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Chicago Bears close season with 37-23 victory over Detroit Lions
DETROIT -- While Lovie Smith dodged direct questions about his future Sunday after the Bears' 37-23 victory over the Lions, defensive tackle Tommie Harris didn't mince any words about possible coaching changes.
Sitting in the corner of the locker room, Harris echoed the words center Olin Kreutz delivered two weeks earlier.
"Don't blame it on Lovie," Harris said. "It ain't Lovie's fault. You better check out the higher sources. Everybody needs to be held accountable. Don't start pointing the blame. If we're going to start cutting, we need to start cutting from the top to the bottom.
"Look at the track record. Look who we brought in to make this team better. Look at all our pieces. Go from the top to the bottom. Don't throw anybody under the bus. If you messed up, you messed up."
Bears ownership is unlikely to announce a decision on Smith until Tuesday, with Smith not scheduled for his usual Monday news conference. General manager Jerry Angelo watched Sunday's game from the owners' box alongside Virginia, Michael and Pat McCaskey. They saw their team finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Smith was asked if changes were necessary.
"Every year changes happen," he said. "We realize that's part of it. ... We just need to change some things to make it a little better and go from there."
Harris strongly believes Smith shouldn't be a victim of change.
"They better keep Lovie," he said. "It's a must because the next coach, he's not going to have the respect that we have for Lovie. We don't get in trouble. We come to work. Our record might not be the best, but we will get better."
Smith pointed to improvement as he reflected on Sunday's performance. The Bears closed the season with consecutive victories over NFC North opponents: a 36-30 overtime shocker last week against the division champion Vikings and the ho-hum triumph over the 2-14 Lions.
That doesn't make up for three losses by 20 points or more, but at least the Bears established a little rhythm going into next season.
Smith, who coached his 100th game Sunday, is 52-44 in the regular season and 2-2 in the playoffs. He plans to meet with the team Monday to discuss the future. Signs point to a return in 2010, with two years and $11 million remaining on his contract.
"I've been to a lot of farewell meetings, so I don't know what to expect," Kreutz said. "Coach is a great coach. I love playing for him. Whatever happens from here on out, I don't think any of us can control.
"Of course, it would bother me if he's not the head coach. But come tomorrow, I might not be the center. You never know."
At least the Bears avoided being embarrassed by arguably the league's worst team. Quarterback Jay Cutler completed 22 of 36 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns and went without an interception for just the fourth time this season. Cutler finished the season with more touchdowns (27) than interceptions (26).
Running back Matt Forte had just his second 100-yard game of the season -- both against the Lions -- as he finished with 101 on 16 carries. His 53-yard run in the fourth quarter set up Cutler's 12-yard touchdown pass to Devin Aromashodu that put the Bears up by 11 with less than 3 minutes remaining.
The Bears flirted with disaster when Daunte Culpepper hit star receiver Calvin Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, tying the score at 20-20. But the Bears outscored the Lions 17-3 in the final 7 minutes, 20 seconds.
If Sunday's game was about evaluating players for next season, a handful of Bears made strong impressions. Cornerback Zack Bowman snagged his team-leading sixth interception and mostly contained Johnson. Aromashodu followed up his breakout game against the Vikings with five catches for 46 yards and two touchdowns.
Tight end Greg Olsen had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown to finish with a team-high 60 catches for 612 yards. Devin Hester made a spectacular return to the lineup with a crucial 48-yard reception and a 44-yard kickoff return.
And reserve linebacker Tim Shaw proved his value on special teams, making just about every tackle and causing a fumble in the final minutes. The turnover set up Robbie Gould's 34-yard field goal, his third of the day.
Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer admitted the team's drive Sunday had a lot to with the speculation regarding Smith.
"I would be surprised if Lovie's not still our coach," Hillenmeyer said. "(Firing him) would be a mistake."