It's all over for Lovie in Chicago.
This article was waiting, pending the outcome of the NFC Championship game. The Chicago Bears had one more chance, as a whole, to prove they were the class of the NFC and prove that from the special teams, all the way up to the coaching staff, they were a complete, whole team.
They have failed.
We'll look at some pivotal positions, from the coaching staff down to the special teams, of who needs to stick around, and who needs to hit the road, for Chicago to become a truly successful team going into the 2011 campaign.
Get ready for the axe, folks.
A 53-yard field goal and a 49-yard field goal passed up.
A completely pointless timeout that killed momentum for a team that took all game to find it.
What can you say for yourself, Lovie?
It's true that Lovie Smith has his priorities right. Every year, he wants to beat the Green Bay Packers, make it to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.
However, he just doesn't have what it takes. It's true he got a team to the Super Bowl in 2006, but that year, a mediocre Rex Grossman, a fierce Thomas Jones, a speedy Bernard Berrian and an overpowering defense didn't need that much coaching.
This year, an arrogant and erratic Jay Cutler, a recovering Matt Forte, no true No. 1 receiver and a defense that is far and away from its best form needed a lot more coaching than they got, and Lovie Smith just didn't deliver. In what may go down as the biggest game of his career, he failed in his head coaching duties.
In or out: Sorry, Lovie Smith. You've had your chance, you've had good teams, and you just haven't been able to pull through. Good luck somewhere else.
Where do you even begin with this one?
Mike Martz was a genius with the Rams, during the famous "Greatest Show on Turf" era.
Jay Cutler is not Kurt Warner.
Johnny Knox is not Issac Bruce.
Matt Forte is good, but he's not yet up to Marshall Faulk's level.
Chicago simply does not have the offensive line to run the offensive plays that Martz wants to call. Moreover, what was he thinking, trying to force Caleb Hanie to throw into his complex system, when he's had all of 12 regular season snaps?
Martz does not know how to adapt to his players. Lovie Smith doesn't either.
In or out: Put Martz on the chopping block next to Smith. A new system starts with new coaches, and a youthful quarterback. Who wouldn't like to see the fiery Caleb Hanie teamed up with The Samurai, Mike Singletary? (We can keep dreaming, Bears fans. He's already taken.)
Jay Cutler simply has not put together an impressive resume in his time with Chicago.
At the very best, he's looked overpaid and has done nothing but under perform for someone who was expected to magically vault The Bears into the playoffs. How can you make over $22 million a year as a starter and lead the NFL in interceptions?
Even then, while Cutler did improve in his second full year with Chicago, it's hardly been as much as one would hope. He has a huge lack of awareness, and no one can argue that he had more than enough time to throw in the second half of the year, or, more importantly, in the first half of the NFC Championship game.
To add insult to injury, he was outplayed by Caleb Hanie, a third stringer, in the very same game.
More and more, it's starting to look like what this sportswriter has said all along is true: Jay Cutler had an all-star team around him in Denver. Chicago doesn't need his presumed superstar status or his arrogant attitude.
In or out: Give him the axe. Cutler has done nothing to turn the Bears around, while Caleb Hanie has worked the saw and deserves his chance to start a youthful revolution in Chicago.
They may not be perfect, but these are two players who deserve a lot of credit.
Earl Bennett has emerged from the shadows, being something of a non-factor in his first year with The Bears. Though it may be due to his college rapport with Jay Cutler, he managed to become a more common target and a viable threat for Chicago.
Johnny Knox took the next step for Chicago, as he attempted to emerge as the No. 1 guy in the wide receiving corps. He hasn't quite made the transition yet, but he's still an excellent deep threat, and has the potential to become a top receiver in the league.
Now, there have been complaints that The Bears lack quality receivers. The problem is less with the players, however, and more with the coaching. Why attempt to mold speedsters with good route running skills into people who need to run option routes?
With a better offensive coordinator, a better coach, and better QB, Knox and Bennett could become a powerful 1-2 punch for Chicago.
In or out: Keep them in. They're young, talented, and hungry for success.
He may not have all of the ferocity of Mike Ditka, but Chicago fans have a tendency to love the tight ends.
Greg Olsen has done a good job of making his mark on the city.
There have always been concerns about his ability to hold onto the ball after the catch, but in the 2010 campaign, Olsen did a great job of improving upon that problem—minimizing on fumbles.
He also added an impressive playoff game to his resume, catching three passes for 113 yards and one important touchdown.
With a complement in Kellen Davis to keep him fresh, Greg Olsen figures to be a Chicago staple for years to come.
In or out: Keep Greg Olsen in. He's a great, young talent and could have a bright future ahead of him. Not to mention he only made $565,000 this year.
Don't get me wrong, Chester Taylor doesn't need to go anywhere.
Matt Forte is the starter, though, and he was a true workhorse this year in Chicago.
In his third year, Forte managed to rack up 1,069 yards, despite getting only 237 touches on the year. He averaged 4.5 yards a carry and was an integral part of the passing game, as well.
Forte is making minimal money for how important he is to the team, and he works every single game, playing out to the end of every play.
In the biggest game of his young career, today's NFC Championship game, Forte ran 17 times for 70 yards and led the team in receiving with 10 receptions for 90 yards.
Whatever the Chicago front office does in this offseason, they must keep Matt Forte around.
In or out: He's in, and hopefully, for the long haul.
Sorry, Tim Jennings. You've done pretty well. I can't say you've done anything that much wrong.
You're just not quite there yet.
The management in Chicago is famous, predominantly for longevity and being intolerably cheap. One thing they can't deny is a need for a standout defensive player.
Their defensive line has started to come back around. Tommie Harris and Julius Peppers are doing just fine.
The linebackers are some of the best in the NFL, although, someone may want to start grooming a MLB of the future. Urlacher can't play forever, after all.
The secondary, however, has been lacking since 2006. Mike Brown was a defensive guru on the field, even if he couldn't stay healthy, and since that year, the Bears have had no answer for truly good quarterbacks.
If he just needs a little more time, that's one thing, but Tim Jennings is not a defensive leader in my eyes.
In or out: For now, he's out. Chicago needs a marquee defensive back to become legitimate contenders.
This is almost painful, as a fan of talented players.
Daniel Manning is an extremely talented player. He's fast, he can make incredible moves and his coverage isn't that bad.
However, he's just not Mike Brown.
Chris Harris can work out as a Bears safety. In his return to the Bears, he's actually gone back to the hard-hitting, smash mouth form that works out so well for him.
Daniel Manning, on the other hand, does not really have a defined style. He seems to lack an identity as a safety and is much better off joining Devin Hester as a return man.
In or out: Kick him out as a defensive back, keep him in on special teams and returns.