(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Bears linebacker Lance Briggs insisted all he's thinking about is Chicago beating the Detroit Lions and reaching the playoffs.
The idea that this could be the last go-around with his coaches and some teammates?
The seven-time Pro Bowler said he's not thinking about what might happen if the Bears (9-6) lose Sunday at Detroit. They're in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, and even if they beat the Lions, they would need help from rival Green Bay.
If they don't reach the postseason, there is speculation that coach Lovie Smith could be gone. Brian Urlacher has an expiring contract and might be on his way out, too, but Briggs wasn't thinking about those possibilities.
"My job right now is to focus on beating the Detroit Lions," he said Thursday. "I think that's what all of our jobs are right now. That's what we need to focus on - trying to get ourselves into the postseason."
These are awkward times for the Bears. They're in a situation they never would have envisioned after a 7-1 start, trying to slip into the playoffs and in need of a big assist even if they do their part against the Lions. They would also need Green Bay to beat or tie Minnesota. Chicago could also get in with a tie if the Packers beat the Vikings, but if they don't make it, there's a feeling that an era could be ending.
If management is ready to pull the plug on Smith, special teams coordinator Dave Toub urged them to reconsider.
"Lovie's a great coach," he said. "He needs to stay here."
If the speculation is bothering Smith, Toub doesn't see it.
"He's been steady," Toub said. "We've been very lucky - the Chicago Bears are very lucky - to have Lovie Smith. You better realize that. Everybody better realize that."
It's not just Smith's job possibly on the line. The rest of the staff could be gone, too, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he's not worrying about that. He sees a game coming up that the Bears can't afford to lose. He sees a once-promising season coming down to this - one final chance - and sees no time to worry about the what-ifs.
"To me, it's not difficult at all," he said. "You've got a job at hand, do your job. Do what men are supposed to do."
But what about human nature?
"You take human nature, I take a man's responsibility," Marinelli said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice seems to be taking more of a Zen-like approach. If he's feeling more pressure, he's keeping it to himself.
"That would be bad because then the guys would think I'm uptight," he said. "So I don't want to be uptight. That's the worst thing that I can be is uptight."
He paused, smiled and added: "I have to come up with some new material."
Briggs put in a plug for Smith and said the players want to win this one for him. More than that, though, he doesn't want to see the wrecking ball hit the Bears.
"More than just Lovie," he said. "You want to win it for us. Win it for us. If you've enjoyed your time here in Chicago and the way that Lovie has treated you and us together and this camaraderie that we have then win for that. If Lovie is not here, that goes - that goes with him. I've enjoyed every moment of being here, here in Chicago. And I don't intend on that changing. So it's time to go out and beat Detroit, and then we'll pull for the Packers."
Notes: RB Matt Forte went through a limited practice on Thursday after sitting out the previous day. He left last week's win over Arizona after injuring his right ankle for the third time this season, and the Bears hope to have him against the Lions. "We're hopeful for him, which we thought all along," Smith said. "I know he's been pretty optimistic about the plan. So hopefully that will be the case." ... The Bears continued to hold LB Brian Urlacher out of practice because of his hamstring injury, along with LB Blake Costanzo (calf), S Chris Conte (hamstring) and backup RB Armando Allen (knee). DT Henry Melton (chest) was limited again after missing the past two games.
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