At 5-7 the Bears have no realistic hopes of making the playoffs, but coach Lovie Smith insists the players who give the team its best chance to win each week will be on the field, even if it's at the expense of evaluating talent for next season.
That was evident last week when Gaines Adams, who cost the Bears a 2010 second-round draft choice in a trade with the Bucs, was inactive. Adams had no solo tackles and just two assists in very limited play during his first six games as a Bear. Rookie Jarron Gilbert was active on Sunday instead of Adams, but he didn't get much playing time either.
"We hoped to win the football game is what we hoped to do," Smith said. "We wanted to put a defensive line out on the football field that would help us win and that's what we did. We were pleased with the guys we played. Each week is different. We were pleased with what happened this week on the football field. We will put guys in position that we think gives us the best chance to win on the weekend. No more than that. We're evaluating it all."
Also last week, Chris Williams moved from right tackle to left tackle in place of injured Orlando Pace, who has been a disappointment this season. Williams was expected to be the Bears' left tackle of the future when he was drafted in the first round in 2008, and he played fairly well against the Rams. Kevin Shaffer filled in at right tackle.
But strangely, Smith would not commit to keeping Williams at left tackle, Shaffer at right and Pace, who has no future with the Bears beyond this season, on the bench.
"They both did a good job," Smith said of Williams and Shaffer. "First off, with Orlando, we have to see if he's healthy. We'll go back to the practice field and start making those types of decisions."
At least Smith committed to finding more playing time for Jamar Williams, who had 20 tackles (according to coaches' review of film) filling in for four-time Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, who sat out with a sprained knee. Even if Briggs is back this week, as expected, Smith said Williams has earned more playing time.
"We go on production," Smith said. "By his play (Sunday), it said, ‘I need more reps.' We listen and we watch everything that happens, and we liked everything that we saw (Sunday) from him."
Lions coach Jim Schwartz was pleased with the performance of running back Kevin Smith in Sunday's 23-13 loss at Cincinnati. Smith rushed for 75 yards on 16 carries, gaining a lot of tough yards inside.
"He didn't have his best output of the year, but he probably had his best day running the football," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We needed to get him more carries."
Smith has had only one 100-yard rushing day this season. He rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries Sept. 27 against Washington before leaving in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. His second-best total was 83 yards on 24 carries Sept. 20 against Minnesota.
Schwartz pointed out how Bengals running back Cedric Benson rushed for 110 yards Sunday because he had 36 carries to do it. His team played with the lead.
"We need to be in that situation with Kevin," Schwartz said. "Kevin ran very tough. He ran aggressive — didn't go out of bounds easily, didn't go down easily, made yards on his own.
"Some of his best runs were 1- and 2-yard runs. He got hit in the backfield a couple times and was able to fight back to the line of scrimmage and get us in second-and-9 or second-and-8 or one of those situations rather than a second-and-12. I think those were some of the things that went unnoticed."
Smith has taken heat for his lack of explosiveness — not just by the fans and media, but from the coaches, including Schwartz himself. Smith still struggled to break away in the open field Sunday. His longest run was 17 yards. He has only one rush longer than 20 yards this season — a 31-yarder.
But Schwartz praised Smith for his receiving — two catches for 29 yards against the Bengals — and pass protection.
"It's just a matter of time," Schwartz said. "He's feeling healthier. He's in a position he can run tougher. I think it showed. We just need to be in a position as a team that we can get him more carries.
Told of Schwartz's comments, Smith said: "Thanks, coach." He wasn't in much of a mood to talk positively about his performance after the game, either.
"Whatever," Smith said. "Obviously not good enough. We lost. I don't know progress is when you run the ball and lose."
Smith has won only two games since the Lions drafted him last year. Is it deflating?
"For me, if I said it wasn't frustrating, it would be a lie," Smith said. "Deflating? That kind of sounds like you're going to give up. That's not my path. I'm very disappointed, but I mean, the coaches don't play. At the end of the day, I can be disappointed in myself, keep it with myself and keep it to myself."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers maintained their esteemed status as the league's top-rated defense by holding the Baltimore Ravens to 185 total yards Monday night.
Yet, the biggest stranglehold applied by the defense to ensure the Packers' 27-14 victory in a battle of teams contending for wild-card playoff spots in their respective conferences came via its clutch takeaways.
Previously maligned cornerback Tramon Williams and linebacker A.J. Hawk had interceptions on back-to-back passes by Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter, enabling Green Bay (8-4) to win its fourth straight game after the Ravens rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit.
"We faced some adversity out there for a while," Williams said. "But, it just shows the character of our team, to come out and continue fighting."
Williams' pick occurred two plays after he was called for pass interference in the end zone. It was his third pass-interference penalty of the game — he also had another one in the end zone that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee to cut the Packers' lead to 17-14 late in the third quarter.
On second-and-goal from the Green Bay 3, Williams jumped in front of Ravens receiver Demetrius Williams to intercept a floater from Flacco in the middle of the end zone.
"It felt great. I can't lie," Tramon Williams said. "It was getting frustrating (with the penalties) a little bit out there, but it can get like that sometimes. As a DB, you've got to have a short-term memory. I just continued playing, and something eventually happened."
The key turnover came after the Packers increased their lead to 24-14 on Aaron Rodgers' third touchdown pass of the game.
After the Ravens forced a three-and-out following the Williams interception, the Packers quickly regained possession again when Hawk intercepted a downfield pass to tight end Todd Heap.
The Packers overcame a season-high-tying three giveaways by coming up with four takeaways, including three interceptions of Flacco.
Rookie linebacker Clay Matthews, who also had two sacks, forced a fumble by Ray Rice in the red zone in Baltimore's first series of the game.
"That's the way we play," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "Our turnover ratio (league-best plus-18) is something that's coached every single day. We're disappointed with the giveaways; I can tell you that right now. That's not who we are. That's not the way we're going to play down the stretch. We need to make sure that doesn't happen.
"But, our guys (on defense) do an outstanding job of going after the football. They're playing with a lot more vision with our defense here than in the past."
The second-year player sparked the Packers' 27-14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in prime time Monday at Lambeau Field with a game-high and career-high-tying seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns, a personal best.
"When the lights are on, that's what I expect and that's what the Packers want," Finley said.
He had six receptions for a career-high 128 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown, in Green Bay's Monday night loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 5 this season.
Finley's second touchdown against the Ravens — on a 19-yard throw from Aaron Rodgers with 10 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter — pushed the Packers' lead to 24-14 after Baltimore had erased a 17-0 halftime deficit to get within 17-14.
Finley had left the game early in the second half because of a knee bruise. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation and some pain medicine, then returned to action later in the third quarter.
"I promise you I took about six pills before I came back out on the field," Finley said. "When I got back out of the tunnel, everything just went away. We've got to play ball."
Flynn didn't get the football placed clean on the snap, and Crosby pushed the attempt wide right with the Packers' clinging to a 17-14 lead.
"We need to make those field goals. That's the bottom line," McCarthy said. "I know the snap wasn't handled correctly and so forth, so we need to continue to improve in that area. That was a big drive, and to come out of that with no points, we need to do a better job there."
The Green Bay defense responded with a three-and-out, giving the offense good field position at midfield after the Ravens punted to deliver the decisive touchdown on the 19-yard catch by Finley.