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Columnist
Bears fortunately able to exhale, get on with season
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/22/2009 12:03 AM

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As big a win as it was for Jay Cutler on Sunday against Pittsburgh, it might have been nearly as big for one other man:

Lovie Smith.

Yes, it seems laughable that an NFL head coach would be hearing it after one week, but the natives have been restless with, and critical of, the low-key Smith for a couple of years.

Throw in the Ron Rivera/Bob Babich mess, the vanilla bend-and-break defense of the last couple of seasons, and Smith taking over the defensive playcalling this year while bringing in Rod Marinelli, and Smith needed some results.

An 0-2 start would have been ugly following two years without a postseason appearance, and the pressure extraordinary.

That may sound ridiculous out of context, and so it's worth remembering this quote from team president Ted Phillips, when Smith signed a contract extension in 2007:

"You'd probably have to go back to the early (Mike) Ditka days to say that a (Bears) head coach's contract wasn't extended with a year left," Phillips said. "Was there a sense of urgency? Yeah, there was."

Given that philosophy, and knowing Smith is signed through 2011, it pretty much gives him all of 2009 and 2010 to make people forget he has won only two playoff games in five years as the Bears' head coach.

Unless, of course, this season had become a complete disaster. The potential was there if the Pittsburgh game had looked anything like the Green Bay game.

It's only 1 victory, and several players reminded us of that Sunday night, but now the Bears can relax and should be able to win at Seattle and home against Detroit, sending them into the bye week with a 3-1 mark.

As we suspected, it took only 1 victory for the howls to quiet and boos to subside.

It helps that Smith's defense, while bending at times, has allowed only 35 points and hasn't broken. The pressure up front, while better than the last couple of years, still lacks consistency.

That was especially true early against Pittsburgh.

"Maybe as a defense, we didn't understand the level we needed to play at right away," said Alex Brown, one Bear who did provide pressure Sunday. "We woke up after that first drive. We knew we needed to get pressure on the quarterback, and we did."

They still must find their running game, but it's a much easier trip west owning a 1-1 mark instead of 0-2.

So you may think you let out a sigh of relief after Jay Cutler rallied the Bears on Sunday.

But it was nothing compared to the one heard down on the sideline.

Cutler's rebound

Jay Cutler's worst passer rating ever (32.7) came in a loss to San Diego in 2007, but the next week he returned with no picks and a 106.4 passer rating against Minnesota.

The only time he threw 3 INTs before the Green Bay game was against Miami in 2007. The week after, he threw for 3 TDs and 447 yards.

So after the 43.2 and 4 INTs against the Packers, his 104.7 Sunday with no picks and 2 TDs shouldn't have been a shock.

Good as Gould

You have to love Robbie Gould, who kicked the game winner Sunday after his Pittsburgh counterpart, Jeff Reed, missed 2 kicks in the rain.

Despite the heroics, Gould still was angry about a kickoff at the end of the first half. The Bears scored late and Gould's kick went to the Steelers' 20, was returned to the 34, and Pittsburgh took a knee with 14 seconds remaining.

Sounds irrelevant, right? Not to Gould, who stormed off the field and was clearly upset.

"I was mad because I didn't do my job and give my teammates a chance to do their job," Gould said. "I'm a perfectionist and I expect to do my job."

Gould carried his anger through halftime and started the second half by kicking it through the end zone.

Best question

After a third-down conversion by the Steelers in the fourth quarter, a fan at Soldier Field screamed, "Let's go Tommie! Where you at?"

In two games, Tommie Harris has a total of 2 tackles and no sacks.

Old home week

Defensive end Derek Walker - the pride and joy of Illinois and Glenbard East, and son of Chevy Chase Country Club chef Walt Walker - has been signed to the Seahawks' practice squad.

There's talk in Seattle, which hosts the Bears on Sunday, that Walker could bulk up and play both inside and outside on the defensive line for the Seahawks in the future.

The quote

Linebacker Lance Briggs: "We gave up 14 points even with all those mistakes. Imagine how good our defense can be?"

And finally -

Greg Olsen, on recovering Matt Forte's fumble during the game-winning drive: "I heard the commotion and turned around and fell on it. I got lucky. I'm not going to apologize for that. I'll never apologize for getting lucky in this league."

brozner@dailyherald.com