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Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

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Pressure builds on Bears during another late swoon

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Lovie Smith isn't going to get caught up in any outside discussion about his job security with the Bears scuffling along and in danger of missing the playoffs after a 7-1 start.

Chicago's coach says his only focus is on trying to get a wild-card spot by beating Arizona this weekend and then winning the regular-season finale at Detroit.

``This week, we're to that `must' game,'' Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. ``I mean, the tournament has begun for us, so it's about Arizona as soon as the players get a chance to watch the video. We have to find a way to get to 10-6 and see what happens.''

After losing 21-13 to the rival Packers on Sunday, the Bears have to win two road games to finish 10-6 and have a chance for the last NFC playoff berth. There are scenarios where they could get in at 9-7, but they involve numerous tiebreakers.

There has been plenty of speculation that Smith and his staff could lose their jobs if the Bears don't make the postseason. Smith's final year of his current contract is 2013, and new general manager Phil Emery has not yet started contract talks on an extension. Nor has Emery had a comment on Smith's job status.

Smith isn't going there, either.

``We're just looking at how we can get to nine (wins),'' he said. ``Every year there are people in situations like this. Unless you've clinched a position right now, a playoff position, you're still having to win football games to get in. But you don't look at all the scenarios. You just look at what you need to do. And for us we need to win a game this week and then win another one the following week. It's as simple as that.''

Injured Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher defended his coach Sunday, telling WFLD-TV that fan and media criticism of Smith is unwarranted.

``Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media,'' Urlacher said. ``They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. ... It does bother me. They don't know what they're talking about, obviously.

``I know there are a lot of experts in the media, a bunch of smart guys out there who know exactly what they're talking about all the time. They don't know what they're talking about. Lovie is the head coach of this football team and hopefully will be for a long time.''

Urlacher also took a shot at the Soldier Field fans: ``Our crowd was pretty good today for the most part. They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice.''

``The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us,'' Urlacher said. ``It's unbelievable to me.''

Smith said he couldn't comment specifically since he hadn't heard the comments.

``I just know who Brian Urlacher is,'' Smith said. ``I know that he loves being a Chicago Bear. He's helped us win a lot of football games around here. He's a leader. He's disappointed like we all are right now in a position we were in yesterday and he's going to come to work this week getting ready for Arizona.''

Quarterback Jay Cutler also came to his coach's defense.

``I know Brian is frustrated that he can't be out there to help us,'' Cutler said during his weekly appearance on WMVP-AM radio. ``I think everyone in that locker room is supporting Lovie, and we'll see what happens.''

Much of the criticism of Smith centers around the team's inability to beat Green Bay. The Bears have lost eight of their last nine against the Packers and six straight. Sunday's game gave Green Bay the NFC North title.

``We'll keep trying to figure that out,'' Smith said of the failures against Green Bay. ``Right now when you've lost as many as we have, I can't give you a good reason for it. ... We've made progress. We were in the game early on. We just couldn't finish the job.''

The other big issue facing the team is poor finishes under Smith. With seven straight December defeats, they haven't won in the month since 2010. During Smith's nine seasons, they are 15-19 in December.

``I think you have to look at each individual team and why it happened then,'' Smith said. ``We could be playing good football teams at the time. I think on some of those, a few of the years, you'd like to think that we didn't have to play certain guys a few times. There are a lot of things that could happen.''

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Cavaliers clamp down on Pitt

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Cavaliers clamp down on Pitt

PITTSBURGH -- No. 1 Virginia allowed just seven points in the first half and secured the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference title outright with a 66-37 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Freshman guard De'Andre Hunter came off the bench to lead the Cavaliers (26-2, 14-1 ACC) with 14 points in a game that didn't take big offensive efforts from Virginia's regulars. Of the five starters, only guard Ty Jerome exceeded his season average with 13 points.

The game was never competitive, as Virginia started on an 8-0 run and Pitt didn't make a field goal until Jared Wilson-Frame hit a 3-pointer at the midway point of the first half.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett rested most of his regulars in the second half. Reserve Nigel Johnson added 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

Parker Stewart led Pitt (8-22, 0-17) with 12 points, all on 3-pointers. Pitt had next to no presence inside. The Panthers were outscored 28-8 in the paint and out-rebounded 36-24. Seven of Pitt's 11 made field goals were from beyond the arc.

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.​

A quick start

Strong stars go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a team in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the first.

Andre Burakovsky snapping second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked at points this season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo just would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play form the office. He would later add a deflection goal late to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.