LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith knows he'll be on the sideline this week against the Detroit Lions.
He wasn't making any predictions.
With the Bears 6-9 and out of the playoffs for the third straight year, Smith's status is hanging in the balance as one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory comes to an end. He deflected questions Tuesday about his job security, saying he's only thinking about the Detroit game and not looking beyond that.
"We've been disappointed in our play this year, but we've been a good football team for a long time," Smith said. "We're doing things the right way. Better days will be ahead for us."
Is he confident he'll be around for those better days, though?
"I'm confident that I'll be coaching the Detroit Lions this week, and that's about as far as you need to go," Smith said. "None of us in this room knows any more than that, I assume, unless you guys have long-term contracts. You coach and you work that day. You don't look any farther than that, and it's been that way for me since I've been here. Nothing has changed."
The Bears beat Minnesota 36-30 in overtime on Monday night, raising more questions in a season that has provided few answers. Like, where was this effort in the first 14 games? If the Bears are good enough to beat the NFC North champions, then how did they manage to drop eight of 10 leading up to this game? And did that win help or hurt Smith's status?
"We have Detroit coming up this week, and all of my focus is on it," Smith said. "To talk about any more than that, we shouldn't right now. All the focus should only be on that, and that's where it'll be. That's where I'm going to keep it. You can continue to ask that question; I'm going to continue to go down this path."
Smith will take a 51-44 record in six seasons with the Bears into this week's game, a mark that includes a run to the Super Bowl by the 2006 team and a playoff appearance the previous year.
Things have fallen apart since then.
Letting defensive coordinator Ron Rivera go after the 2006 season and replacing him with Bob Babich was an unpopular decision by Smith, who ultimately assumed play-calling duties this year. He was also instrumental in bringing in safety Adam Archuleta and left tackle Orlando Pace, who both played in St. Louis when Smith was the Rams' defensive coordinator.
Neither move panned out.
Archuleta was a bust in his lone season in 2007, and Pace is now backing up Chris Williams at left tackle. That wasn't quite what general manager Jerry Angelo envisioned when he signed the seven-time Pro Bowler along with Frank Omiyale to shore up the offensive line.
Yet, even with the failed offseason overhaul of the line along with some early-round draft whiffs over the years, Angelo said before last week's loss at Baltimore that he likes the roster makeup.
He also declined to endorse his coach, fueling speculation that Smith could be on the way out. Not that Smith is going to discuss it.
"You speculate, all right? I don't," he said. "We have Detroit coming up this week. All my focus is on that. Period."
Linebacker Lance Briggs praised Smith for keeping the team together as the losses piled up, saying, "He just continues to do a great job of keeping us who we are."
The Bears looked like a different group against Minnesota, and that was a good thing for them.
Jay Cutler threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns while getting picked off just once, increasing his league-leading total to 26. Devin Aromashodu by far had his best game, with seven receptions for a career-high 150 yards. And Williams held off Jared Allen, keeping him without a sack after he registered two in a win over the Bears last month.
"We obviously want to build off of it, see where we are at the end of the season," Cutler said. "Everyone is going to evaluate and we'll go from there."
Whether Smith will accompany them is unclear.
Beating Minnesota, he said, "means a lot for our football team. No more than that. We needed to beat our division opponent. We were able to do that. No more than that."