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Soldier Field homecoming was ‘just another game’ to Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith had his game face on Sunday. It’s the only one he has.

Even before warmups for the game on Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field — generally a big kibbitz-fest during which players, coaches and personnel from opposing teams catch up on old times — Lovie was typically stoic.

“Guys know I don’t do any talking before the game,” the Buccaneers coach said. “I’ll talk to some of them a little bit later on, but not really interested in ­family reunions before the game. It’s a business trip for us. We took it that way.”

Josh McCown had his game face on as well. But he at least allowed himself to appreciate the emotion of the moment. He was playing against his former teammates.

“I talked to different guys [before the game] — the list is long,” ­McCown said. “Really appreciate getting to spend time with those guys. There are good men in that [Bears] locker room. Really good men that I value dearly and I’m thankful that my life has crossed paths with those guys. They’re good guys.”

For Lovie, whatever emotion was attached to his return to ­Soldier Field for the first time since the Bears fired him in 2012 — and against the team he coached for nine seasons — had no impact.

“I have people I know here,” he said, “but beyond that, it’s just another game that we needed to win in the worst way. And we weren’t able to get it done.”

McCown had a disappointing day in the Buccaneers’ 21-13 loss. He was 25-for-48 for 341 yards and a touchdown. But also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a strip sack. The second interception and the fumble in a 19-second span of the third quarter turned the game in the Bears’ favor.

But it still was a homecoming.

“It was good,” McCown said. “More than anything, just the emotion of seeing people that I appreciate and that … were a part of my life the past three years here — that’s always a good thing. When you get to see people you love, it’s cool and it’s encouraging, so that was the best part of it.

“Other than that, it was a football game. A football game we should have won.”

It was just another game and just another loss. It didn’t matter that the Bears used a formula that Lovie popularized — takeaways, defensive pressure and just enough offense — to beat his team. Or that Matt Forte, his old running back, scored the deciding touchdowns. And how about Stephen Paea, the player he brought into the NFL, being a difference-maker with two sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.

“I know their defensive front got some pressure on us. I don’t know who exactly was able to do that,” Smith said. “I know Stephen Paea is a very good player, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.”

McCown was hounded by the Bears front most of the day. Paea not only sacked him twice, but stopped him on a fourth-and-one sneak that all but sealed his team’s fate.

“I know what kind of player ­Stephen can be,” McCown said. “That front played really, really hard today. They got after it. Hats off to those guys, with the adversity they’ve gone through. They really played hard and Stephen was right there as the leader amongst them.”

For Lovie, it was anything but old-home week.

“I have lifetime friends here. Don’t really need a game to see them,” he said. “But won a lot of games here at Soldier Field. Lot of great memories. But this is a bad memory right now.”

McCown agreed, in his own way.

“There was a moment right ­before kickoff that [the emotion of the moment] kind of finally hit me,” he said. “But once the ball was kicked it was just a football game … a game we needed to win and that’s all that mattered.”


Twitter: @MarkPotash