Lovie Smith praises his old QB: 'Jay's playing outstanding ball'

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – During Lovie Smith’s four seasons with Jay Cutler, the Bears quarterback had an average passer rating of 82.5.

Almost three full years after Smith’s firing in Chicago, Cutler enters Sunday’s game in Tampa with a career-high 92.3 quarterback rating, a nod to Cutler’s professional growth since Smith last coached the Bears.

“Jay’s playing outstanding ball,” Smith told Chicago reporters Wednesday. “Over the course of when I was there, the talent ... he could throw the ball as well as anyone around. He’s mobile. They’re doing some good things with him. He’s moving the chains with his feet, buying time, making good decisions. He’s a good football player, he was that way, won a lot of games there with Jay as our quarterback. He’s still a very good quarterback.”

Backed by an elite defense and special teams, Smith went 35-23 overall with Cutler at quarterback, but Chicago won just one playoff game from 2009-12. The Bears’ repeated failure to consistently reach the postseason ultimately led to Smith’s dismissal, and Chicago has missed the playoffs in the three subsequent years after Smith was let go.

Smith is not the sentimental type, but Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston thinks a victory over Chicago would be significant for to the 57-year-old head coach. The Bucs lost 21-13 to the Bears last November at Soldier Field -- Chicago’s final win of the 2014 season -- but Tampa Bay (6-8) is an improved team in Smith’s second seasoncharge.

“We just want to finish this season off with a bang, man,” Winston said. “Obviously playing against Chicago and with his history with the Bears, it’s going to mean a lot. You know, that should give us an edge to want to go out there and play for him and try to get some wins. But when you lose two games in a row ... you know we were doing well in the third quarter [of the season] ... the main thing for us is to just focus, lock in and finish, no matter who we play.”

Smith added: “The Chicago Bears were really good to me and my family. A lot of lifetime relationships I made there. You know, last week we played the St. Louis Rams. My time in St. Louis was great. My time in Chicago was the same. Again, we have lasting memories from our time in Chicago. And that’s why it’s always special when you play against a team that you have fond memories of.

“But again, there won’t be a lot of people that I really know on the other side of the field, but you don’t need to know a lot of people when it’s an opponent. That’s kind of how it goes.”