LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Fed up after a third straight playoff miss, Chicago Bears fans were screaming for change this time last year.
Team president Ted Phillips wasn't happy, either.
He insisted things would be different even as he pledged support for general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith.
Well, how's this for change: The Bears are in the playoffs for the third time in seven seasons under Smith, and the coach is looking at least a little more secure at the moment with the second seed in the NFC.
I love being here,'' said Smith, who has one year left on his contract,and plan on being here for a long time.''
Smith's contract status is on the backburner for now. A more pressing issue is getting ready for the playoffs. They'll host Philadelphia, Seattle or defending champion New Orleans on Jan. 16, so they have time.
The Bears went all in Sunday and lost 10-3 to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, but they can take a few positives from the regular-season finale.
For one, they remained healthy. Their defense regained its swagger, and the way Smith sees it, there's no better way to tune up for the playoffs than with a game at hostile Lambeau Field. So he stuck with his starters.
When you're healthy, you want to continue to get better,'' he said Monday.That was the best way I saw for us to make improvements as we started this next phase of our season. You guys had a chance to talk to our players. That's the way they practiced last week. That's the type of football game it was. What better way to get ready for the playoffs than to go through a hard game like that?''
It was a big change from 2005 and 2006, when the Bears rested players with a bye clinched. Both times they closed out the regular season with a loss and the results were mixed in the playoffs.
In 2005, Carolina came to Soldier Field and knocked them out. A year later, Seattle nearly did the same before the Bears prevailed in overtime - and won up in the Super Bowl, losing to Indianapolis.
This time, Smith vowed that the Bears were going for it against Green Bay, and he kept his word even though they were out of the running for the top seed by the time they took the field.
Once the game started, Chicago kept Rodgers in check after getting rolled over by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a 36-7 loss and struggling to stop the New York Jets in a 38-34 win in recent weeks.
I don't think we ever went anywhere,'' Smith said.I think over the course of the year, it's hard to shut everybody out each week. Every year I've ever been involved there would be a couple games where it's just an offensive game.''
The offense, however, never got going against Green Bay after helping the Bears score 78 points over the previous two games.
The balance they had shown in recent weeks? It wasn't there.
Matt Forte had a good game with 91 yards on 15 carries, but the Bears ran it only 20 times while throwing 39 passes.
Jay Cutler had six sacks, the most against him since a home loss to Seattle on Oct. 17, and threw two interceptions. But he stayed in even though he didn't have much protection.
``We wanted to come in here in a tough environment, we haven't been in that in a while, so I thought it was a good idea,'' he said.
Even after six sacks?
``I was like, Lovie, we should've rethinked this one,'' Cutler added, laughing.
It didn't help that the offensive line reverted to its early-season form, when injuries and poor play forced the Bears to juggle their lineup.
They finally settled on one at the bye and had won seven of eight before falling to Green Bay, but that group hadn't played in such a hostile setting. There were large contingents of Bears fans in games against Buffalo in Toronto, and at Miami and Detroit. When they visited Minnesota, they played outdoors because of the damage to the Metrodome and didn't have to deal as much with the noise there.
It was extremely loud,'' center Olin Kreutz said about Green Bay.Hopefully we can learn how to communicate in that kind of atmosphere.''
Smith reiterated he didn't think S Chris Harris (stinger), S Major Wright (lower leg) and LB Nick Roach (shoulder) were seriously injured on Sunday.