Bears Extend Lovie Smith’s Contract for Two Years

Filed at 10:43 a.m. EST

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The have given coach Lovie Smith a two-year contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2013 season, the Bears said on Friday.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

“To get a chance to continue to coach here is special,” Smith said in a statement.

He led the Bears to the NFC North title and an 11-5 regular season record last year. They were beaten by eventual champions the in the NFC title game.

In seven seasons with Chicago, Smith has won three NFC North championships and posted a 66-52 overall record, including a 3-3 playoff mark.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; editing by Justin Palmer)

With Healthy Urlacher, Bears Push for Playoffs

LAKE FOREST, Ill. It didn’t take too long for Brian Urlacher’s concerns to disappear. By the end of training camp, they were all gone.

Healthy and rejuvenated, Urlacher is back to playing at a high level again for the Bears after missing almost all of last season with a wrist injury. At 8-3 and with the NFC North lead heading into this week’s game at Detroit, Chicago is pushing to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 team’s run.

“I feel really good,” Urlacher said.

And he’s backing it up on the field.

He broke Mike Singletary’s career franchise record for tackles two weeks ago and now has 1,499 overall, including a team-leading 89 this season. He also leads the Bears with nine tackles for loss and has 2 1/2 sacks, an interception, seven passes defended, a forced fumble and two recoveries.

He’s been credited with 10 or more tackles in three of the past four games and five times in all, not bad for a guy who’d been limited by injuries.

“He’s got a time machine somewhere because he dialed it back three or four years, and he’s playing at a really high level,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “I don’t know if there’s a middle linebacker playing at a higher level in the NFL.”

That’s quite a statement considering one of the biggest questions surrounding the Bears was whether at Urlacher, at age 32, could approach the form that carried him to six Pro Bowls.

He had been bothered by neck and back problems in recent years. And just when it appeared he was healthy again, he suffered another injury in last season’s opener at . Only this time, it was a dislocated right wrist.

He was injured tackling Ryan Grant in the first quarter and needed season-ending surgery, spoiling what was shaping up as a promising start.

Urlacher had lowered his shoulder and plowed over Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers early in that game. He was, as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli put it, playing “lights out.”

And then, in a flash, he was finished for the season.

That set a bad tone for the Bears, who wound up finishing 7-9 for the second time in three years. President Ted Phillips issued what many took as a win-or-else mandate for coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo, and the Bears went shopping in the offseason.

They revamped their coaching staff, and made several big additions to the roster.

The most notable was Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, and he’s paid off in a big way for a defense that’s performing like it’s 2006 again.

“I think we’re better than that defense at this point, but we’re different,” Urlacher said.

Only the Packers have allowed fewer points than the Bears, who are holding opponents to 15.6 on average, and the defense ranks fourth overall at 300.2 yards per game.

As important as Peppers has been, the return of a healthy Urlacher can’t be overstated. In the land of Singletary and Dick Butkus, Urlacher again is making the case that he at least belongs in the discussion with the Bears’ great middle linebackers.

“He’s been all over the field making plays, back to his old self,” safety Chris Harris said. “He’s the leader on this team.”

Urlacher said the time off helped, in a strange way. It allowed him to heal, recharge. Even so, when he showed up for training camp, he was a little unsure. He hadn’t hit anybody at full speed or in pads since that Green Bay game, but those concerns quickly went away.

“I wasn’t worried about my wrist after the first couple days of training camp,” Urlacher said. “I felt pretty good about it, and the rest of my body felt great. So I didn’t have any issues coming out of training camp.”

He praised coach Lovie Smith, who is often criticized for running easy practices. Players argue that schedule helps keep them healthy.

“You’re going to get banged up during the season, but for the most part, the way he does practice gives us a chance to maintain our health,” Urlacher said. “I started doing different things, also, to try to maintain my health and it seems to be working for me.”

He wouldn’t specify what changes he made, but the results are looking awfully familiar.

“What the guy can do, it’s amazing,” Marinelli said. “We all know what type of player he is. That’s obvious. But to see this guy leading a group of men — how smart, how competitive, how poised he is — that amazes me. … Those intangible things are really special.”

Cutler, Bears Beat Vikings 27-13

CHICAGO Brett Favre understood there were no guarantees, that the storybook ending he was seeking might not come, when he decided to play this season.

He’s still clinging to hope, though, no matter how little is left.

Chicago just about knocked the Minnesota Vikings out of playoff contention, with Jay Cutler throwing for 237 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bears to a 27-13 win that put them in a tie with Green Bay for the NFC North lead on Sunday.

It was a devastating blow for the Vikings (3-6), who needed to win this game and beat the Packers next week to get back in the race. Can they make the playoffs anyway?

“I have no idea,” Favre said. “If I had to gauge today, I would say no. I’m not writing us off, but guys are in that locker room after the game saying, ‘We’ve got to find a way to turn it around’ and all the other cliches you might expect. … Can this team make the playoffs? I say yes to that. Will we make the playoffs? I have no idea.”

Favre threw for just 170 yards after going for a career-best 446 the previous week against Arizona, when Minnesota wiped out a late 14-point deficit and beat the Cardinals in overtime.

This time, there were no late rallies. And with the Vikings well back in the playoff chase after Sunday’s loss, Favre was asked if he would keep playing this season if they’re mathematically eliminated.

“Let’s not worry about that,” he said. “Don’t push it. … I think there’s still a little hope left. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I do know the consensus seemed to be afterward that there is life still left.”

The loss also could prompt more calls for coach Brad Childress to be fired.

“You deal with it,” he said. “It’s not something you’re happy to deal with. … My name is behind the Vikings team. It all starts with me.”

Asked if he’ll be coaching next week, Childress said, “Until I get any word differently, yeah.”

It didn’t help that Favre threw three interceptions in the second half — two late in the game — that wiped out whatever chance the Vikings had at a comeback.

Chicago (6-3) also held Adrian Peterson to 51 yards rushing. Making matters worse was that receiver Bernard Berrian sat out after aggravating his groin in warmups and center John Sullivan left with a calf injury on the Vikings’ first possession.

Percy Harvin, who was questionable with a migraine headache, limped off the field late in the game after aggravating an ankle problem.

“Honestly, it’s a gut-check time,” Jared Allen said. “It’s getting old. Same song and dance, different game. We’re just inconsistent.”

As for the Bears?

“It was a big game for the whole team,” Cutler said.

Cutler completed 22 of 35 passes and got picked off twice, but his 19-yard TD to Kellen Davis on play action made it 27-13 in the fourth quarter.

“He was in a groove,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “After we settled those first couple drives I think the whole offense got in a pretty good groove where we had a lot of confidence. It’s easy when you’re standing on the sidelines and our defense is shutting them down with the guys they have on that side of the ball and we had the big returns.”

Devin Hester had a 68-yard kickoff return to set up a third-quarter field goal by Robbie Gould that made it 20-13 after being used solely on punts through the first eight games. Hester wasn’t bad in that area, either, running a punt back 42 yards.

For the Vikings, it was another bad afternoon in a tumultuous season that looked promising at the start. Instead there’s been nonstop drama, with the acquired-and-departed Randy Moss, Childress and Favre all playing starring roles at various points.

“As I said when I came here last year, my first press conference — if it ended then, if it ended today, if it ends at the end of this year, if it ended before the start of this year, it’s been a wonderful career,” Favre said.