Thanks, Devin

I’m wearing my Devin Hester Super Bowl 41 jersey today, and am a little sad. On Thursday, the Bears announced they will not be re-signing the future Hall of Fame kick returner. He leaves the Bears tied for the most return touchdowns in NFL history.

I plunked down money I don’t have for the jersey in 2007. I said at the time, even if Hester doesn’t last or does nothing else, we will always have the memory of the opening kickoff return touchdown in February of that year. And we always will.

As much as I will miss Devin as he once was, Steve Rosenbloom summed up the situation in today’s Chicago Tribune accurately. The NFL has legislated kick returns out of the game. The Bears have far greater needs for which to spend their limited salary cap space on the defense. Even an NFL-minimum contract for Hester would be too much, in my opinion, for the way Hester currently plays.

And I’m happy to see that Hester’s exit was graceful. He thanked the fans, said he loved playing for us, and would love to come back to retire as a Bear one day. Contrast that to Brian Urlacher‘s babyish exit, vilifying the fans that paid his salary, the most the team has ever paid any player.

Thanks Devin. We will miss you, but will always have the great memories.

Chicago Bears Slow Cold Month Headlines

Too little Bears news. Too much personal commitment. No posts for a month. And if you’re not in the Chicago area, let me tell you we’ve all been closeted in the worst winter we’ve had in a couple decades. Today we’re barely going to reach zero fahrenheit for about the tenth day this winter.

Bears-related headlines for February:

Here’s a list of the top 25 unrestricted free agents in the NFL. I sure would love to have Greg Hardy, Jarius Byrd, Vonte Davis and Alex Mack. But we all know if any free agents from other teams are going to be signed, they’re going to be at the bottom of the top 25 available. And we can’t forget, Greg Hardy being across from Charles Johnson certainly had to have helped his sack stats.

I sure would be willing to give former Packers’ safety Nick Collins a chance, for which he is looking. These things usually don’t happen in Chicago, though.

Take a peek at Alshon Jeffery on NFL Network commenting on his top plays of the season. Pretty cool.

A Detroit sportswriter entertains the notion that the Lions may want to trade Ndamukong Suh. If this were not a fantasyland statement, I’d sure give up the Bears’ first-round pick for him. In his article, the writer notes that it may be better following the Seahawks plan, to (paraphrased) “build a great defense with cheaper late-round picks.” DUHHH…every team would build the best defense in the NFL with cheaper late-round picks if they could. Doesn’t usually happen that way. Takes a lot of draft acumen and LUCK.

Finally, for the sixth time in seven years since the Bears’ 2006 Super Bowl appearance, the team is raising my ticket prices. Even though they’ve made the playoffs a grand total of one time in those years. As I say EVERY YEAR, I know I shouldn’t complain because I’m fortunate enough to have season tickets. And I make the choice to purchase them. But my prices have been going up at least 5% per year almost every year. I’m also fortunate to be employed, but I can tell you in the economy we’ve faced for the last seven years or so, I haven’t received anywhere near a 5% raise during those years. There will be a point when I am priced out of the game, plain and simple. Which sucks. Here’s the statement from the Ministry of Propaganda (chicagobears.com).

Starting out the offseason with a bang

Unfortunately, the Bears offseason has started early. They had numerous opportunities to win that game, but in the end, they fell short to Green Bay, something we have grown accustomed to seeing.

In the week leading up to the game against the Packers, the Bears gave out two contract extensions. Phil Emery handed Robbie Gould a huge contract for a kicker, giving him $9 million guaranteed. This was the biggest guaranteed contract ever given to a kicker. Gould has certainly been a consistent Chicago Bear since arriving in the Windy City in 2005. He was picked up off the streets by Jerry Angelo, and he has done a tremendous job ever since. To me, this one might be the extension that bites the organization in the ass. Gould missed a few big field goals in 2013 and was only the 12th most accurate kicker for the season. Kickers shouldn’t take up in the area of $4 million every season in cap space, especially on a team that needs every dollar to improve it’s horrendous defense. Let’s hope Gould can get back to his 2011 form, because in 2012, he wasn’t great either.

The other was Tony Fiammetta, something that nobody saw coming. Fiammetta has bounced around the league some, but ever since July, anyone with a brain could see that this was going to be a good spot for him. He really did a good job this year as a blocker, so the contract was earned. He opened up lanes for Matt Forte and was a big reason for Forte’s success. On the very, very few times he was called upon to make a catch, he made it. The extension is probably only worth $1.5 to $2 million annually, and even though two years is probably one year too long, it’s nice to have a quality fullback in town until 2016.

Today, it was just supposed to be an ordinary, postseason press conference for the Bears’ head coach and general manager. While it was, Emery got it started off with a blockbuster announcement. He, George McCaskey and Cliff Stein got contract extensions completed with G Matt Slauson, CB Tim Jennings, and QB Jay Cutler.

Matt Slauson was one of the Bears’ best signings when it was finalized back in the spring. Slauson was always a quality guard for the Jets, and he provides a nastiness and veteran leadership to the offensive line. Beyond that, he performed well for Chicago. Once again, four years is a long time for someone of this position unless they are one of the league’s best, but letting Slauson go would have been a mistake. Letting one guard walk to sign another is counterproductive and a waste of time. It’s good to know that the Bears finally have a steady offensive line.

Getting Tim Jennings back in the fold for four more years was a must. With Charles Tillman likely playing elsewhere this upcoming season, Emery had to sign Jennings. Going into the season against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and whomever the Vikings select at pick #8 without your two starting cornerbacks would have proven to be a costly mistake. Jennings may be small and he probably can’t guard the Calvin Johnson‘s of the world, but nobody on defense was steadier than Jennings in 2013 for the Bears. Pro Football Focus rated he and Nate Collins as Chicago’s only two defensive players in the “positive category” this year. I expect Emery to address the other spot in free agency (New England’s Aqib Talib, Green Bay’s Sam Shields, or Captain Munnerlyn, who they had interest in last offseason) or in the draft (Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard).

Of course, the extension that everyone will be talking about is the 7 year deal given to Jay Cutler. Like everything else Cutler does or says, this move will be under the microscope for a long time. Brandon Marshall has tweeted that it will be $126 million total, so that comes out to $18 million per season. Essentially, Emery believes that Cutler can work successfully with Marc Trestman toward winning Super Bowls. This contract will most likely be front loaded within the first three or four seasons, which means that Cutler has 3-4 years to take the Bears’ offense to new heights. The contract will hopefully have a cap hit under $9 or $10 million for the first few years. If Cutler doesn’t perform well enough, that will likely mean the end of Cutler, Emery and Trestman in Chicago.

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1 on twitter)

Packer Giveaway..The End

Bears lose to Packers stupidly againLike the French at the Louisana Purchase (.03 per acre), the Chicago Bears on Sunday gave away what was on the table. In this case, the NFC North division championship.

Different year, different stakes, different Bears team, same results. Over the last 20 seasons, the Bears have lost 30 of the 41 matchups including the 2010 NFC Championship. Against Aaron Rodgers, the Bears are a miserable 2-10. This is why before the game I was hopeful, but did not expect a Bears victory. There is no reason that I should have. Until the Bears prove they can win consistently over Rodgers or in games that matter, I will not believe they have a chance against their rivals.

I don’t even have a bad taste in my mouth about the Packers. True, I will never like them as the Bears’ greatest rivals, but right now I have no animosity. After the Detroit Lions controlled the division then gave it away, the Bears controlled it and gave it away to Green Bay. So who could not give some credit to the Packers for enduring. They held the Bears off when Chicago couldn’t score despite having many chances to do so in the first half, then they took the Bears’ stupidity on two particular plays and used it to win.

I am frustrated with the officials for three reasons. First, I believe on the third play of the game, Alshon Jeffery was interfered with on third down, forcing the Bears to punt. No call by the refs, when they called virtually the same penalty against the Bears on the next series. Second, the roughing the passer penalty of Shea McClellin on Aaron Rodgers was bogus. Finally, clearly the play clock expired on Green Bay’s first fourth-down conversion of their final drive.

But these are petty grievances when the entire Bears defense lost the game by ignoring a fumble and allowing the Packers an easy touchdown, and when Chris Conte blew coverage on the decisive Packer touchdown. Given these inexcusable gaffes, the Bears deserved to lose. And they lost in very fitting fashion.

The 2013 Chicago Bears defense was their worst ever-and that’s saying a lot considering the Dave Wannstedt years. They by far gave up the most yards ever in franchise history, never allowed less than 20 points in any game, allowed the most points in team history, even losing a game in which they scored 41 points. Awful. Vomit-inducing.

As I left my seats with thousands of other dejected Bears fans postgame on Sunday, a fan in the first row of my section was screaming and punching his seat. A security person approached as the fan said “I don’t give a damn what security says, I’m pissed…etc.” My mantra for the rest of Sunday night became “if you’re that mad about a game, your life must be perfect. Don’t most of the rest of us have enough real problems to make yet another Bears loss to the Packers no big deal?”

Indeed, I know I do. Happy New Year Bears fans.

The Forecast- Packers vs Bears

While I picked the Bears to lose to the Eagles, I never expected it to turn out the way it did. As predicted by most, LeSean McCoy had his way with the pathetic Chicago defense. After just six offensive plays run by Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler, the Eagles had 21 points, giving the Bears zero chance of winning the game. On Philadelphia’s first drive, they scored rather easily, and shortly thereafter, Devin Hester fumbled the ball away. This allowed the Eagles to go up 14-0, so Hester fumbled more than just the ball.

There isn’t much more to say about that atrocity. The Bears were beaten, and beaten badly at that, in every facet of football on Monday. The special teams unit continues to be a major disappointment as does the defense. The offense wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but the deficit forced pass-first and pass-only play calls throughout the obliteration. Luckily for Chicago, the season can be salvaged with a win today. The Bears welcome the Packers into town, a team that has had their number for the last 6 or so years. It’s a winner-take-all game, as the victorious team gets a home game in the first week of the playoffs and the other will be watching on television.

The Packers, once again, have been decimated by injuries. They have lost Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb to significant time this season. In the past, they were able to make up for injuries, but injuries to three of the best pass catchers, best passing rusher, and their best player in general is too much for any team to overcome. Back in November, the Bears went to Green Bay and saw a defense that was giving up big plays in the pass game and one that was getting gashed on the ground; things haven’t changed. Last week, they played the Steelers tough but lost in the end. Both of these teams have a terrific opportunity to get to the playoffs after mediocre seasons. Which team will capitalize?

College Football Recap
There have been quite a few bowl games since the Bears last played, and two of them were local teams. Northern Illinois lost to Utah State, showing once again that had they played in a BCS game, they would have been annihilated. Notre Dame won at Yankee Stadium yesterday against Rutgers.

I won’t waste my or anyone else’s time with recaps of each game.

Weather
This contest has the potential to be another one of those games where the temperature could feel like it’s in the single digits at the end of it. In terms of precipitation, there could be some snow, and as for wind, it’s going to be howling anywhere from 20-35 mph.

Injury report
The Bears are doing fine, with the exception of Earl Bennett (personal); he is “highly questionable,” in Marc Trestman’s words. That would open up opportunities for Marquess Wilson and hopefully not Eric Weems. Lance Briggs (shoulder) is probable. Green Bay is getting healthier. Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) will play today for the first time since Shea McClellin sacked him on November 4 (interestingly enough, that’s the last time McClellin laid a finger on a quarterback, I believe). WR Randall Cobb (knee) and Eddie Lacy (ankle) are playing today, too. DE Mike Neal (chest) and LB Nick Perry (foot) are probable. With all that being said, Clay Matthews won’t play today, as he broke his thumb once again.

Did you know?
If the Bears somehow score 41 points today, they will break the franchise record for points scored in a season of 456 points set in 1985.

NFL Predictions
At this time of the year with a lot of meaningless games being played, I will just reflect on my preseason predictions. In my first forecast of the year, I picked my two rookies of the year to be Giovani Bernard and Star Lotulelei. Both have been decent players who will have good futures, but they won’t win the award. I also picked Ndamukong Suh to win defensive player of the year; he has been good, but I don’t think he’s going to take it home. Matt Ryan is definitely not going to win the MVP, and he’s not going to lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl like I had predicted, either. I did predict Denver to get to East Rutherford, so there is still a chance of that. In other words, all of my predictions, except one, stunk. (37-28-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Eddie Lacy- Eddie Lacy has been one of the great surprises of the year for Green Bay. The Packers pounced on him after he somehow fell deep into the draft. Lacy hasn’t lost a beat since January, when he and the rest of the Crimson Tide destroyed Notre Dame in the National Championship; Lacy has surpassed 1,100 yards already. Lacy’s only weakness is his speed and his injury problems, but he shouldn’t have any problem exposing the truly despicable Bears’ run defense. That dreadful defense has given up 2,400 rushing yards this year, and the next closest hasn’t given up 2,100. Lacy is going to have a solid game. Let’s hope it’s not a great one.

Tim Jennings- This whole lack-of-a-pass-rush thing hasn’t gotten really, really old. Shea McClellin sucks and David Bass doesn’t play. With the exception of Jeremiah Ratliff, the defensive tackles- Corey Wootton, Landon Cohen, Stephen Paea- stink. On that note, I was going to make this player to watch Julius Peppers. I believe that he has to be a factor today. If Aaron Rodgers can sit back there for 5+ seconds every snap, he’s going to throw for 400 yards in a Green Bay win. The Bears are dead last in the league in sacks with 28. If, or when, they don’t get any pressure on Rodgers, they are going to rely heavily on Tim Jennings. When the Bears signed Jennings in 2010, nobody expected him to be the player he has become. He has a tough job ahead of him today against James Jones, Randall Cobb, or Jordy Nelson, but I trust him more than any other player in that secondary.

Brandon Marshall- Much has been made of the legacy of Brandon Marshall. Make no mistake, Marshall has had a Hall of Fame type career in this league. However, he has never caught a pass in a playoff game. He has never been shy about expressing his negative feelings toward the Packers. He has made it clear that his only goals remaining as a professional are related to the playoffs. So, combine the two and Marshall is going to want to have a huge game today. The Packers’ defense as a whole has been very suspect, so he shouldn’t have a problem against their weak secondary.

Jay Cutler- I tweeted the other day that Jay Cutler’s weekly press conference was very shameful and troubling. He proceeded to show that he did not give a shit about what anyone there thought and clearly avoided question after question in regards to his puzzling struggles against the Pack. Cutler can shut up a lot of people with a great individual performance today, especially if Chicago can also pick up the win. If not, it might make Phil Emery’s decision on moving on to another quarterback that much simpler. There are no excuses anymore for Cutler. The Bears’ offensive line has been a pleasant surprise. He has never had more weapons in his career. This is the best coaching staff he has ever had. Once again, Green Bay’s defense has been up and down, but mostly down, and it won’t be easier for the Packers without Clay Matthews as his yeast infection is once again acting up.

The Forecast
For years and years, I have hoped and prayed that the Bears would overtake the Packers in the division and ultimately become what the Packers have- a juggernaut in the conference. It hasn’t transpired that way for Chicago, and I’m not sure where the blame lies. I’d like to believe that after their win earlier in the season in Green Bay that Marc Trestman and Phil Emery are going to help turn it all around. I will say one thing: one thing in common with every Bears loss to the Packers is Jay Cutler. As I said, Cutler has been downright horrible in his career against Green Bay. Whether it’s been up in that dump or here in Chicago, he’s been really bad. I would absolutely love to pick the Bears, but I made a promise to myself last year that I’m done picking them the Bears in games against the Packers until I know that Cutler can beat them. I’m sticking to it. Packers 30-20. (10-5 on the year)

Jeffery Snubbed: Packer Thoughts

Alshon Jeffery

Alshon Jeffery quiets the Green Bay fans.

Good news is (not that it matters in the end), the Bears will be represented in the 2014 Pro Bowl by Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Pretty cool to see those guys get their due.

Unfortunately, I really thought Alshon Jeffery‘s breakout sophomore season would get him selected. It didn’t. Upon reviewing the NFL’s receiving stats through 15 games, Jeffery ranks sixth in the NFL in yardage with 1,341 yards on 86 receptions. All five receivers ranked ahead of him made the game. Marshall trails just slightly, but has bettered his mate on touchdown catches with 11 to Jeffery’s seven.

For this Bears fan of 34 seasons, this offensive season has been nothing short of remarkable. It is only the second time in the Bears’ 94-year history that they have two 1,000 yard receivers (1995, Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham). I don’t have the exact reference, but I know damn well it’s the first time they’ve had a receiver go to the Pro Bowl in successive seasons. The only possibilities otherwise would have been Johnny Morris or Harlon Hill in the late 1950′s, but I don’t have time to do that research.

Congrats to all of these guys for making the 2013 Chicago Bears season fun to watch offensively. Unfortunately at the same time, the Bears defense has been downright offensive to watch as well.

Final thoughts on the Bears-Packers matchup at Soldier Field for the NFC North title. All I can continue to think of is even a broken clock is right twice a day; every dog has its day, etc. After being so thoroughly dominated by the Green Bay Packers for several decades, it would be about time for the Bears to finally take a critical game against Green Bay (OK, they did in 2008 but it didn’t lead to a playoff berth). I’ve just been waiting for the Bears to prove to me they can do it since around 1991.

Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker’s boys had better pull out all the stops and not leave anything in the playbook for this one.

Mike Ditka: Top 10 Coaches

My latest appearance on NFL Network’s Top 10 shows, this episode being the Top 10 Coaches of the 80′s. Thanks for watching.

Pack at Bears 2013: Do or Dead

Bears 61 Packers 7 1980Just three seasons after the Bears and Packers met for the 2010 NFC Championship (let’s not remember how that ended), the two teams meet in a season finale for a division title for the first time this Sunday.

Wish I could say my glass is half full, but anyone that’s been reading the six seasons of this blog knows otherwise. As I told a friend recently, I’ve been a Bears fan for 34 seasons, and ultimately the team has let me down in 33 of those. Not that there haven’t been a lot of great moments during those letdown seasons, but it’s the truth. A more acceptable ratio would be something like two or three championships in 34 years, but hey, at least I wasn’t born a Lions fan.

Really the only question for Sunday is will Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy burn the historically bad Bears defense for 500 and 300 yards respectively? I said last week against the Eagles, if the Bears D could stop Philadelphia’s offense two or three times and Chicago’s offense played as they can this year, the Bears would win. Obviously that didn’t happen; far from it.

Recent history dictates that Rodgers will pick the Bears apart, and Jay Cutler will throw a few interceptions. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be the case. Certainly I hope the Bears win and we host a home playoff game; my son is dying to go to his first. And he wants a cheese grater hat badly. Although I have to say, if the Bears do come out and play inspired football Sunday, will they have a chance in the first round of the playoffs against Carolina, New Orleans or San Francisco?

I hope I am proven totally wrong, the defense’s ship will be completely righted and the Bears go on an incredibly improbable run.

If not, with a whopping 30 free agents on the Bears’ roster, it’s absolutely going to be an interesting offseason. As long as Bears GM Phil Emery drafts another Kyle Long and Alshon Jeffery, rather than another Shea McClellin and Brandon Hardin.

Making Bad

The good news from Sunday night, if there is any, is that I had the opportunity for I and my family to be interviewed for “Bear Down, the Documentary”, which is going to be awesome. (Please watch the trailer and throw Joe a few bucks if you can, and tell your friends). For this reason, I missed a lot of the game. Thank God.

Very early in that interview, captured for eternity, in the first quarter of the game, I told the crew that game was reminding me of Bears at 49ers 1991. The Bears lost that game 55-10. After the interview I was disgusted to learn the Bears lost 54-11.

Haven’t been listening to sports radio yet today, nor have I read any of the putrid articles on that putrid game. But I am pretty sure that was the most points the Bears have given up in the 22 years since. The Bears have never finished last in rushing defense in their 93 seasons, and they have that distinction wrapped up at this point. Ugly.

That’s really all I can say about that. Another shot at controlling their own destiny blown. Which is what I feel like doing now, blowing chunks, like Spaulding Smails.

Will the 2013 Bears Be Wearing Hats?

Bears Division Champs

Sorry for the Rex Grossman photo.

Again, sorry for the picture of Rex Grossman. But in the photo, he’s wearing his 2005 NFC North Division Champions hat. Just heard someone mention on WSCR that should the Lions and Packers lose, and the Bears win, they will be “wearing hats.” I’d love that.

For a guy that is usually pessimistic, I’m going to think that tonight the Bears are going to pull out all the stops, play inspired, and outscore the Eagles. Though it wouldn’t surprise me for the Bears to unfortunately have all kinds of problems and lose a frustrating game.

In 2008, 2011 and 2012, the Bears were playoff-bound, only to falter down the stretch.

Let’s hope the former is going to happen. Let’s go Bears.