The best and worst of Lovie Smith
Rex Grossman and coach Lovie Smith celebrate after the Bears beat the Saints 39-14 during the NFC Championship Game. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Photo)
Bears 39, Saints 14 -- NFC championship game, Jan. 21, 2007: After the Bears tied a franchise record with 13 regular-season wins, Smith guided them to the NFC title and a Super Bowl berth in his third season. Thomas Jones rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns as the offensive line dominated the Saints. Rex Grossman's 33-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian in the fourth quarter gave the Bears breathing room against Drew Brees. Support of Smith was at an all-time high. Lovie afterward: "Not many people gave us a chance to win. But our guys didn't buy into that.''
Bears 21, Packers 10 -- Sept. 19, 2004: When he was introduced as the team's 13th head coach in January 2004, Smith listed three primary goals: winning the Super Bowl, capturing the division title and beating the Packers. He made good on the latter in his second game and his first trip to Lambeau Field. It was his first career win and snapped the Bears' seven-game losing streak to the Packers. It was the highlight of a 5-11 rebuilding season. Lovie afterward: "We talked about the streak and all the national media calling us cupcakes. But really, deep down inside, it came down to we came up here and thought we could win.''
Bears 35, Seahawks 24 -- NFC divisional playoff game, Jan. 16, 2011: The second-seeded Bears got a break by avoiding Brees and the Saints, who were upset by the 7-9 Seahawks in the wild-card round. Jay Cutler sparked his team to a 28-0 lead with two touchdown runs and a TD pass. The fourth-seeded Seahawks and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tried to make a late comeback but to no avail. The win sent the Bears back to the NFC title game and helped Smith earn a two-year contract extension through 2013. Lovie afterward: "It starts with Jay Cutler. Whether it's running the football or making the different throws that we ask him to do, he was outstanding today. The offense really gave us a boost."
Bears 24, Packers 17 -- Dec. 25, 2005: The victory was the ideal Christmas gift for Smith, who secured his first NFC North title with a road win over the Bears' biggest rival. Lance Briggs secured the victory by intercepting a Brett Favre pass and returning it 10 yards for a score. The Bears, who swept the Packers for the first time since 1991, rebounded from a 1-3 start to earn a first-round bye. Smith was named the NFL's coach of the year. Lovie afterward: "It was great to see the offense do that. It was good to see the defense finish the job at the end. It was a great team effort, a great team win.''
Bears 31, Eagles 26 -- Nov. 28, 2010: Despite a 7-3 start, there was plenty of doubt about the Bears' postseason hopes until this game. The Eagles entered Soldier Field on a three-game winning streak, and Michael Vick appeared to be back in form. But the Bears sacked the elusive Vick four times, while Cutler (four TD passes) and Matt Forte (117 rushing yards) ignited the offense. Lovie afterward: "If you look at the players we have on the offensive side of the ball, we're supposed to be making big plays. We have big-play guys over on that side, and we expect them to make those plays each week."
Panthers 29, Bears 21 -- NFC divisional playoff game, Jan. 15, 2006: The Bears, who finished the regular season 11-5 and had a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed, couldn't handle Steve Smith and the fifth-seeded Panthers. Smith caught 12 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yard score to start the day. At least the loss served as motivation for the next season's Super Bowl run. Lovie afterward: "There's not a lot of excuses we can give you except that Carolina played better than we did today.''
Packers 37, Bears 3 -- Nov. 16, 2008: Smith won his first four games at Lambeau Field, but that streak came to a screeching halt with this thrashing. It also started the Packers' current five-game home winning streak against the Bears. A hobbled Kyle Orton (ankle) struggled at quarterback, while the defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Grant. The Bears missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Lovie afterward: "We realize how big a game this was for us -- a big rivalry game, fighting for first place in our division -- so I thought we would come out and play a lot better than we did.''
Bengals 45, Bears 10 -- Oct. 25, 2009: This was the most lopsided loss of the Smith era. To add insult to injury, former Bear Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 189 yards on 37 carries with a touchdown as the Bears defense gave up 448 total yards. The 7-9 Bears again missed the playoffs, and criticism of Smith and the newly acquired Cutler mounted. Lovie afterward: "The Chicago Bears should never lose a football game like that.''
49ers 32, Bears 7 -- Nov. 19, 2012: True, the Bears were without Cutler (concussion), but the defense didn't help the cause on a miserable Monday night. As Brandon Marshall said, fill-in Jason Campbell had "no chance'' as the line struggled to block 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith, who had 5½ sacks. This game defined all that went wrong with the Bears during the 2012 season. Lovie afterward: "We have to leave this game as quick as we possibly can because we didn't do anything. There's nothing good really to talk about.''
Colts 29, Bears 17 -- Super Bowl XLI, Feb 4, 2007: The game started with a bang as Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a momentum-building score. But it ended with a thud after Rex Grossman's fourth-quarter pass was picked off by Kelvin Hayden and returned 56 yards for a game-changing touchdown. A win would have elevated Smith's name to a higher level in the city. Instead, skepticism abounded. Lovie afterward: "When you turn the ball over as much as we did, it's really hard to win.''