- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

LAKE FOREST, ILL. (AP) - Not too long ago, Lovie Smith seemed primed to be forced out of Chicago.

Now, that doesn’t seem as likely.

The Bears are tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead at 7-3 after winning three straight, and the coach’s position is sure looking more secure.

Smith got a strong endorsement from general manager Jerry Angelo in Miami on Thursday before the Bears blanked the injury-ravaged Dolphins 16-0.

With six games left, they’ve already matched their victory total from two of the past three seasons and are challenging for their first playoff appearance since the 2006 Super Bowl run.

Meanwhile, a coach who was under scrutiny is making good use of his reprieve.

“It’s been great for Coach,” linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. “He’s taken a lot of flack, a lot of heat.”

Angelo said that heat is unwarranted.

“We’ve seen the same thing we’ve seen every year from Lovie,” he said. “He’s always been a great leader for us. I keep going back to that adversity, those thorns, he continues to create hope and the guys rally around Lovie.

“You can say what you want to say, I’ve read everything that you’ve said, most of it to me is unfair because the guy has really done an outstanding job of keeping the team together. And I think that is critical for a head coach in this league.”

“You can’t minimize that and he doesn’t get enough credit for that,” Angelo added. “We talk about the Cover-2, we talk about sometimes the anemic offense, we talk about a lot of things, but nobody ever says the things that he really brings to the table and he has brought to the table in his whole tenure here and there has to be a lot of emphasis on that because it is a very difficult job.”

With one year and about $5 million left on Smith’s contract, the Bears could have a tough decision to make _ particularly if they get to the playoffs.

If they retain him, would they let him go into next season as a lame duck? Or would they give him an extension, knowing it might not go over well with fans?

Many were calling for the dismissal of Angelo and Smith after the Bears went 7-9 last season, but instead of an overhaul at the top, there was what many interpreted as a win-or-else mandate from Ted Phillips.

There were also big changes to the roster and the coaching staff.

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