NFL: Bears beat Lions 37-23 to finish disappointing 7-9
AP Sports Writer
DETROIT — The Chicago Bears were at their best early and late.
Chicago doomed a promising season, though, by losing eight of 10 games in between.
Jay Cutler matched a career high for a second straight week with four touchdown passes, leading the Bears to a 37-23 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
"It just shows that we can play good football," Cutler said.
It might not be enough to save Lovie Smith's job.
The Bears (7-9) failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season after reaching the Super Bowl under Smith.
"Every year changes happen, we realize that's a part of it," Smith said. "We're enjoying this right now."
When Chicago hit rock bottom this season two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens and fell to 5-9, general manager Jerry Angelo shot down a report indicating Smith would be back for a seventh season.
The Bears owe Smith $11 million for the next two seasons and Angelo insisted money won't affect the decision.
"All the speculation about change is going to come and we know that," tight end Desmond Clark said. "If it does, we'll deal with it. But I will say, we have great coaches."
Jim Schwartz will be back for a second season to sort through the mess he inherited in Detroit.
"This isn't about coaching," kicker Jason Hanson said. "We went 0-16 with one coach and 2-14 with another coach, and that's unacceptable."
Detroit set a league record with 30 losses over two seasons.
The Lions gave up 517 points in 2008, the second most in a season, and allowed 494 this year, ranking fourth worst, according to STATS.
Detroit has won just three games since midway through the 2007 season in what has been the worst 40-game stretch since the Dayton Triangles were slightly less successful during the 1920s, according to STATS.
The Lions' 33-111 record since 2001 — when ex-general manager Matt Millen turned a lackluster franchise into a laughingstock — is the poorest nine-season stretch by an NFL team since World War II.
"I'm sick of losing," said linebacker Ernie Sims, who has endured much of it during his four-year career.
The Lions had a shot to beat the Bears, but they simply couldn't stop Cutler.
"We had a lot of chances to do good things, and we continued to make mistakes that cost us," Schwartz said.
Cutler threw a 1-yard pass to a wide-open Clark to give Chicago a 27-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Daunte Culpepper overthrew Calvin on the ensuing drive and Detroit settled for a field goal and a four-point deficit.
Chicago then sealed the victory with Cutler's second TD pass to Devin Aromashodu, who scored the game-winning TD on Monday night against Minnesota.
Cutler was 22 of 36 for 276 yards and didn't throw an interception against Detroit for the second time this season and for the fourth game this season.
His arrival in the offseason trade with Denver generated hope for success, but his NFL-high 26 interceptions led to a lackluster season for Chicago.
"We've got to get that other number down," Cutler said. "It's the bottom line."
Cutler had 16 TDs and just three interceptions in Chicago's seven wins. In its nine losses, he had 11 TDs and 23 interceptions.
Matt Forte ran for 100 yards for just the second time this season, and not coincidentally, both games were against the lowly Lions.
Greg Olsen had five receptions for a career-high 94 yards, breaking his previous mark that was set against Detroit last season, and his TD catch put Chicago ahead with 11 seconds left in the first half.
Culpepper, perhaps auditioning for a job elsewhere next season, was 23 of 34 for 262 yards with two scores and an interception in what was perhaps his best performance of a disappointing season as Matthew Stafford's backup.
Johnson had six catches for 86 yards and a score that tied the game 20-all early in the first quarter.
The Lions will have the No. 2 pick overall in the NFL draft because they finished ahead of only St. Louis, who avoided joining Detroit's dubious distinction with a win in the Motor City this season.