Earlier in the week Lovie Smith perfectly summed up the situation heading into Week 17.
ďThis time of year you want to be in it,Ē the Bearsí coach said. ďYou want to be relevant, and we are.Ē
But there will be a lot more than relevancy at stake for Smith and the Bears on Sunday against the Lions at Detroitís Ford Field (noon, FOX).
First and foremost is Smithís continued employment.
With the Bearsí playoff berth hanging in the balance, losing to a 4-11 team should guarantee Smithís departure. A victory and a postseason appearance should ensure that he is back for the final year of his contract, even if he isnít rewarded with an extension. If the Bears win and donít get in, itís anybodyís guess on Smithís future.
Sidebar:I donít agree with the majority who say the Bears canít allow Smith to return next season as a lame duck coach in what would be the final year of his contract.
Why not? The league is full of players with fat contracts who earned those big bucks by coming up huge in the final year of their previous contract. Why canít that incentive work for a coach?
The common argument is that players wonít work hard for a coach with one foot out the door. But having the respect of his players has never been a problem for Smith. The concept of players going all out to save a coachís job is overstated, but in this case, thatís a more likely scenario than players taking advantage of Smithís tenuous position and quitting on him.
On Sunday, it will also be about players saving their own jobs, and that starts with Jay Cutler. If the Bearsí quarterback canít lead a victory over a team that has lost seven straight and has shown signs of mailing it in for a month, then heís not the franchise quarterback the Bears thought they were getting when they mortgaged their future to acquire him.
And it doesnít matter if the Bears line up five folding chairs in front of him. If Cutler is the quarterback to eventually get the Bears to a Super Bowl, this is a game where he has to elevate the entire offense to a higher level. If he canít do that against the Lions, he doesnít deserve an extension of his current contract that expires after next season ó and itís time for the Bears to start looking for his successor.
This is a Lions defense that has allowed at least 24 points in seven straight games and more than 30 points in five of the seven. With so much at stake for the Bears, if Cutler canít light it up against a poor defense with nothing to play for, when will he ever be able to?
Mike Ticeís future as a play-caller and an offensive coordinator is also at stake. If he canít figure out an effective way to attack a defense that gave up 44 points to the Titans, itís time for a different approach.
ďWe have a chance, and thatís all you can hope for,Ē Smith said. ďItís not an ideal situation that weíre in. But hopefully we can take care of business.Ē
If they donít do that Sunday, Bears ownership and general manager Phil Emery must begin the business of reconstruction.
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