No one know where the Bears and Vikings are going to play their Monday Night Football contest. The Metrodome roof is about a shaky as Frank Omiyale’s blindside protection and TCF Bank Stadium – the outdoor facility home to the University of Minnesota’s football team – needs to know by the end of Tuesday whether to begin the process of unwinterizing their venue. (I have never heard of unwinterizing something but I’m from New Jersey, where winters are just an excuse for radio stations to play Bruce Springsteen’s three-hour version of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.) Wherever the game is played, one thing is certain: the outcome may go a long way to determining the fate of head coach Lovie Smith in Chicago.
The Vikings, in front of a somewhat national audience last night, looked like a shell of a football team. The Giants ran the ball off left tackle at will, making Jared Allen and the Williams sisters look like third-rate Big Ten defenders. (Their run game allowed a struggling Eli Manning to avoid throwing the ball much at all in the second half.) Tarvaris Jackson played like a bad quarterback who hasn’t started in three seasons because he’s a bad quarterback who hasn’t started in three seasons. (His interception toss to Keith Bulluck has to be one of the five worst throws of the 2010 season.) The Giants played defense like Tarvaris wasn’t on the field, committing every player into the box and holding AP to a painful 26 yards on 14 carries. The Vikings have no business being in a competitive game with the Bears, nevermind winning.
And that’s why Monday night is so important. Lovie Smith has always divided the season into four quarters. The final quarter began as poorly as possible and now the coach finds himself in a Bye Week Revisited scenario – the charge being to keep his locker room from a downward spiral that leads to their missing the playoffs and his looking for sublets in Big Sandy, Texas. Coming off one of their most pathetic efforts of his tenure, Lovie must rebuild the confidence of a team that woke up Sunday morning believing they were a Super Bowl contender and returned to their beds thankful the Lions had defeated Matt Flynn and the Green Bay Packers.
As excited as that Packers defeat made us all, it becomes meaningless if the Bears do not defeat the Vikings Monday night. A loss to the Vikings and the Bears will accrue their first division loss, forcing them to play for their postseason lives at Lambeau Field in Week 17, a healthy Aaron Rodgers certainly back on the field. The Bears have an opportunity to close the 2010 NFC North campaign Monday night. Against an inferior opponent. Against a third-rate quarterback. With the world at stake. With the postseason within their grasp. How Lovie Smith and the 2010 Chicago Bears respond to those conditions should tell us everything we need to know about the head coach moving forward.