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Even Smith admits must-win time is here for Bears

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 10:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo by Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler scrambles against Green Bay Packers in the quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, Sunday, December 16, 2012. The Packers defeated the Bears, 21-13.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Lovie Smith typically has avoided putting the label of “must win” on games throughout his career because there are only 16 in the regular season and he treats all with significance.

But the Bears coach, perhaps sensing he is running out of opportunities, called this week’s meeting with the Cardinals in Arizona a “must” game after his team fell for the fifth time in six games, losing 21-13 to the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears are 8-6 and backed into a corner when it comes to the playoffs. Even if they defeat the Cardinals and the Lions in Detroit on Dec. 30, they still need help to reach the postseason for just the second time since appearing in Super Bowl XLI.

But Smith is staying the course, saying again that no coaching changes are in store for a flailing offense that has averaged just 14.2 points per game since a 51-20 crushing of the Titans on Nov. 4. Surely, that’s not what wide receiver Brandon Marshall was looking for when he called for “accountability” with jobs after the Bears’ sixth consecutive loss to the Packers.

“I would like to think that all throughout the season we’ve stressed being accountable with every position, with all of us — coaches, players and all of us,” Smith said. “I don’t think anything has changed from that.”

But while Smith said the Bears have to find a way to get to 10-6 and “see what happens,” he wasn’t panicked, even though he could no longer use the line he has fallen back on for the last month and a half that the team controls its destiny. Smith has remained even-keeled throughout and it’s probably both a strength and a weakness. It certainly doesn’t endear him to a public of Ditkaphiles.

“We lost to them again, but for us, yesterday’s game was a must game for the NFC North championship, but besides that it wasn’t a must game as far as what can happen with our season,” Smith said. “This week we’re to that must game, I mean the tournament has begun for us, so it’s about Arizona. ... We have to find a way to get to 10-6.”

Smith doesn’t know why the Packers series has been turned upside down on him. The Bears are 2-9 against Aaron Rodgers, and there has been no bigger difference in the series than the quarterback play as some of Jay Cutler’s worst games have come vs. the Packers. Maybe team President Ted Phillips saw a bigger problem than anyone imagined when he talked about closing the talent gap in the division with the Packers when he fired general manager Jerry Angelo 50 weeks ago.

“Right now when you’ve lost as many as we have (in the series), I can’t give you a good reason for it,” Smith said. “Like I said, yesterday was as close as ... we’ve made progress. We were in the game early on. We just couldn’t finish the job. That’s why it’s important for us right now to just keep working to possibly have another opportunity to solve that.”

He’s hinting at possibly having a chance to encounter the Packers in the playoffs, which is where the Bears lost to them in the NFC championship game following the 2010 season. It’s hard to envision the Bears mounting a deep playoff run, but anything is possible. They have the same record the Super Bowl champion Giants did entering Week 16 a year ago. They’re just at a serious loss for offensive spark and their defense isn’t the takeaway machine it was in the first half of the season.

“There are a lot of 8-6 teams,” Smith said. “We haven’t gone over every scenario. We just know that there’s a lot of (scenarios with) us in it. It’s about finishing 10-6. In order to get to 10-6, it’s just about beating Arizona.”

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