The Chicago Bears’ season is on the line this weekend when they travel to Detroit to take on the underachieving Lions. Unfortunately, they will need more than just a victory to get a playoff berth. The Bears also need a Vikings loss or tie against Green Bay to nab a spot in the postseason.
The Bears’ fade since their 7-1 start has become a dominant storyline headed into the final week of the regular season, and with good reason. An oft repeated statistic this week is that, since 1990, 52 teams including the Bears have started 7-1. Only one of those 52 has failed to make the playoffs. The Bears have faced some tough competition in the season’s second half, but that does not excuse a mere 1 win since the midway point.
Not only are the Bears potentially shaping up for a historical collapse, you only have to go back to last year for another example of a Chicago team that can’t finish. The 2011 Bears went 1-5 down stretch after beginning the year 7-3, bearing an eerily similar resemblance to this season.
Deciphering who is to blame for the woes of any team is never easy, but there is no argument about who is ultimately responsible. Coach Lovie Smith’s job is to get it team ready to play every week, and over the second half of the season that has not appeared to be the case. Factor in last year’s disastrous finish and there is every reason to question whether the Bears should consider going in a different direction.
Since taking over before the 2004 season, Lovie Smith has guided the Bears to a very respectable 80-63 record. It is hard to doubt his competence as a coach given his record and Super Bowl appearance; however, the Bears are undoubtedly worried that Smith may not be able to get them over the hump. In the past, Chicago has finished the season poorly several times but still fielded some very good teams, consistently staying relevant.
The Bears’ floor appears to be high, but what about the ceiling?
It’s hard not to hold Smith accountable given the Bears’ talent and demonstration that they can, at times, be among the NFL’s better teams. He is one of the longest tenured coaches in the NFL because the Bears are usually legitimate contenders, but is that good enough? Smith has proven more than capable of putting together an elite defense and fielding a respectable offense, but the Bears are not taking the next step.
The Bears are not a team stuck in the rebuilding phase; while they are certainly not perfect, they have the tools to make a run. Many pundits have criticized offensive coordinator Mike Tice for an unimaginative offense but the responsibility falls on Smith. In his ninth season and with all the right pieces, Smith has no excuses for yet another collapse. No successful team wants to fire their coach, and based on decent expectations the Bears are reasonably successful. But championships are the name of the game, and Chicago has to wonder if Smith is the coach to take the Bears to the next level.