It's time for your annual review, Bears. Grizzly Detail will take a look at the six Bears who we've followed all year. Now, have a seat and shut the door, won't you?
Lovie Smith started the season on the hot seat. Three mediocre seasons that followed the Bears trip to the Super Bowl did not sit well with fans or management. The seat's temperature continued to rise as the Bears lost embarrassingly to the Giants, Seahawks and Redskins in the first half of the season.
The Bears went into the bye week at 3-3. At that point, Bears fans could only hope for mediocrity.
Then somehow, a miracle happened in the bye week. The Bears tore out of the gate, winning five games in a row. Suddenly, they were playoff contenders. Smith and his staff had recognized the urgency of the situation, made changes and the Bears went from a joke to NFC North champions. Though they missed on two opportunities to knock the eventual Super Bowl champions out of the playoffs, Smith can use this season as a foundation for winning in the future.
What he does well: With this season's staff, Smith had three former head coaches: Mike Tice, Rod Marinelli and Mike Martz. They transformed their areas of the team, and Smith was smart enough to give them breathing room. If you've ever had a micromanaging boss, you know how much it is for your boss to back off and let you do your job. That's exactly what Smith did, allowing Tice to find the right combination on the offensive line, Martz to manage Cutler and Marinelli to mold a spectacular defense.
His lack of emotion on the sidelines has been criticized by Bears fans as not showing that he cares, but his calmness is an asset. Instead of screaming and yelling on every play, Smith saves his explosions for times when the team really needs to be motivated, like when the Bears went into halftime of the second game against the Lions. The usually soft-spoken Smith yelled, at what safety Chris Harris called a nine instead of Smith's usual five.
What he needs to improve on: Smith's game management can leave you shaking your head. Not trying for field goals twice in the playoff loss to Green Bay was a baffling decision. In every game, you could count on the Bears wasting a timeout in the first quarter because the offense wasn't clear on the play. He could be more careful with the red challenge flag, as he showed in the Bears loss to Washington. He challenged that a long pass to Earl Bennett was a touchdown -- which was not upheld -- then failed to challenge a Jay Cutler fumble that was actually a touchdown. Those two problems -- wasting timeouts and challenges -- have left the Bears without timeouts in situations when they are needed.
Smith is seeking a contract extension, and he should be given one. Bottom line: the man delivered and helped a team that was expected to place third in the NFC North make it to the NFC Championship game.