Lovie not letting 'underdog' tag pass this time

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Lovie not letting 'underdog' tag pass this time

Monday, Jan. 17, 2011
Posted: 11:28 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Lovie Smith isnt the kind to share many of his innermost thoughts on internal issues involving his team. And he doesnt engage in a lot of word-warring where his team and an opponent are concerned.

But you had to wonder Monday if this time it really rankles him to see his guys win decisively a divisional-round playoff game, then be tagged as clear underdogs in their own house.

Particularly against a team they have handled pretty well since he became Bears head coach.

Some background: Smith restored the Bears to respectability and then some against the Green Bay Packers by going 6-2 in his first eight Packers games when Brett Favre was in charge up there. Aaron Rodgers has turned things back around with a 4-2 run over the past three years, leaving Smith 8-6 against Green Bay for his tenure.

But when I asked Smith on Monday how the Rodgers Packers differed from the Favre Packers, Smith used the moment to imply that making the Packers favorites next weekend, in Chicago, might be ignoring some things.

Its the same family of offense with what theyre trying to do, as far as how theyre trying to attack us, Smith said on the Favre-Rodgers differences. And we feel we match up pretty good with this branch.

Smith was very candid before this season started, before preseason, even before training camp, when he told CSNChicago.com that this was the best team hed had in his seven seasons as Bears coach. It wasnt in a press conference; it wasnt even especially intended to sway a media opinion.

He frankly just saw his team in exactly the position it is now, playing for a championship.

What also is very interesting as well is that he saw the Green Bay Packers as one of the elite teams in the NFC that he and the Bears would need to get by on their way to a Super Bowl. He seemed to suggest that he foresaw the Bears playing Green Bay in the playoffs.

Smith ran through the reasons why Green Bay was remaining a force in the NFC and concluded, So yeah, I saw them as being one of the teams at the end youd have to deal with.

And as he said, he thinks the Bears match up pretty well with this branch of the Packers family.

Bears-Packers playoffs are always big

The NFC Championship game Sunday between the Bears and Packers could eclipse this years Super Bowl in popularity. It wouldnt be the first time.

The last time the Bears faced the Packers in a playoff game was in 1941 and it preceded the NFL Championship. The game was a one-game tiebreaker for the Western Conference title and the Bears trampled Green Bay 33-14.

The game drew 43,425. The NFL championship between the Bears and New York Giants the next week, also in Wrigley Field, drew 13,341.

Contract watch

The market for head coaches and their salaries took another turn away from where Lovie Smith might like it to head.

Smith could land his expected contract extension sooner rather than later, particularly if he adds a win or two to his 2010 slate, and if hes willing just to add a couple years without a significant raise from the 5.5 million hes due in 2011, the final year of his current deal.

But the Oakland Raiders handing their head-coaching job to their offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, puts another first-timer in charge of a team. Along with Ron Rivera in Carolina, Jason Garrett in Dallas and Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, hirings are going on the cheap and with guys whove never worn the A headset in an NFL game. (Jim Harbaughs 5-million-per is a separate situation with other factors).

The jobs are all filled now. And the going rate is going down. Casual guess here is that an extension at his current rate might be looking better and better to Smith.

Sod busting

The seeming almost weekly brouhaha over the Soldier Field turf is underway, and was Sunday after the Seattle game when Brian Urlacher noted that it stinks for both teams. Then Green Bay wideout Greg Jennings pointed out that the Bears field isnt the best.

Longtime Packers beat writer Tom Silverstein reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the NFL is taking a hard look at the playing surface and will be deciding if something needs to be done. Tom has some history on this kind of situation, which did come into play at hallowed Lambeau and elsewhere in the past. Worth a look.

Showtime

Aaron Rodgers is a scheduled guest on The Dan Patrick Show on Comcast SportsNet Chicago at around 10:20 a.m. Tuesday morning. Guessing he wont get to deep into game-planning but hes rarely boring.

Thats the ticket

From the Bears:

A limited number of playoff tickets are scheduled to go on sale on Tuesday at 2 PM, through Ticketmaster. All playoff game ticket sales through Ticketmaster are via phone and Internet only. Fans may charge by phone at (800) 745-3000, or on-line at www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets are priced at 134.00 to 586.00.

There is a limit of four (4) tickets per customer or billing address. Tickets purchased through Ticketmaster are subject to a per-ticket customer convenience charge. Ticketmaster accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express and Diners Club cards.

Wheelchair seating is available for the playoffs through Ticketmaster. Should the wheelchair seating allocation through Ticketmaster become exhausted, fans with disabilities are encouraged to proceed with the purchase of conventional seating if available then call the Bears ticket office to arrange an exchange.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information

Jay Cutler is reportedly considering retirement

Jay Cutler is reportedly considering retirement

This is apparently the week of Jay Cutler news.

Reports surfaced earlier this week the Bears are pushing hard to find a trade partner for the enigmatic quarterback, though Ian Rapoport reported the organization informed Cutler in mid-January they were shopping him around.

It seems clear Cutler's time in Chicago has come to an end and an ensuing move is more of a formality at this point.

But apparently Cutler may not even suit up again...for ANY team.

Rapoport reported on NFL Network Wednesday night Cutler is mulling over retirement, even as he's healthy and working out now after shoulder surgery.

"There's no guarantee Cutler even plays in 2017, one of several veterans who are still considering whether they want to play or not play, retire, walk away. A lot of things at play here for Jay Cutler."

Host Dan Hellie immediately followed up, asking for clarification on the retirement part.

"It is a consideration; it's something he's confided in people," Rapoport said. "But Dan, I would say, it's not a surprise for quarterbacks this age. We've heard [Ben] Roethlisberger talk about it; we've heard Tony Romo talk about it. If it's not perfect, if he can't find the team he wants or the contract he wants, it's very easy for Jay Cutler to walk away."

Whoa.

Cutler, 33, has made more than $112 million in his 11-year career and is owed at least another $2 million in 2017, even if he's cut by the Bears.

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.

Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.

Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.

Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.

Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.

The Bears also announced the additions of assistant coaches Brandon Staley and Derius Swinton II Wednesday morning:

Staley will replace Clint Hurtt as outside linebackers coach and Swinton will be the assistant special teams coach under Jeff Rodgers.

Swinton is reprising his role he held on the Bears coaching staff in 2015 before leaving to take a promotion with the San Francisco 49ers special teams. 

Hurtt left the Bears to take a position as the defensive line coach with the Seattle Seahawks. Staley spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Division-III John Carroll University, the alma mater of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Hall of Fame coach Don Shula.