By Adam Hoge-
DETROIT (CBS) Now we wait.
Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings ended the Bears’ season Sunday with a 37-34 win over the Green Bay Packers, sending Lovie Smith and his coaching staff home to await word on their future in Chicago.
What makes the situation even harder to predict is that the Bears took care of their own business Sunday, beating the Lions 26-24 at Ford Field to finish with a respectable 10-6 record.
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It’s not common to make drastic changes after a 10-6 season. Of course, there’s nothing common about the current state of the Chicago Bears.
In the big picture, Lovie Smith has only three playoff appearances and three playoff victories in nine years as the Bears’ head coach. He’s also overseen some of the best defenses in franchise history and kept the Bears in the playoff hunt year in and year out.
On a smaller scale, his 2012 team lost five of its last eight games after a 7-1 start and failed to make the playoffs. The team featured an offense that severely failed to live up to its expectations and a defense that probably over-performed, but is still showing significant signs of aging.
What’s most significant, however, is how the 2012 Chicago Bears fit into the totality of the Lovie Smith era.
The reality is that this team regressed offensively, despite ridding itself of Mike Martz — the former offensive coordinator who shouldered the blame in 2010 and 2011 — and adding the best wide receiver in franchise history. It’s a team that has an adequate quarterback, an elite wide receiver and a very good running back, yet can’t develop any rhythm on offense. The lack of an elite offensive line and any resemblance of a tight end is significant, but not enough to excuse the larger issues. There’s no offensive innovation, no development of key role players and way too many penalties.
All of that was on display Sunday at Ford Field, despite the win. And while every indication is that general manager Phil Emery won’t make any decisions based strictly on what happened in Detroit, it’s doubtful he watched that game and said to himself: “Yeah, this will work next year.”
Is it all Lovie Smith’s fault? No, but the offensive deficiencies have been a constant theme in his tenure as head coach. While Smith’s defensive accomplishments are arguably underappreciated, his offensive accomplishments are virtually non-existent. Without a legitimate quarterback, he was rightly given a pass for five years. But handed Jay Cutler, Smith has never found an offensive coordinator to work successfully with the one-time Pro Bowl quarterback. And given Brandon Marshall, the offense somehow got worse.
Does Cutler deserve blame? Sure. He’s not the quarterback Bears fans thought he’d be. But if you haven’t noticed, the offense hasn’t gotten much better than it was during the “Rex is my quarterback” era.
In many respects, the league has passed Lovie by offensively. The NFL was much different nine years ago. Back then, you could win with a great defense and an OK offense. Now, like it or not, it’s offense that wins championships. In 2006, the Bears made the Super Bowl with a top defense and a 15th ranked offense — the best rated offense Lovie has had in Chicago.
What the Bears would be better off with, however, is a top rated offense with a 15th ranked defense.
And given the age of the current unit, 15th might be where the Bears’ defense is headed sooner rather than later. Are the Bears going to have the offense to make up for that?
Nine years of evidence says that’s not going to happen under Lovie Smith.
And we haven’t even talked about how he can’t beat the Packers anymore.
Sunday afternoon in the visitor’s locker room at Ford Field, Bears players anxiously watched the first quarter of the Packers-Vikings game before they departed for Chicago. Backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Josh McCown reacted like any Bears fan did watching the game, yelling “He was down!” and “Throw the challenge flag!”
A few feet away, however, defensive tackle Henry Melton talked to reporters and told them he wouldn’t watch until the fourth quarter. He took blame for the situation, acknowledging that the Bears — and no one else — put their fate in the Packers’ hands on the last day of the regular season.
The Packers didn’t come through. And now their fate — most notably Lovie’s — is in someone else’s hands: first-year general manager Phil Emery.
Monday, he’ll be second-year general manager Phil Emery, free of any restriction to change head coaches.
He just might.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.