(MCT) — CHICAGO — Without question the final three games of the Bears season represent a referendum on coach Lovie Smith — and even making the playoffs but losing in the first round might not be enough to point the arrow up at Halas Hall.
“It’s all based on wins and losses,” Smith said Monday.
At this point it goes beyond a winning record, Lovie. If the Bears showed 11-win promise in the first half, the McCaskeys must ask tough questions if Smith’s fading team falls short of its potential again. Over time, franchises that philosophically value the floor over the ceiling for too long often have the bottom fall out.
As record-setting wide receiver Brandon Marshall reaffirmed Sunday, the Bears, “have the guys in this locker room to get it done.”
Indeed they do. But those guys Marshall refers to better start getting it done or else their jobs deserve to be in as much jeopardy as Smith’s. Those guys better start playing as if their football lives depend on every snap — the way Marshall and Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs do consistently — before it is too late.
Even with an inferior offensive line the Bears roster includes too many veterans among the best at their positions for general manager Phil Emery to accept another mysterious late-season slide. Remember the debate over whether Marshall, Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were a more dangerous trio than Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Arian Foster of the Texans? Remember the national media campaign for Cutler as league MVP? Remember when the 2012 Bears defense was being compared to the ‘85 Bears? Remember when Charles Tillman was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and when Julius Peppers didn’t need six games to record only two sacks?
Ample talent exists. For whatever reason, Smith and his coaches have failed to maximize it over the past month of misery. The Bears are better than this.
Perhaps that was part of the message Emery shared with Smith in a private postgame meeting in the Metrodome locker room. Nobody really knows what Emery thinks of Smith’s role in the Bears’ skid or what Emery believes about much of anything. By design Emery reveals little about his grand plan for the Bears during weekly pregame interviews on WBBM-AM 780, such as Sunday when he was asked about Brian Urlacher.
“We’ll take that one step at a time,” Emery said. “First, he’s got to get healthy.”
Emery understandably steered clear of saying anything that might be misconstrued regarding Urlacher, a 34-year-old pending free agent with knee issues.
The reminder of Emery’s unknown, unemotional ways should put every Bears player on notice — especially with a flat salary cap for 2013. A team desperately seeking a sense of urgency can find it in the looming presence of a GM who clearly will let his head rule his heart when making decisions about next year’s roster.
That means Peppers, even if he is battling plantar fasciitis, needs to do more in the final three games to make the $12.9 million salary he is due in ‘13 seem like a worthwhile investment for a pass rusher who will be 33.
Peppers is far from the only disappointing veteran lately who can affect his own Bears future. Devin Hester needs to do something quickly before his next game-breaking touchdown comes in another uniform. Kellen Davis needs to catch something more than flak. J’Marcus Webb needs to stop holding and start taking advantage of all the opportunities the Bears keep giving him. Earl Bennett, when he returns from a concussion, needs to do something before his four-year, $11 million contract extension last year goes down as one of the worst deals in team history. Matt Forte needs to remind Chicago what an elite running back looks like. Kelvin Hayden, Geno Hayes and Jonathan Scott need to make it more obvious they deserve to come back.
Even Cutler, whose contract status has been a source of discussion, needs to show more consistency when the Bears need him most before Emery can feel comfortable writing a blank check. The talk of Cutler providing a hometown discount to the Bears made better radio than it currently does business sense. Carry a team into the postseason and win another playoff game — then talk. Cutler’s best leverage might be his buddy Marshall, a rare Bear worth every penny of his $9.3 million salary.
A year ago the Giants entered Week 15 with a 7-6 record. They finished strong and won the Super Bowl.
Nobody suggests the Bears necessarily can do the same. But they can play at a higher level in the final three games than they have recently.
If not, then the big changes shouldn’t stop with Smith.