Sometimes, it’s truly about how you lose, not necessarily how many.
That’s worth keeping in mind as you ponder the possible end of the Lovie Smith era in Chicago.
The Bears have been a disaster in November and December, and have taken the field appearing old, broken and unprepared against teams like Seattle and Minnesota.
That’s a Seattle team that is otherwise 1-5 on the road, and has a rookie quarterback that marched his team 177 yards in two drives at the end of regulation and in overtime to defeat the home team.
On the road at Minnesota, the Bears were beaten physically from the start, an embarrassing time for a once proud defense, losing a game to a second-year QB who threw for 91 yards.
The Bears have lost four of five, and though there’s no good time for a stretch like that to happen, had the Bears started the season poorly and then gone 7-1, Smith would be riding the wave and feeling very good about his chances of working next season in the final year of his deal.
Considering the kind of luck Smith has had over the years with the Bears, it’s somewhat shocking that the cards have suddenly gone cold on him.
After all, in an offensive world, he has survived thinking only about defense, but he caught lightning in a bottle with Devin Hester, he taught the defense to strip the ball at every opportunity and the Bears picked up many unlikely victories.
Some of those turnovers were due to terrific defensive line pressure, but in the last month the pass rush has been absent and the Bears are no longer crushing teams with turnovers.
Over the last two years, the Bears are 8-1 when the defense scores and 8-12 when it doesn’t. Some of those scores — not all — were the result of pure luck.
Regardless, without the turnovers, the Bears are a bottom-third NFL team.
But Smith’s timing has always been very good with a contract on the line, so it may be early to judge his future.
Consider that the Bears hadn’t won a playoff game in 12 years when they faced an injury-ravaged Seattle team at home on Jan. 14, 2007, a game they would have lost without three remarkable, late-game stuffs by Lance Briggs, including Shaun Alexander on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 in a tie game with two minutes left on the Bears’ 44.
They wouldn’t have received the dome-laden Saints at home in the NFC title game, it would have been the second straight year of winning a bad division followed by a quick playoff exit, and Smith would have entered 2007 on the final year of a deal, instead of holding up the team for a contract extension.
In ’07, a 7-9 record, more “Rex is our quarterback” absurdity, not a single playoff win in four years, and Smith might have been done in Chicago, GM Jerry Angelo along with him.
Instead, because of Briggs and that Super Bowl appearance, Smith was extended four years through 2011 and Angelo through 2013.
In trouble again in 2010, the Bears got every break imaginable, from Calvin Johnson’s non-TD to their miraculous health and 8-9 Seattle at home in the divisional round, before losing to the Packers in the NFC title game.
Rather than let him coach on the final year of his deal, the Bears again extended Smith in February 2011, another two years added to a deal that was supposed to run out that year.
That happened before George McCaskey took over, and this McCaskey has already removed Angelo when most thought he wouldn’t.
This McCaskey is different. He will not sit and watch mediocrity. He wants to win and he wants to let his new GM, Phil Emery, remake the team in his image.
So if Emery is looking for a chance to make a change, he will get it if Smith fails to make the playoffs or loses in the first round.
No playoffs would mean three postseason appearances in nine years of Smith. A loss in the first round would make it 3 postseason victories.
If you’re Emery and you want to make a change, why risk letting Smith coach next year and get the bounces again?
It doesn’t look very promising for the head coach at the moment, but while the Bears are in distress, never sell short Smith’s luck in these situations.
History tells us that Lovie Smith keeps that horseshoe stashed for just the right moment.
If he can still locate it, now would be the time to extract it.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.