The heat will be turned up a few degrees on the Bears next season. After a 5-11 record left them in last place in the NFC North, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera put it succinctly.
"There are no more excuses," Rivera said. "You can't say we're a new defense, a new scheme, a bunch of new players. That is not true anymore. We will be ready next season."
Rivera was speaking about the defense, but the concept applies to the entire team. While none of the players publicly employed the excuse of a "new system" since this was Lovie Smith's first year as head coach of the team, it was the underlying theme of the entire year — at least when it came to dealing with the media.
Nearly every coach in his first year is allowed a grace period. Criticisms can be leveled, but they are always tempered by the fact that a staff is in its first year with the team. For the Bears, that ended the day after the last game of the season.
As a result, the standards will be much higher for the Bears in 2006. If Smith has any hope of climbing the ladder in the NFC North, they must show some life on offense, and that will start with a new offensive coordinator after Terry Shea was fired.
The Bears' offensive line was abominable in 2004. They gave up nine sacks to the Packers — not exactly a defensive juggernaut — in the season finale. That raised the season total to a team-record 66 sacks allowed.
No matter what kind of talent the Bears can bring aboard on the offensive side, none of it will matter if the Bears don't plug the holes in their sieve-like offensive line.
The left tackle position is the indicator of where this franchise will go next year. Qasim Mitchell started for the first 14 games, and Marc Colombo played the final two. Colombo gave up four sacks to Packers DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Colombo looked slow, and Mitchell was basically a turnstile. If the Bears don't bring in a new left tackle, that position is likely going to cause more heartache in the future.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everyone knew everyone was giving 100 percent. You can only do what you can do. But next year, we are going to hold each other accountable." — Rookie DT Tommie Harris on what will be expected by the players next year.
As out of character as it might seem, Lions coach Steve Mariucci says he will make adjustments to his West Coast offense to fit the Lions' personnel next season.
Most notably, initial indications are that Mariucci will adjust the passing game to create more opportunities for quarterback Joey Harrington to go vertical to young wide receivers Roy Williams and Charles Rogers, assuming Rogers makes a full comeback from his second broken collarbone in two years.
In a remarkably upbeat session with the media after the Lions' disappointing 6-10 season, Mariucci left little doubt he will make changes in his West Coast offense.
"We run the West Coast offense and I will say the West Coast offense has won more Super Bowls than any offense in the history of mankind," Mariucci said. "However, we've got to determine, is that exact offense the best for our current team and the way we're structured, the way our personnel fits? And then, how do you alter it?
"You certainly must alter on it, depending on what type of quarterback. There's a dozen teams in the league that run this offense, but you have to tailor it to your talent, starting with the quarterback.
"What kind of mobility — dropback passer, shotgun passer, play-action guy. How good is your run game? How good is your receiver? Do you stay two wides more often or do you go to three and four wides like many of us are doing right now?
"The answer is, yes, we're going to stay with the West Coast offense and, yes, we have to alter it, tailor it to our personnel. We have to do that."
Mariucci gave no explanation for his decision, but sources close to the team believe Lions president Matt Millen encouraged — if not prodded — Mariucci into agreeing to adjust his approach.
Lewis, a two-time All-American halfback at nearby Michigan State University, leaves the game with four Super Bowl rings — three as an assistant at San Francisco and one during his time at Green Bay.
Lewis was already with the Lions when Mariucci was hired two years ago, and Mariucci put him into the coordinator position. Although Lewis seldom called plays, he was involved in practice-planning and had considerable input in game-planning.
"Sherm and I go way back to the Green Bay days," Mariucci said. "He and I joined Mike Holmgren in 1992, and I've always had the utmost respect for Sherm Lewis.
"He's going to take time with his family and his wife, Toni, and enjoy himself. And he's going to stay close to the situation. He's a Detroit Lion forever, and we're going to miss him.
"I publicly want to say thank you to Sherm Lewis for everything he's done, not just for the Lions but for every organization he's worked for in the National Football League. He's a great man, a heck of a coach, and we're going to miss him."
President Matt Millen had indicated the Lions would use the franchise tag if necessary to keep Rogers when he became a free agent at the end of the season, but they were hoping to get a contract in place in time to avoid all of that and got it done.
"I really wanted to be here," Rogers said. "I think they wanted me to be here. I've been through some rough times. There's no reason to jump ship now."
The Lions had high expectations of Rogers when they landed him in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft, when he was coming off an ankle injury that chased some teams away.
After an impressive rookie season, he had a subpar second year, and Millen — frustrated with Rogers' weight problem and what was seen as a lack of motivation — shopped him to several teams before the 2003 draft.
Whether Millen was serious about a trade or simply using it as a ploy, Rogers has had back-to-back standout seasons.