Lovie's time has run out with Bears

DETROIT -- The Chicago Bears are not a playoff team. After weeks of rumors, Deep Purple confirmed it as fact.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ran roughshod over the Bears' postseason dreams in Minnesota, hours after the Bears barely took care of the Detroit Lions.

This was a just ending, a lousy win over a lousy team in a cold, gray city and no help from the Green Bay Packers.

Asked if the team's critics, which is to say everyone outside of Halas Hall, were correct in saying the Bears didn't deserve to make the playoffs, defensive tackle Henry Melton was brutally honest.

"Who does?" he said. "Is there a 10-6 team that really deserves to be in?"

Not this 10-6 team, that's for sure. Especially after that freefall to start the second half of their season. The Bears barely beat the Lions, 26-24, in an ugly game Sunday. Hours later, they watched their season end on team buses after flying home.

Now, the real waiting game begins. For general manager Phil Emery, it's time to put his stamp on the franchise.

Bears coach Lovie Smith's future is the story now. He has one year left on a lucrative contract. The Bears have missed the playoffs five times in the past six seasons.

How long can it take to evaluate his career? It's not as cut-and-dried as his detractors would argue, but the math is simple. Five missed opportunities is greater than 10 wins.

Smith is an excellent leader of men, a fine defensive coach and an authority figure who will have to take the hit for nearly a decade of offensive incompetence. That's not to say a replacement would be better. Every season you see good assistants become terrible head coaches. Smith was a good assistant and a good head coach, but with his contract a major factor, it might be time to cut him.

The NFL is a brutal business, as dozens of players Smith has cut can tell you.

Before their fate was sealed, several Bears talked about the possibility of missing the playoffs.

"It'll be a major disappointment because we brought this on ourselves," said Tim Jennings, who had another interception Sunday, his ninth of the season.

It wasn't Jennings' fault or anyone else's on the defense. Once again, you can pin a disappointing Bears season on the offense, or lack thereof.

The addition of Brandon Marshall was just lipstick on a pigskin for an offense at the bottom of the league. Just like adding Cutler hasn't turned this Flintstones franchise into a Jetsons offense.

Something drastic has to happen to give this franchise a competent, let alone formidable offense. You can fire Mike Tice as offensive coordinator, but who is to say Smith can hire a capable replacement? It hasn't happened yet. If Smith doesn't get a contract extension, there is no chance anyone will come here. Coordinators don't last that long with Cutler, as it is.

Simply put, former general manager Jerry Angelo, the man responsible for the surfeit of bad draft picks over the year, is already fired, so Smith is next in line.

All these problems start at the top with the McCaskey family. If they knew football, like say the Rooney family or the Mara family knows football, it would be different. But they don't, and now it's Emery's job to figure out what to do.

There are so many questions lingering, and as Angelo famously said, we need solutions.

In a normal season, Smith wouldn't get fired for 10 wins. But with one year left on his contract, do you let him play out his deal in a market where his job will dominate the conversation? Not that he has a problem asserting his authority, but how much power can Smith have when he's in a lame duck year?

Do you keep the status quo, extend Smith two years and hope the Bears can hire a better offensive coordinator, find better linemen, and proactively restock the defense with young players? Or do you say nine years is long enough and it's time to part ways?

Does Emery, who deserves some blame in his first year for not upgrading the offensive line, keep Smith because he respects his "body of work," as he intimated on the team's pregame show? How much blame does Smith get for the annual offensive woes? He doesn't call the plays, but maybe that's part of the problem.

The Bears have three high-priced offensive assets in Cutler, Marshall and Matt Forte. The league is trending toward high-powered offenses. It's time to bring in someone who knows how to score.

Smith doesn't have many defenders outside of Halas Hall, but there is no sure bet that the next coach will be better than the man who is 84-66 as a head coach. While some find his style beguiling, it works for this team. As Lance Briggs said during the week, some players don't want to lose the atmosphere they have now.

But what doesn't work is the offense, and if Emery fires Smith, it's because the coach has never quite figured out that part of the game and his talent evaluation has come into question. Smith, of course, is the guy who said Kellen Davis could be one of the best tight ends in football. He might be the worst.

An argument for Smith to stay is an argument for stability, but that's impossible to achieve when you're changing offensive coordinators nearly every season.

There is no evidence the offense will ever progress under Smith. It remains an absolute mess, from the offensive line play to the play calls to the decision-making.

Take the Lions game, for example. The Bears had four takeaways but only converted one touchdown out of them, settling for three field goals. They went 4-for-15 on third downs and were 1-for-4 in the red zone. You can blame the offensive line only so much. Cutler was sacked twice Sunday, and he had a decent enough game. But once again, it wasn't enough.

Cutler's best play was a 19-yard scramble on third-and-3 late in the fourth quarter. Marshall's best play was a block to spring Earl Bennett on a bubble screen that turned into a 60-yard score.

Good plays aside, no one looks at this offense and says, "Yeah, they can beat anyone in January."

When Smith was asked if he were concerned about the offense, he said, "We have some things to correct, but we're always trying to get a little better. … This isn't a day to have that approach. Too much going on."

If this were the end of LovieBall, his defense went out with a bang, forcing one fumble, picking up another and intercepting Matthew Stafford.

Late in the second quarter, Jennings got his league-leading ninth interception and returned it 31 yards.

It would have meant sole possession of the NFL record for defensive touchdowns in a season, a fine coda to this Lovie song.

Instead the Bears started a drive at the Lions' 23. Three plays later, the Bears were at the Lions' 22, kicking a field goal to go up 20-3. The Bears lost that cushion and had to sweat out what should have been an easy win.

That is the duality of Lovie in a nutshell. He doesn't call the plays, but he calls the shots. Someone has to take the blame, and it can't just be another offensive coordinator.