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Time for Bears to move on — without Lovie Smith

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith watches from sidelines during second quarter an NFL football game against Detroit Lions Ford

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith watches from the sidelines during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson )

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Updated: March 1, 2013 2:37AM



DETROIT — I’d like to thank the Vikings for putting the Bears out of my misery.

The thought of another three hours spent watching this offense attempt to transport an oval object into an end zone was almost too much to handle. When the Bears sent away the woeful Lions 26-24 Sunday, it left open the possibility of more stalled drives and 20-yard field goals by Olindo Mare in the postseason. Some of us started sizing up our wrist veins.

But then the Vikings knocked off the Packers 37-34 to deprive the Bears of a playoff spot and pretty much save the world from nuclear winter. Thank you, Adrian Peterson.

So let the Lovie Smith Era come to an end, and let it come quickly. Let this nine-year reign of blank looks and over-the-top optimism in the face of limited success screech to a halt.

Time to act, Phil Emery.

The Bears’ general manager stood looking at a TV inside the locker room after the victory, watched the Vikings score a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and walked away quietly. What was he thinking? That life would be much better if the Bears got into the playoffs? That it was time for a change and that a Vikings victory would make a Lovie firing that much easier?

Or that he’d have to see which way the wind was blowing at the McCaskey compound?

The Bears have been to the playoffs only once in the last six seasons. In Smith’s favor, they finished 10-6 this season, which sounds good, doesn’t it? But to his everlasting detriment, they fell apart after starting the season 7-1, becoming the first team since the 1996 Redskins to miss the playoffs after such a start.

That’s really all anybody, including Emery, needs to know. But he was cryptic at best when asked about Smith during his weekly pregame interview on WBBM-AM (780).

Smith has “done an outstanding job coaching the Bears” and is a “great team-first person,” Emery said.

It left us scrounging for signs. Did it mean anything that Emery used the past tense when describing the job Smith has done? And what did “great team-first person’’ really mean? Does anyone know a coach who isn’t a team-first person? Was it faint praise?

What was on display inside Ford Field was the same product that has been on display during most of the Smith Era — a ball-hawking, playmaking defense and an offense that couldn’t score if you gave it four tries from an opponent’s 5-yard line on National Positive Self-Esteem Day.

The Bears forced four turnovers and had the kind of field position that makes offensive coordinators get teary-eyed. They had the ball at the Detroit 24-, 10-, 23- and 13-yard line and settled for three field goals and a touchdown. It raised a question: Are you kidding me?

“We scored enough points offensively to win a football game against a team that was really riled up to play us,’’ Smith said.

The riled-up Lions finished the season with eight consecutive losses.

Smith’s ability to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil has been contagious during his tenure. Even in the face of another poor offensive performance, his players seemed absolutely sure good things were ahead for Mike Tice’s offense, given the opportunity for a playoff game.

“What gives me confidence is that we as an offense have a lot of talent, and we haven’t put together a whole game yet the whole year, 16 games,’’ running back Matt Forte said.

Why in the world would anyone think a 17th game would be any different?

“At some time, the offense is going to click, sooner or later,’’ he said.

That some time is going to have to be next season. That’s too bad because at least one Bear had visions of holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft.

“We’re definitely a playoff team,’’ defensive tackle Henry Melton said. “Super Bowl team.’’

Yeah, well, no.

Detroit had three 80-yard touchdown drives. You couldn’t help but wonder why the Bears can’t move the ball like that. You couldn’t help but wonder how a franchise can be so consistently underwhelming. There’s a reason the 1985 Bears are still so popular: Nothing much has happened in Chicago since they Super Bowl Shuffled.

It’s time for a change.

“It’s about steady progress toward our goals, which is to win championships,” Emery said.

There’s your answer, Phil. If you’re indeed in charge.



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