Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

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Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Lovie Smith isn't going to get caught up in any outside discussion about his job security with the Bears scuffling along and in danger of missing the playoffs after a 7-1 start.

Chicago's coach says his only focus is on trying to get a wild-card spot by beating Arizona this weekend and then winning the regular-season finale at Detroit.

``This week, we're to that `must' game,'' Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. ``I mean, the tournament has begun for us, so it's about Arizona as soon as the players get a chance to watch the video. We have to find a way to get to 10-6 and see what happens.''

After losing 21-13 to the rival Packers on Sunday, the Bears have to win two road games to finish 10-6 and have a chance for the last NFC playoff berth. There are scenarios where they could get in at 9-7, but they involve numerous tiebreakers.

There has been plenty of speculation that Smith and his staff could lose their jobs if the Bears don't make the postseason. Smith's final year of his current contract is 2013, and new general manager Phil Emery has not yet started contract talks on an extension. Nor has Emery had a comment on Smith's job status.

Smith isn't going there, either.

``We're just looking at how we can get to nine (wins),'' he said. ``Every year there are people in situations like this. Unless you've clinched a position right now, a playoff position, you're still having to win football games to get in. But you don't look at all the scenarios. You just look at what you need to do. And for us we need to win a game this week and then win another one the following week. It's as simple as that.''

Injured Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher defended his coach Sunday, telling WFLD-TV that fan and media criticism of Smith is unwarranted.

``Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media,'' Urlacher said. ``They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. ... It does bother me. They don't know what they're talking about, obviously.

``I know there are a lot of experts in the media, a bunch of smart guys out there who know exactly what they're talking about all the time. They don't know what they're talking about. Lovie is the head coach of this football team and hopefully will be for a long time.''

Urlacher also took a shot at the Soldier Field fans: ``Our crowd was pretty good today for the most part. They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice.''

``The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us,'' Urlacher said. ``It's unbelievable to me.''

Smith said he couldn't comment specifically since he hadn't heard the comments.

``I just know who Brian Urlacher is,'' Smith said. ``I know that he loves being a Chicago Bear. He's helped us win a lot of football games around here. He's a leader. He's disappointed like we all are right now in a position we were in yesterday and he's going to come to work this week getting ready for Arizona.''

Quarterback Jay Cutler also came to his coach's defense.

``I know Brian is frustrated that he can't be out there to help us,'' Cutler said during his weekly appearance on WMVP-AM radio. ``I think everyone in that locker room is supporting Lovie, and we'll see what happens.''

Much of the criticism of Smith centers around the team's inability to beat Green Bay. The Bears have lost eight of their last nine against the Packers and six straight. Sunday's game gave Green Bay the NFC North title.

``We'll keep trying to figure that out,'' Smith said of the failures against Green Bay. ``Right now when you've lost as many as we have, I can't give you a good reason for it. ... We've made progress. We were in the game early on. We just couldn't finish the job.''

The other big issue facing the team is poor finishes under Smith. With seven straight December defeats, they haven't won in the month since 2010. During Smith's nine seasons, they are 15-19 in December.

``I think you have to look at each individual team and why it happened then,'' Smith said. ``We could be playing good football teams at the time. I think on some of those, a few of the years, you'd like to think that we didn't have to play certain guys a few times. There are a lot of things that could happen.''

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Caps getting goals from everyone on epic hot streak

Caps getting goals from everyone on epic hot streak

Since New Year’s Eve, the Capitals have been scoring goals at a ridiculous rate. In fact, they’ve scored more goals—54 in 11 games—than any other team in that timeframe.

And it’s not really all that close.

Consider:

  • Since the outburst began with a 6-2 over New Jersey on Dec. 31, the Caps have scored five or more goals eight times in 11 contests.
  • After Thursday’s 7-3 win in St. Louis, they’ve scored five or more goals in five straight games for the first time since February 2010.
  • They’ve chased four goalies from the opposing net: Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky; Chicago’s Corey Crawford; Philly’s Steve Mason; and St. Louis’ Jake Allen (twice).
  • Of the 54 goals, only seven have come on the power play.
  • Eighteen different players have scored. (Defensive defenseman Brooks Orpik needs to get with the program.)
  • During this prolific 11-game run, Justin Williams leads all Caps in with eight goals. Meanwhile, T.J. Oshie is second with six goals and Brett Connolly and Alex Ovechkin are tied for third with five.
  • The Caps are now averaging 3.20 goals per game, up from the 3.02 they scored a year ago.

RELATED: Caps' offense explodes again in rout of Blues

Over the first two-plus months of the season, offense was hard to come by for the Caps, who hovered around mid-pack in goals per game. These days, however, it seems almost every shot is finding the back of the net—and they couldn’t be enjoying it more.

“It’s always fun to score and see that a lot of different guys scored, too,” Marcus Johansson told reporters at Scottrade Center, where he recorded goal No. 15 on the season. “It’s good for the team and good for the confidence.”

The Capitals have also scored the first goal in each of the last nine games.

“It’s hard to score in this league, but it’s a lot easier and it’s a lot less draining when you score first,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re not chasing the game. There’s a lot more demand on every detail when you’re chasing the game because if you give up another one, it’s a bigger hole.”

Williams is as a hot as anyone in the league right now, but he still felt the need to issue a bit of warning to his teammates: Just because the goals are coming easily (and in big bunches) doesn’t mean they can count on it every night. They've still got to remain committed to the details that vaulted them to the top of the NHL standings.   

“It’s actually kinda strange now that everything seems to be going in,” he said. “I think internally you have to recognize the process and not get carried away with [the fact] that we’re scoring five, six, seven goals a night. That’s not going to last. You ride the highs [but] we need to understand reality.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps chase Jake Allen...twice

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Knicks

5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Knicks

Here are five plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 113-110 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night that are worth revisiting...

1. This first highlight was no precursor whatsoever to the game Carmelo Anthony was about to have, because he went off for a game-high 34 points, including a Knicks-record 23 points in the third quarter. 

But this one was a play he would like to forget. Melo had a wide open chipshot in the first quarter and completely airballed it:

2. John Wall led the Wizards with 29 points, 13 assists and three steals. Two of his points came on this nice left-handed slam in the first half:

3. Wall was just getting warmed up there. In this highlight he blows past Ron Baker and finishes for two:

4. Kristaps Porzingis returned for the Knicks after missing four straight games with a sore left Achilles'. It wasn't enough to lead New York to a win, but he did have this ridiculous putback dunk:

5. That dunk was nice, but this one sealed the victory for the Wizards. Here is Wall getting the rebound and taking it all the way for two with just :13 seconds left. Did he double-dribble? Who cares? The refs didn't catch it:

[RELATED: Wall and Beal not named All-Star starters, but there is a silver lining]