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SportsMonday: Lovie Blows It

Bears fans watched Todd Collins struggle mightily at quarterback against Carolina way back in the first half of the regular season and knew he was washed up. He was lost out there.

Lovie Smith and Mike Martz saw it too. When they'd finally had enough, they pulled Collins out of the Carolina game and a poised Hanie proved he was much fitter to be the Bears' backup. (Collins proved he wasn't fit to be in the NFL.)

But for reasons no one has been able to explain or comprehend, Lovie restored Collins to No. 2 on the depth chart.

That meant Collins got the extra reps in practice while Hanie ran the opposing team's offense to help out the Bears' defense. Hanie spent last week running Packers plays.

So when Jay Cutler bowed out on Sunday, Collins went in. And failed miserably again. How could the Bear brain trust have made such a miserable miscalculation?

On the whole, the Bears did amazing work just to get to Sunday's game. But in the end, the loss to the Packers has to go down as a giant blown opportunity.

It was clear, after all, that Hanie might just have pulled this sucker out with a couple more chances. Like maybe the chances that went to Collins when he threw away two possessions with good field position early in the second half.

There has been some scuttlebutt that Hanie doesn't practice well; maybe that's why one reporter asked Hanie in his post-game interview if Mike Martz liked him - and then emphasized, you know, liked him.

Who knows. But if the scuttlebutt is true, it surely wouldn't be the first time Martz and Lovie have worked with guys who weren't at their best until the bright lights were on.

And after all, Hanie might not practice well but Collins doesn't play well.

So more than Cutler's knee, this game turned on Lovie's head.

Lovie earned himself a contract extension that will almost surely come before next season (he has a year left on his current deal) with his work at the helm of a 2010-11 Bears team virtually no one expected to win more than six games. He was finally able to put his dream team of assistant coaches together (Mike Martz at offensive coordinator and Rod Marinelli at defensive coordinator in particular) and it paid off.

If Lovie wasn't the kind of coach he is - even-keeled absolutely no matter what; humble and soft-spoken yet confident - he probably wouldn't have convinced those guys to do the jobs he needed them to do (Marinelli in particular didn't want the position - he's an old pro who would have preferred to stay defensive line coach and only did his old friend a favor after considerable lobbying). But there have always been concerns about whether the head coach is smart enough about strategic details to win a championship.

For example, TV analyst and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman expressed surprise that the switch to Hanie was made with a minute left in the third quarter instead of waiting for the fourth quarter; because of league rules about quarterbacks and injury status, this meant that neither Cutler nor Collins could return if Hanie got hurt. I guess Devin Hester would have played quarterback.

And Packers coach Mike McCarthy's own dream team of coordinators seemed to outcoach Lovie's - particularly Packers defensive guru Dom Capers, whom Yahoo!'s Michael Silver writes was "in a play-calling groove of stupefying dimensions."

Not so the Bears. On a third-and-three with 1:15 left on the Packers' 27, the Bears used a timeout because the play coming into Hanie's headset was fuzzy. "I was trying to piece it together," Hanie explained after the game. The play was reiterated to Hanie on the sideline and it was no wonder Hanie was confused; it was an ill-advised end-around to Earl Bennett that lost two yards. One failed play later, the Bears' season was over.

"Maybe it's time to remind everybody the Bears ranked No. 30 in total offense this year, No. 28 in passing offense, No. 21 in points scored and No. 22 in rushing offense," ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson writes. "Think about that before you start pumping up Martz for offensive coach of the year honors. The offense had some good moments this year, but they also had moments that made you want to pull your hair out. That third-down call was one of them."

But the game was really lost long before that. At the critical juncture, Martz and Lovie ignored the obvious and brought in the wrong guy. There was no overcoming that.

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Comments welcome.

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