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Lovie didn't deserve to go to the playoffs. Neither did his errand boy/defensive coordinator Bob Babich. Together they have presided over the precipitous decline of a great defense during the past couple of years, capped off by yet another lousy performance against a mediocre quarterback during a must-win game. It is a defense that - despite its highly paid status (only the Baltimore Ravens spend a higher percentage of their payroll on the defense) - no longer has anything special on which to hang its hat. Nothing except for the knowledge that harsh conditions in Chicago will almost always help out for at least a game or two late in a given season, that is. And that is pathetic.

Don't even start to bring up Mike Brown's injury. It was a miracle the safety played as many games as he did this season. Brown did so after it became clear two campaigns ago that he simply isn't big enough or strong enough to withstand the NFL pounding for 16 games plus (the playoffs). He shouldn't feel bad - neither is 99.9 percent of the population. Brown may be big enough to play free safety, where he isn't called upon to consistently sprint toward the line of scrimmage in run support. But that isn't his strength. Brown is better when he plays strong safety, flies toward the ball and delivers audacious hits without even beginning to think about the consequences. But those consequences always send him to the sidelines at some point. With that in mind, it was also clear a ways back that the Bears needed to have a plan B, perhaps one that started with the signing of at least a moderately experienced free-agent safety who could step in when Brown went down and keep things reasonably organized. That plan was never instituted. Instead there was Danieal Manning, in a rerun of the play that, if it didn't lose the Bears the Super Bowl two years ago, it certainly put them on the road to a loss (more details to follow), inexplicably moving way up when he should have been way back . . . and then watching as Andre Johnson hauled in the long touchdown pass that started the Bears' most recent demise.

On Sunday, the defensive line once again failed to generate enough pressure on a quarterback who was susceptible to pressure. The Bears did hit Matt Schaub a few times early, and he was struggling before Manning decided to play Santa Claus. First and foremost in the off-season, this squad needs a big, physical defensive tackle who can command double teams and keep offensive linemen off Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs (who may be an outside linebacker but who lines up inside the defensive ends more often than not). If the Bears can't track down a guy who fills that bill, a pass-rushing defensive end who can drop back in coverage reasonably well would be nice. Really, it will be simple for the Bears in the off-season. Grab the best defensive player available, whether it be free agency or the draft, and go from there. And hey, Jerry Angelo, sign an experienced free-agent safety, would ya? You'll be able to get one cheap, I promise.

I'm not sure if it was after Andre Johnson's sixth or seventh catch that it occurred to me that the Bears, despite knowing that he was by far the Texans' most dangerous weapon, had no answer for Johnson other than usually having Charles Tillman cover him all over the field. Johnson eventually finished with double-digit catches, of course, and two touchdowns (how impressive was that touchdown grab when Tillman had his hand right in there ready to pull the ball out except he couldn't because Johnson was way too strong?) Let's make a New Year's resolution, shall we NFL media? Let's promise to focus on the best players in the league next season - guys like Johnson - and spend less time on me-firsts like Terrell Owens, who re-affirmed his cancer status yet again in the Cowboys' shockingly huge loss to the Eagles later Sunday. That was the loss that would have made the Bears the wild card team had they not gagged against the Texans.

What could Lovie and the errand boy have possibly have seen during the previous 15 games to lead them to believe Tillman on Johnson all over the field was a good idea? Corey Graham ends the season as the Bears' best cover corner. He's also the best in run support. At least Tillman retains the title of "Best Ball Hawk," after pulling out an early bobble to give the Bears a big first-quarter boost. Otherwise, he should quietly cover the receiver on his side when next year kicks off. Unless he gets beat out by Nathan Vasher. Graham will be good to go on the other side.

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That long touchdown to Andre Johnson . . . the one where he was unbelievably open behind the Bears defense . . . where have I seen that before? Wait a minute, it was almost two years ago . . . after the Bears jumped on top of Indianapolis in the Super Bowl . . . when Reggie Wayne ran a relatively mundane deep route to Manning's side of the field. And just like he did on Sunday, Manning moved up for reasons only he understands, leaving his deep zone absolutely uncovered. Manning's inexcusable mental lapse led to Peyton Manning's easiest touchdown pass of the 2006-07 post-season, and surely Schaub didn't have an easier scoring strike this regular season than the one he threw to Johnson for Houston's first score Sunday.

As for the offense, well, the Bears made it through an entire season without one significant injury on the offensive line, a miraculous happenstance that should have led, at the very least, to double-digit wins. But they were done in by a brutally undermanned wide receiving corps. That was particularly evident several times on Sunday when the Texans blitzed, the line either picked it up or Kyle Orton moved forward to avoid the rush, and then the quarterback let go of passes toward Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd either failed to get even a tiny bit of separation from the guy covering him or his route wasn't quite crisp enough for Orton to hit him in stride.

As far as special teams go, let's just say that whoever is returning what next year, both Danieal Manning and Devin Hester need to undergo the remedial course in ball security during training camp. You may have forgotten that Hester had another fumble on Sunday (he foolishly reached out with the ball in a futile attempt to get a first-quarter, first down) but had the good fortune to watch the ball roll out of bounds before the Texans could grab it.

Wait a minute - let's have at least a few notes before we go:

* I'm all for a contract extension for Kyle Orton in the off-season, as long as it doesn't exceed three years. And that's all I'll say about that. There is way too much talk about contracts in the modern day sports town square. That stuff is red meat for sports radio - knowing that much guys make is always good for a few calls - but it is so much more interesting to talk about the sports stuff rather than the money stuff.

* Very nice bit from analyst JC Pearson early on as he assessed Schaub's brief hissy fit after it appeared rookie running back Steve Slaton failed to pick up a blitz. He noted that Texans coaches have been on Schaub about not criticizing teammates about missed assignments too frequently. He noted "You can't get on guys all the time, especially when you aren't playing very well." Unfortunately soon thereafter Schaub started playing a lot better.

* The Sun-Times's Mike Mulligan just missed calling the score. His Sunday paper prediction had the Texans winning 31-23. The little tabloid that could also featured Bear beat writer Brad Biggs telling us the Titans would win by 10. Biggs wrote a beautiful piece for the Sunday paper about how Lovie and errand boy were on the spot. In a perfect world, the head coach would now acknowledge the error of his ways and go looking for a new coordinator. Somehow I'm not optimistic about that happening.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday because he loves you. You can write to him personally! Please include a real name if you would like your comments to be considered for publication.


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