions also have lost 20 straight on the road and 15 straight in the division.
General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz inherited a mess, and they tried as hard as they could to upgrade the talent level — swinging trades, signing free agents, claiming players off waivers — and they tried to hold players accountable by moving them in and out of the lineup.
But they couldn't cajole more than two wins out this group — and those two wins were by a combined six points over two bad teams. The offense struggled to score, especially when Stafford was out. The defense gave up points at a staggering rate. The special teams had issues all season.
"We just didn't accomplish what we strived to do in the off-season with the people we brought in," Sims said. "They flipped the whole script and they took everybody out and brought in new people, and it just hasn't changed. We're still losing. We're not doing what it takes to win."
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