In the aftermath of the Bears crushing NFC North division loss to the Minnesota Vikings, coach Lovie Smith needed to deal with very, very significant issues in the short, medium and long terms:
Short term: Jay Cutlers neck.
The Bears have proved shaky with winning with their franchise quarterback in place and virtually incapable of winning without him. Best indications that they will not have to try to break a stretch of losing four of five games without Cutler next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
Cutler was forced to leave the Minnesota game in the fourth quarter with neck stiffness after a crunching hit. Cutler said Monday on his WMVP-AM radio show that he expects to play next Sunday and the biggest reason is that the soreness is indeed just that rather than a structural injury.
Without going into detail, which I dont really know, I think its normal soreness that you would have from a stiff neck, Smith said. But again, I try not to jump too far on that side, to try to play doctor too much. Im just basing it on what he has right now. He has a sore neck.
Medium term: The playoffs
Sitting at No. 6 in the playoff seedings at the 13th-game point, the Bears are in the postseason if they win the remaining three games on their schedule. With an offense that effectively gave away as many points to Minnesota as it scored (14), it is unlikely the Bears deep-down believe that can happen.
Smith typically talks of the season in terms of quarters. He is now faced with a more pressing and shorter time frame.
Were at 8-5 right now, got a three-game season right now. Its as simple as that, Smith said. As far as the big picture, we control what happens to us but we have to play better football.
The Bears have the Packers and then two teams in the throes of nine-game (Arizona) and five-game (Detroit) losing streaks. They have at least a one-game lead on every playoff hopeful except Seattle, which has to go cross-country to Buffalo next, followed by San Francisco and St. Louis, which has currently won three straight.
But the Bears can no longer waste even the effort to worry about someone elses schedule.
The pressure were feeling right now is on our performances. Improving, its on us, Smith said. We talked about someone else controlling the division, but what happens to us, it doesnt really matter about the teams ahead of us or the teams behind us right now. Its just what we do.
Long term: Job security
What the Bears do will likely affect more than just the 2012 playoffs. Smith has had a team from 7-3 to out of the playoffs last season and one that was 7-1 and now is a bad day from falling out of them again.
With one playoff appearance since 2006 and having lost five straight to Green Bay there is pressure on Smith.
I think every day Ive been here, each day I think, all of us come to work, were going to do the best job that we possibly can, Smith said. All of our futures are tied its all based on wins and loses really, and Im OK with that.