- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - The previous time Lovie Smith coached in Chicago, the Bears came away with a loss.

He won’t mind if they are defeated again.

Smith makes his return to Soldier Field when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Bears in a matchup between struggling teams that are looking to start winning streaks on Sunday.

“I realize I was in Chicago for a long time,” said Smith, who coached the Bears from 2004-12.

“I have special memories there. So I’m sure there will be a little of that. But as far as the game is concerned, once we tee it off, it’s another game that we’re trying to win.”

The game will be the first for Smith at Soldier Field since Dec. 16, 2012, when the Bears lost 21-13 to Green Bay. They won their final two games to finish 10-6 but missed the playoffs, and the Bears decided a coaching change was in order.

They fired Smith, ending a nine-year run that produced an 81-63 record and a trip to the Super Bowl, and replaced him with the offensive-minded Marc Trestman, hoping he could get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler.

The results are not what they anticipated.

The Bears are 4-6 after going 8-8 last year, and they just went through one of the worst stretches in franchise history.

They dropped five of six and joined the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons as the only teams to give up 50 or more points in back-to-back games before beating Minnesota last week.

The Buccaneers (2-8) beat Washington last week and are two games off the NFC South lead.

Here are some things to look for as Smith and the Buccaneers meet the Bears:

ANOTHER HOMECOMING: It’s not just Smith who’s returning to Soldier Field. The game will be a homecoming for quarterback Josh McCown.

The journeyman who filled in for Jay Cutler last season is making his return to Chicago, this time as a starter.

“I’m looking forward to it, it’s fun,” said McCown, who played with the Bears off and on from 2011 through 2013. “I have so much love for all those guys up there.

“And anytime you get to do that - when you’re growing up and you compete in the neighborhood against guys you know, or growing up and playing against your brothers - it just makes it more fun because you know how they’re going to prepare and you know they’re going to give you their best.”

McCown appeared in eight games last season and made five starts, leading the Bears to a 3-2 record. He threw for 13 touchdowns with one interception and posted a 109 QB rating. McCown then signed a two-year, $10 million contract with Tampa Bay, reuniting with Smith, but it has not been a smooth transition.

He missed five games after injuring his thumb on his throwing hand. But he threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns with a 137.5 passer rating in last week’s win over Washington.

RISING DEFENSE: After allowing more than 50 points at New England and Green Bay, Chicago’s defense had nowhere to go but up.

The Bears held Minnesota to 243 yards. But was that because of real improvement? Or was it the absence of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers?

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Obviously we were facing a rookie quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), but this is a professional team and it was important for us to just really read our keys and our assignments right.”

ROOKIE ROLL: Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans is on quite a role.

With seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Washington, he became the first rookie since Anquan Boldin in 2003 to go for at least two touchdowns and 200 yards in a game. If he gets 200 yards receiving this week, would join Cleveland’s Josh Gordon as the only players in NFL history to hit that mark in back-to-back games.

Evans also has three straight games with at least 100 yards - one shy of Mark Carrier’s club record in 1989. And with at least 100 yards and one touchdown in three straight games, he is tied with Antonio Bryant for the longest streak in team history.

CLOCK WATCH: Presumably, Soldier Field’s scoreboard clock will run like, well, clockwork after malfunctioning during part of last week’s game. Officials were forced to keep time by hand, and the Vikings were not happy afterward.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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