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TELANDER: Bears’ season has been impossible to figure out

Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith

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Updated: January 29, 2013 6:37AM



Could this season be any more confusing?

The Bears started 7-1, Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall was Peyton Manning-to-Reggie Wayne, the defense was a ticking bomb, the Super Bowl beckoned, then . . .

Well, here is linebacker Lance Briggs before us Thursday at Halas Hall, saying that if coach Lovie Smith is fired after the game Sunday against the Lions, ‘‘That goes with him.’’

The ‘‘that’’ Briggs is talking about is ‘‘the way Lovie has treated us together and this camaraderie that we have.’’

Whoa.

The Bears have gone 2-5 since that 7-1 start. They have faltered. They have frustrated. They have lost to lesser teams. Their offense has gone into the spin cycle and come out a big hairball.

But to get rid of a coach who will end up 9-7 or 10-6 for the season? It seems preposterous. It almost certainly won’t happen. But it might.

And therein lies the confusing part in a two-sided nutshell: Is Lovie a good coach? Are these 2012 Bears any good?

After 15 games, we still don’t know. After almost nine seasons with Smith, including more victories than any coach except George Halas and Mike Ditka, three division titles, two visits to the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl appearance, we still don’t know at this late date if the inscrutable man with the calmness of a tropical
lagoon should be treasured or sent fishing.

Briggs, like seemingly all players under Smith, loves — or at least enjoys playing for — the man. Unlike us, Briggs understands Smith’s impersonation of Mount Rushmore on the sideline, his unflappability under all duress, his refusal to make angry, dramatic or even deeply impassioned statements in public.

Of this upcoming game in Detroit, which the Bears must win to have a chance of reaching the playoffs, Briggs said: ‘‘We want to win it for us. If you’ve enjoyed your time here in Chicago . . . then win for that.’’

The Bears absolutely should beat the 4-11 Lions, who are playing for nothing but pride and, of course, contracts. Their own beleaguered coach, Jim Schwartz, seems to be a dead man walking. But we’ll let the Lions worry about that.

Back to this confusing season, one that once seemed so well-fashioned, so well laid out. Until something broke. Or maybe luck just ran out.

We found out the defense can’t win every game for an offense that just keeps getting less and less dangerous. Indeed, it’s remarkable that all those yards between Cutler and Marshall mean almost nothing.

In fact, in one of the most dizzying conundrums, the more successful Marshall is, the worse the Bears’ offense seems to become. Explain that one, Einstein. Maybe the Lions can help with the equation because they have monster receiver Calvin Johnson, whose
yards from quarterback Matthew Stafford only seem to derail his team.

Briggs brought up how the defense needs to get back to
its dynamic takeaway ratio
from early in the season, the attack that compensates for an anemic offense.

‘‘We’ve been trying to get the ball out,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes it just doesn’t come out. Last week [in the victory against the Cardinals], it did. We’re going to continue to do that. Right now, defensively, we’re starting to hit a bit of a groove again. We want to take that right into Detroit and into the playoffs.’’

But, again, the confusion. We are at a crazy point where the Bears could lose badly, fire their coach and start rebuilding. Or they could win against the Lions, have the Packers beat the Vikings hours later, move into the playoffs, stun everyone and win the Super Bowl.

The odds are against either, but either could happen.

On a recent ‘‘Sports Science’’ show on ESPN, the host took us through the most amazing NFL plays of 2012. Right up there near the top was Bears cornerback ‘‘Peanut’’ Tillman, knocking the ball out of runners’ arms again and again. Even when they knew it was coming.

How? Why?

According to the scientists in the background, Tillman uncannily locates the tucked ball on his moving target, then exerts up to 1,000 pounds of force with his precise punch onto the leather. That, the host said, is the ‘‘same force as a punch from an elite boxer.’’

It makes sense. Soon, this Bears season might, too.



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