The most difficult walks are often made alone, the silence a welcome respite offering the opportunity for reflection, if not perspective.
Lovie Smith took such a walk Sunday afternoon.
As the final pathetic drive ended with a sickly thud, the Bears head coach moved toward the middle of the field and shook hands with Aaron Rodgers, before getting a hug from Packers boss Mike McCarthy.
Smith turned around and looked to see if he could find anyone else to talk to, maybe someone to console or congratulate, but on a field filled with players and coaches, Smith was suddenly alone.
He hesitated for a moment and then walked slowly and solemnly toward the Bears’ locker room, probably for the last time at Soldier Field as head coach of the Chicago Bears.
He had to know that was a genuine possibility.
It’s not set in stone, of course, but the Bears are now officially on the outside looking in at a playoff spot after a 21-13 loss to Green Bay. They have lost five of six since a fraudulent 7-1 start built on luck and guise, and would have to surpass a pair of teams to sneak into the tournament.
“I don’t think it has all slipped away,” said an unconvincing Devin Hester, never lifting his head to glance at an interrogator. “We have to win the last two and hopefully find a way in.”
Even if the Bears were to sneak in, they can’t win a postseason game with the guys they’re currently running out there.
Between decimating injuries and horrible execution, not to mention confusion and odd coaching, it’s unthinkable at the moment that they could go on a three-game winning streak that would extend their season to the second round of the postseason.
“We just need to take care of business,” Smith said, “and hope that we get another chance.”
They’re going to need significant help now. They won’t get the first wild card, which will go to Seattle or San Francisco, with the other winning the NFC West.
As for the second spot, the Bears (8-6) trail New York (8-6) and Minnesota (8-6) on tiebreakers. The Giants have Baltimore and Philly remaining, while the Vikes have a tough road with Houston and Green Bay.
Of greater concern is whether the Bears can even win another game. The way they’re playing they won’t beat Arizona — which dominated the Lions Sunday — or Detroit in the final game of the season.
“We have to win them both,” said safety Chris Conte. “We have to beat Arizona next week and go from there.”
The truth is the Bears know where they are, which is in a deep hole without any way to climb out, and it was visible on their faces postgame.
It’s the worst the locker room has looked and sounded in several years, a defeated team in free fall that understands its fate.
“Basically,” said Matt Forte, “we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot every time we’ve moved the ball for the last six or seven weeks.”
While screaming was audible from the showers, no one was more visibly upset than Brandon Marshall, who is simply disgusted with the offense.
“It’s been the same way all year. It’s the same thing every game,” Marshall said. “We have to be held accountable.”
Marshall is one of the few still doing his job, as best he can under difficult circumstances, but he’s about to blow a gasket.
“I’m trying to keep it together and not let it affect me,” Marshall said. “I love this game. I’m passionate about this game and it’s really affecting me.”
Conte is as emotionally rock solid as anyone in the room, but even he appeared completely exasperated.
“It’s a big game with huge implications and we had our chances,” Conte said. “We play hard and we’re emotional and it hurts to lose a game like this.”
Conte did all he could to avoid blaming the officials, though it was hard to see the difference between the call that went against him and the flags on Alshon Jeffery.
“Is it fair?” Conte said, repeating the question and then taking a very long pause as he pondered whether to pay a fine. “I guess there’s some calls I thought we should have gotten, but the officials aren’t the reason we lost the game. We needed to make one or two plays and we couldn’t make them.”
In one of the worst slides of the last decade, it feels like it’s just about over for Smith and the Bears.
“All I know is Lovie is a great coach and I love playing for him,” Conte said. “I know that I want him to be coaching me.”
Probably every player on the roster would echo those sentiments, but for that to happen the Bears will have to win their next two games — and then some.
At the moment, that doesn’t seem at all likely.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.