Smith has few answers for Bears' struggles

Coach Lovie Smith has taken a downward turn in popularity as the Bears are fighting a losing effort and a losing season. Next Monday, they get a crack at the Vikings, who suddenly have their own issues.

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 "the 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. "(It's) 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 trying to regain some momentum heading into 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

  • DE Adewale Ogunleye, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, suffered a fractured fibula in the third quarter and will miss the remainder of the season.

  • Former Vikings RB Kahlil Bell, now with the Bears, picked up 30 yards on six carries and could get a longer look down the stretch at the expense of disappointing starter Matt Forte. Bell is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on 25 attempts, thanks in part to a 72-yard run on his first NFL touch in Week 11.

  • WR Johnny Knox caught four passes Sunday but for only 29 yards. The fifth-round pick has 45 receptions for 527 yards and five touchdowns.

  • RB Matt Forte's modest total of 69 rushing yards (on 20 carries), represent his fourth-most-productive game of a disappointing season in which he's averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.

  • LB Lance Briggs was credited with 13 tackles in Week 15 and now has an even 100 for the season, according to NFL stats.


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