Smith: Bears focused inward
By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter
1:20 p.m. CST, December 10, 2012
Lovie Smith conceded his Chicago Bears no longer control their own destiny in the NFC North. But the coach made it clear that his struggling team, which has lost four of its last five games, will dictate its postseason future.
The Bears stumbled Sunday, losing 21-14 at Minnesota, to fall a game back of Green Bay (9-4) in the division. The Packers can clinch the title with a victory Sunday at Soldier Field. But the Bears (8-5) are still alive for the division and will be assured a playoff berth if they win out.
The schedule gets easier after the Packers game, but the Bears will have to go on the road in Weeks 16 and 17 to Arizona and Detroit.
The Bears could reach the postseason with fewer than 11 wins, but at that point they could get entangled in wild-card tiebreakers. All three teams that were trailing the Bears by two games in the conference – Minnesota, Dallas and Washington – won Sunday, so they are all within a game now.
“The pressure we're feeling right now is just on our performances improving,” Smith said when asked if the pressure has been turned up. “It's on us. We talked about someone else controlling the division. But what happens to us, it doesn't really matter about the teams ahead of us or the teams behind us right now. It's just what we do. So we're not looking at that at all.
“And to be in a situation where the team that's leading our division is coming in this week. Because really you look at the big picture, you look at Minnesota and other things that happened in the past, it's about this week. We have the Packers coming in and that's enough right there for all of our thoughts to just go on that.”
The Bears started the season 7-1 in Smith’s first year working under new general manager Phil Emery and speculation has been all along that the coach needed to reach the playoffs for just the second time since the 2006 Super Bowl appearance to ensure he would return in 2013.
“I think every day I've been here, each day I think all of us come to work we're going to do the best job we possibly can,” Smith said. “All of our futures are tied. It's all based on wins and losses, really, and I'm OK with that.”
The Bears outgained the Vikings 438-248 in total yards, but two interceptions by quarterback Jay Cutler were turned into 14 points by Minnesota and the defense failed to create big plays against quarterback Christian Ponder after being shredded for 104 yards by Adrian Peterson in the first quarter.
Smith said the offensive line play was satisfactory again and blamed dropped passes for hurting the offense. More than anything, he wanted to move past the game as quickly as possible to gear up preparations for the Packers.
Green Bay thumped the Bears 23-10 in Week 2 at Lambeau Field and the Packers have won five straight in the series. A victory could provide the Bears with some badly needed momentum. A loss and the Bears will be doing scoreboard watching down the stretch while trying to sneak into the postseason.
“We haven’t played our best football the last couple weeks and when you don’t play your best football you get in a situation where you don’t control what happens in the division; we’re in that position right now,” Smith said. “Need a little bit of help as far as the division title and all that is concerne,d but we do control our playoff hopes and that’s what we have to lay everything that we do now to just play better football.”
Smith didn’t shed much light on injuries, but said Cutler is suffering from general neck soreness and he didn’t believe it was serious. Cutler could not finish a game for the second time in five weeks.
Defensive end Shea McClellin (knee), safety Craig Steltz (chest) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (knee) are being further evaluated.
Robbie Gould (left calf muscle) wasn't able to kick deep against the Vikings, and Smith didn't rule out bringing in kickers for tryouts Tuesday in case Gould remains limited.