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

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.