NFC North: Soldier Field


When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: Fox

The records scrub away some of the shine for Sunday's matchup at Soldier Field between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, but the storylines involved remain interesting for what should be a competitive contest.

First off, there's the obvious with Lovie Smith coming to town to coach against his former team, which is led by former Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown. But even with the Bucs owning a 2-8 record, they're just two games out of first place in the NFC South.

The Bears, meanwhile, are looking to win back-to-back contests for the first time this season since Weeks 2 and 3.

Remember, the Bears fired Smith after a 2012 season in which he led the team to a 10-6 record. The club hasn't recorded a double-digit win season since, and doesn't appear to be on the way to doing it this year, either.

Bears reporter Michael C. Wright takes a look at the matchup with Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinkas:

Wright: Pat, the Buccaneers are coming off a big road win at Washington, and I've long thought they were a much more talented team than the record indicated. Obviously, it's probably too late to save the season. But how's the atmosphere out there coming off this win, and what's the next step for the Bucs?

Yasinkas: The atmosphere is a lot better than you would expect from a 2-8 team. That's mainly due to the fact the Bucs are only two games behind Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South. And, you're right, this is a talented team. If the Bucs can put that talent together down the stretch, they could end up being a playoff team. It may sound crazy, but they're not far off the pace in the NFC South.

I thought last year's strong finish by Chicago would carry over into this season. But it hasn't. What's gone wrong for the Bears?

Wright: Where do I start? I think people put too much faith in the offense, expecting it to perform at the same level or better than it did in 2013. But what folks don't understand is the Bears sort of caught teams by surprise last season because opponents didn't know exactly what to expect out of a Marc Trestman offense. Opponents adjusted in 2014 to what the Bears put on film in 2013, and they've had trouble coming up with a sufficient counterpunch. On the other side of the ball, the Bears revamped the front four, but haven't received the production commensurate with the investment. The Bears miscalculated what the staff would be able to get out of the linebacking corps, which has struggled, not to mention the secondary.

Surely, there's quite a bit of disappointment about Tampa Bay's record, especially when considering how the Bucs have squandered fourth-quarter leads five times this season. Why haven't the Bucs been able to hold leads, and overall, what's the thought out there regarding the job done so far by former Bears coach Lovie Smith?

Yasinkas: The Bucs have had their share of disappointing losses. They've blown five fourth-quarter leads and the reasons for that are collapses by the defense and an inability by the offense to protect a lead. That has been very disappointing and you can make a strong case that the Bucs should have a much better record than they do. Fans aren't very pleased with what Lovie Smith has done so far. He has been stubborn, sticking to a Tampa 2 defense that may be antiquated and an offense that's conservative. But the Washington game was a good example of what "Lovie Ball" can be when it works properly. Smith's record isn't very good, but he's not on the hot seat. Ownership believes he can show some promise down the stretch and turn things around with another offseason.

There has been a lot of talk about Jay Cutler's future in Chicago. Does he have one?

Wright: Boy, that's a good question that I'm not sure I can answer at this point. Obviously with the contract, Cutler is sort of handcuffed to the team for the next couple of seasons. But if Cutler doesn't improve down the stretch, I could see the Bears looking for ways to cut ties (a trade perhaps?). The Bears gave Cutler a $126.7 million contract, and he certainly hasn't produced at the level you'd expect a player making that type of money. So if the arrow isn't pointing up for Cutler at the conclusion of the season, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the Bears entered 2015 with an open competition at the position or looked to trade him in the offseason.

Speaking of quarterbacks, when Josh McCown left Chicago to sign with the Buccaneers, it seemed like an ideal match, especially when considering how he performed in 2013 as the fill-in for Cutler. Can you give me a rundown as to why has McCown struggled this season?

Yasinkas: McCown admitted recently that he was pressing too much in the first three games. He was trying to make something happen out of nothing and that led to some mistakes. But McCown got five games to sit back and watch while he dealt with a thumb injury. In the past two games, he has been much more efficient. The Washington game was similar to what he did in Chicago last year. If he can continue to do that the rest of the season, the Bucs will be very happy.

I know it's only Year 2, but this league doesn't have much patience anymore. Is Marc Trestman on the hot seat?

Wright: Similar to Cutler's situation, I think it all depends on how the team performs down the stretch. At this point, I don't think general manager Phil Emery is inclined to fire Trestman in part because of the investment in Cutler. Prior to Trestman's arrival, Cutler had played for three different offensive coordinators in three different systems over four seasons. So for Emery, gaining some level of stability for Cutler was important, which is what the GM believed he did in bringing aboard Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Remember, the Bears signed Cutler to a seven-year contract, and Emery doesn't want his quarterback playing in yet another system for another coach. So unless the Bears totally nose dive over the last six games, Trestman's job is safe. Certainly, there will be scapegoats let go at the conclusion of the season regardless of what happens. But I don't think Trestman is on the hot seat. He'll get another season unless things go totally awry.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

October, 19, 2014
10/19/14
3:50
PM ET

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.

What it means: The Bears fell further out of the NFC North race with the Green Bay Packers appearing to be on the way toward extending their division lead with a win over the Carolina Panthers. The Bears now will travel to New England to face a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots squad that will have extra prep time heading into next week’s matchup at Gillette Stadium. The Bears remain winless at home, which is especially concerning since they will play five of the last seven at Soldier Field.

Stock watch: Strongside linebacker Shea McClellin returned to the lineup after missing the last four games due to a broken hand, but the defense may have fared better without him. McClellin proved to be a liability against both the run and pass. He slipped and fell trying to cover Charles Clay on the tight end's 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Then, on a crucial fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, McClellin failed to disengage from a block as Ryan Tannehill ran to his side for a 30-yard gain to set up Lamar Miller’s 1-yard touchdown.

Jay Cutler turnovers: Fans like to say “Cutty does it.” Well, he certainly did in the loss to the Dolphins, turning the ball over twice. It’s no coincidence the Bears have lost every game in which Cutler has committed a turnover. Cutler tossed two interceptions in each of the team’s three losses heading into Sunday’s game, and he committed two more turnovers (an interception and a fumble) against the Dolphins.

Bears coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and Cutler have all talked extensively about turnovers being the deciding factor in all of this team’s losses, yet the quarterback continues to give away the ball. It has to stop.

Game ball: Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff racked up a career-high 3.5 sacks in the first half alone and contributed seven tackles. Ratliff’s 3.5 sacks against the Dolphins matched his 2010 season total. Ratliff hasn’t made more than two sacks in a season since 2011, which is impressive for a player who had missed three of the last four games recovering from a concussion suffered in Week 3.

What’s next: The Bears head to Halas Hall on Monday to do some light weightlifting and recovery work. They won’t begin preparation for the New England Patriots until Wednesday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke with local media at the NFL combine on Thursday for the first time since the team fired him, and displayed a sense of humor when grilled about his termination.

“I strongly recommend if you get fired, take the year off like I did and it will help you an awful lot,” Smith jokingly said.

After spending the entire 2013 season out of football, Smith, in January became the head coach at Tampa Bay. Since coming into the new job, Smith said he hasn’t run into any surprises, and credits the experience gained in Chicago, where he served nine years as head coach of the Bears.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFormer Bears coach Lovie Smith led Chicago to two NFC title games and a Super Bowl in nine seasons. He became Tampa Bay's head coach in January.
Smith led the Bears to the playoffs three times during his tenure, and the club appeared in two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl, but failed to reach the postseason in five of his last six years.

“Whenever you’ve had a chance to be somewhere for nine years, the next place should be easier,” Smith said. “There hasn’t really been anything that’s caught me off guard or anything like that. Having the year off helped. [I] had a chance to evaluate everything I believe in, I came to some of the conclusions that I thought.”

Obviously one of those was to remain classy. Smith refused to go into his personal thoughts about being fired in Chicago. Asked if he received a fair shake with the Bears, who fired him on Dec. 31 of 2012 as the club came off a 10-6 season, Smith quickly said, “It’s a Bucs life for me now; my focus is definitely on that.”

“I’ve worked at a lot of different places in the past. If you’d like to talk about Big Sandy [Texas] High School, I used to work there, too,” Smith added. “Great experience there. I’m excited about Tampa and what we’re doing. I’ve had the opportunity to work at a lot of great places. Chicago was one of them.”

With Smith out of football, his former defense in Chicago fell on hard times. Last season, the Bears gave up the most yards (6,313), points (478), and rushing yards (2,583) in franchise history. During Smith’s tenure, Chicago’s defense consistently performed among the league’s best in most statistical categories.

Smith couldn’t point out anything specifically that explained Chicago’s defensive demise in 2013, but the coach expressed confidence in the group bouncing back this upcoming season. The Bears host Smith and the Buccaneers in 2014.

“Every year is a different year. That group of guys have played pretty good defense in the past, and I don’t know exactly what happened this year,” Smith said. “But sometimes you have bad years for whatever reason. I know there are some warriors on that team that I’m sure will come back hard this year.”

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