(MCT) — CHICAGO — The coach who came in nine years ago next month talking about beating the Packers first and foremost now has a task before him to save a crumbling season and it’s one that seems improbable.
Lovie Smith has to beat Green Bay.
It’s improbable because the Packers (9-4) have won five straight in the series and seem to be surging despite a rash of injuries to star players. The Bears (8-5), on the other hand, have lost four of their last five and are lacking an identity on either side of the ball with injuries taking a toll.
The rivalry meeting Sunday at Soldier Field is what Smith wanted to focus on Monday, a day after the Bears fell 21-14 to the Vikings at the Metrodome, an uncharacteristic loss for Smith. It ended a six-game winning streak in the series, and if Smith’s tenure has been known for anything, he typically has taken care of business against inferior opponents, especially those with overmatched quarterbacks like Christian Ponder.
The Packers, who have won seven of their last eight games, can clinch the NFC North with a victory Sunday. The Bears are still alive in the division, and they control their own playoff fate. A victory would provide them with a much-needed boost of momentum and prove they are capable of hanging with the conference’s best on their home turf. A loss could send them into a tie for the conference’s final wild-card spot.
Smith’s contract runs through 2013 and most have assumed he needs to reach the playoffs to ensure he and first-year general manager Phil Emery will continue to work together. The Bears have missed the postseason four of the last five seasons with a 7-3 start unraveling a year ago after quarterback Jay Cutler was lost to a broken thumb, a precursor to ex-GM Jerry Angelo’s firing.
“Every day I’ve been here, each day I think (when) all of us come to work we are going to do the best job that we possibly can,” Smith said. “All of our futures are tied, it’s all based on wins and losses, really, and I’m OK with that.”
The Bears got off to a 7-1 start this season with help from an easy schedule. Now they are stumbling and the Vikings, Redskins and Cowboys all moved within one game of them at 7-6 by winning Sunday. The Robert Griffin III-led Redskins are surging and hold a tiebreaker over the Bears for a wild-card spot.
“The pressure we’re feeling right now is just on our performances improving,” Smith said. “It’s on us. We talked about someone else controlling the division. But what happens to us, it doesn’t really matter about the teams ahead of us or the teams behind us right now. It’s just what we do. So we’re not looking at (the 7-6 teams) at all. We have the Packers coming in and that’s enough right there for all of our thoughts to just go on that.”
The Packers won the Week 2 meeting at Lambeau Field 23-10 and their previous five victories in the series have all been by seven points or more. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 8-2 against the Bears, including the NFC championship game following the 2010 season, starting his career in the series like his predecessor Brett Favre did.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he expects key players back this week, including linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Charles Woodson.
Bears President Ted Phillips mandated that Emery work with Smith this season and said after this season the GM can decide the fate of the coach who has an 82-65 record, including the postseason, with an 8-10 ledger against the Packers.
A win this week certainly would bolster Smith’s case after a string of disappointing losses.
“Looking at the big picture, if you need a game coming up to really motivate you to play your best football, it should be your rival with Green Bay coming in,” he said.