Six final thoughts before the merciful end to a Chicago Bears season that peaked with great drama, but ends as an extreme disappointment.
1. I’ll say it again, in my 33 seasons (God, I’m not that old, am I?) of watching the Bears, never have I witnessed one like this. Yes, in 1995 the Bears had their best offense since the 1940′s, started 6-2 and finished 3-5. But never have I watched a team start miserable, bounce back with five straight wins, then lose their top players and the final five or six games. It’s odd, because prior to the season I thought the Bears would finish right around here: 7-9 or 8-8. But honestly I didn’t see them hitting a pinnacle at 7-3 looking like they’d be a real threat in the playoffs then have the bottom fall out. Certainly a finger can always be pointed at Jerry Angelo for many blown drafts for which he is accountable. But there is no other team that could lose their elite quarterback and running back and continue to roll to the playoffs. Those injuries were horrible luck.
2. Since it now looks like Josh McCown may be a legitimate backup candidate in 2012, I see the merit in starting him Sunday at Minnesota in a meaningless game. But making Caleb Hanie who now MUST be out of the Bears’ plans the #2 is pure madness. Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune makes the case for getting Nathan Enderle playing time, and I agree with him. Note to Pompei-I know everyone is human and makes mistakes, but he makes the point in his article that Lovie Smith once started a rookie at the end of a season for the Bears: Rex Grossman in 2003. That would have been Dick Jauron, Dan. Smith was the defensive coordinator in St. Louis the last three games of the 2003 season.
3. Looking back on the 2011 Bears season, the high point to me was a tossup between the opening day dominance of the Falcons, and the spirit I felt following the huge win over San Diego to run the Bears’ record to 7-3. I’d say the low point occurred just hours after the win when I learned via Sunday Night Football that Jay Cutler might miss the rest of the season. But in reality, if the Bears lose to Minnesota on Sunday, that will be the final low point. Not that a meaningless loss wouldn’t be a blessing in disguise, it would.
4. What are your thoughts on the Lance Briggs contract situation? Per a quote in today’s Tribune, Briggs is pointing out that he played it classy, turning in his seventh straight Pro Bowl season despite being angry about his $36 million contract. I’m torn, anyone with that kind of “paper” should shut up and be happy. But plenty of NFL players that give that kind of production get new deals, including Brian Urlacher. Hard for the Bears to justify that treatment for Urlacher but not for Briggs.
5. I hear from Bears fans that since Khalil Bell had one good game, the Bears should let Matt Forte walk and invest the Forte money somewhere else. (If the Bears did that I personally think it would be more likely that ownership would pocket the savings rather than re-invest it. I say this because the Bears were $19 million under the salary cap this season-where else did that money go?) Are people nuts? The Bears control Forte for another two years, if the player doesn’t want to sign a long-term contract, the Bears can keep him for two more years at around $18 million, and would be crazy not to.
6. I thought the Bears would be exposed in 2011 as being a fluke in 2010. I was wrong-were it not for the horrible injuries, the Bears would have been very interesting to watch in the playoffs. To me if the organization makes a few critical moves, I will believe they have every chance in 2012. But unless they make the following moves, I feel they have no chance. They must find a legitimate NFL wide receiver, a cornerback, a defensive end to take pressure off Julius Peppers, one solid offensive lineman, and perhaps a more stable safety than the revolving injury-prone band they have now. I know that’s a lot of requests, but prudent moves can be made. If the team again says “we like our receivers, we like Zack Bowman, we like Corey Wootton,” etc., then they’re blowing the final year or two of the careers of Briggs, Urlacher and company.
And problem is, now the Bears don’t just have to go through Green Bay, now they also have to contend with a playoff-worthy roster in Detroit.
Final thought-I know I personally have lauded the fact that Lovie Smith’s tenure has been successful since it hasn’t been as bad as Jauron or Wannstedt’s. Fact of the matter, though, the Bears have now missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. That’s not success.
Happy New Year and thanks for reading.