Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

201212161527556341941-p2.jpeg

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.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

With Brooks Orpik nearing return, Capitals' defensive pairs coming into focus

With Brooks Orpik nearing return, Capitals' defensive pairs coming into focus

When the Capitals were contemplating whether to trade for Kevin Shattenkirk, General Manager Brian MacLellan sought out Brooks Orpik’s opinion.

Orpik and Shattenkirk played together in the Olympics in 2014.

“I vouched for him hard,” Orpik said. “It’s a tough transition for a lot of people when they get traded at the deadline. That was something Mac and the coaches were a little worried about, but he’s got the kind of personality and demeanor where I think he could go to any of the 30 teams and fit in right away.”

Although Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt in his Capitals’ debut Tuesday against the Rangers, the team’s long term plan is for the former Blues’ star to skate alongside Orpik, who is working his way back from a nagging lower body injury.

Shattenkirk and Orpik were a tandem in Wednesday’s practice.

RELATED: UPDATED NHL POWER RANKINGS

“I watched the game [Tuesday] night and I think we played a little bit together in the last Olympics,” Orpik said. “I also know him pretty well off the ice from [Sochi] and I see him quite a bit in Boston in the summer.”

The off-the-ice familiarity helps. But what Coach Barry Trotz really likes about the Shattenkirk-Orpik pairing is its balance.

“They can complement each other because one is a physical defender and the other is a poised puck moving defender…who has more of an offensive flair,” Trotz said.

With Karl Alzner-John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen forming the other two tandems, each of the three pairs has a lefty and a righty.

“The three pairs we have, they really have good balance,” Trotz said. “They got a little bite to them, a little bit of weight to them, a little bit of offense, some defense. I like our three pairs.”

The pair that’s going to be under the spotlight in the coming days and weeks, though, will be the newest one: Orpik-Shattenkirk.

One practice in, Shattenkirk said he felt some chemistry with Orpik.

“I’ve fortunately been able to see him play firsthand in the Olympics,” Shattenkirk said. “So I know the type of style he brings. He’s a steady, steady guy back there and I know he’s always going to be there to be in a support role for me. Until we get into games and play together it’s going to be a little bit of a process but I’m looking forward to it.”

Orpik echoed Shattenkirk’s sentiments.

“Anytime you get a new partner it’s a little bit of an adjustment,” Orpik said. “You just try to get better every game. You’d wish for it to happen a lot quicker than it does but you just try to stay patient.”

With 20 games remaining in the regular season, the two will have ample time to get on the same page prior to the playoffs, which figures to be a defining moment of the Alex Ovechkin Era.     

“This is probably our best chance to win in here,” Orpik said, asked what message management sent to the dressing room by acquiring Shattenkirk. “Everybody is aware of what our situation is going into free agency this summer. I don’t think it’s an indictment on anyone who got bumped out of the lineup. I think it’s just trying to maximize what we already have here. [Shattenkirk] is obviously a pretty good piece to add to what we already have.”

Quick Links

Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart. 

"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis. 

It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041. 

"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."

Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt. 

Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled. 

"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."

The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster. 

"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."

The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose. 

Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.

And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.

"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!