As the pain from yesterday's loss and no postseason football in Chicago begins to subside this morning, it's hard to know what to make of this season. Right now all that seems to be going through Chicagoans' minds is how the Bears blew the season, me included. Somehow we have to take a step back and look at the whole picture, though. Here is a brief summary of the season:
Preseason: The big question is who will emerge as the starting quarterback. After Orton and Grossman both are given a good look, Orton wins the job. Oh and who will get most of the carries at running back? Some 2nd rounder named Forte or Kevin Jones and his broken legs? It is still unclear at this point. Most experts and Bears fans think Chicago is a 6-10 team, 8-8 at best.
Week 1-6: Besides the resounding victories in weeks 1 and 4 over the Colts and Lions, the other 4 of the Bears first 6 are decided by 4 points or less. The Bears record sits at 3-3, but most feel that they could/should be 4-2 or even 5-1 after disappointing close losses to the Panthers, Bucs and Falcons. Also Matt Forte has emerged as the go to guy on offense. Thank god for that kid.
Week 7-9: The Bears beat the Vikings and Lions to seemingly assert their dominance in the NFC North. They lead the division at 5-3 and seemed primed to make the playoffs. The team is starting to take on a distinctively offensive character as the defense lets up 41 against the Vikings but the Bears are still able to pull out the 48-41 victory. (I still can't believe we scored that much). The defense, however, is full of question marks. For the most part they are successful against the run, but the pass rush is non-existent as questions about Babich's creativity and defensive schemes get louder.
Week 10-13: Word that Orton will be out for up to a month is devastating after how well he has played the first half of the season. Grossman then comes out and takes a hard-fought loss to the Titans. Orton "miraculously" returns after missing only one week. Unfortunately it is not the same Orton. The defense gets smoked by Ryan Grant in Week 11 during a Packers victory over the Bears. Although the Bears are able to beat St. Louis, they take a tough loss to Minnesota.
Week 14-16: With the defense reeling and Orton clearly not back to the form he was earlier in the season, the Bears playoff hopes seem to be evaporating. At 6-7, they need to not only win out, but get some help from the Packers and Vikings to win the division. The Wild Card seems like a complete pipe dream at this point. Somehow, what has been essentially a listless defense for most of the season comes out of their shell with some huge turnovers, blocked kicks, sacks and other big stops. The Bears win 3 straight to take them to 9-6 going into the last week.
Week 17: With Minnesota collapsing and the Wild Card possibly up for grabs, the Bears only need to defeat the sub-par Texans to be in position to make the playoffs. We all know what happens here.
When you look at it like that, the season was not a complete failure. In fact it was a complete surprise. With expectations of a rejuvenated defense and the usual quarterback and offensive woes, most of us should be shocked at how this season turned out.
Unfortunately, we are left with more questions than last year. At least going into the season, the Bears were supposed to have a great, or at least good, defense. The offense was where all the holes were supposed to be. Now, after a roller coaster of a season we are in an even more precarious position.
An aging defense that cannot seem to stop anyone is the primary concern. While we finished the season ranked 4th against the run, our pass defense and total defense was abysmal. The secondary is a mess, with Brown being hurt and possibly not even a Bear next season. Steltz and Manning at safety clearly does not work. And what is the story with Vasher? Is he hurt or does he just suck? Peanut and Graham cannot do their jobs effectively at corner even if they tried since there is no pressure on the quarterback. Sure the national media loves talking about how much the Bears blitz and get to the quarterback, but if they would actually watch a game they would see opposing quarterbacks have all the time in the world in the pocket. Let me leave you with one thought: Maybe we should move Urlacher to strong side linebacker and move Briggs to weak side linebacker. Think about it; Urlacher could better take advantage of his speed on the outside in a Cover 2 scheme. The problem of who to put in the middle is a big one, but we should be looking for a middle linebacker in the draft anyways, seeing as that Urlacher is getting older. Just a suggestion.
Offensively, I don't know what to make of this team. The O-Line looks like a bunch of pro bowlers one day and a bunch of old scrubs the next. Beekman sucks, Tait can't seem to protect Orton's blind side, and Kreutz is an overrated head case. There are no wide receivers worth shit. Even Orton is a question mark, since he almost completely melted down the second half of the season (so so so many interceptions...). Matt Forte and the two tight ends are the only things to feel confident on the offensive side of the ball going into next season. Oh and before I forget, Hester is actually developing into a legit number 2 receiver or a great number 3 receiver. Unfortunately we need a number 1 receiver.
Special Teams, oh special teams. Gould blowing another big kickoff this week is only the beginning. Hester should be off the return team. Daniel Manning has proven himself. The kick coverage team is the real problem. Everyone and their mother seems to get great returns against the Bears. There is only one thing to point to as the reason: Brendan Ayenbadejo. We need him back. I don't know if he is a free agent or what his deal is, but he is the best special teams player in the league and we should have never let him go.
So another season bites the dust. Will Orton be back? What will happen to the defense? Mike Brown? Will the McCaskeys get a wide receiver for Lovie? Who knows but all in all it was an exciting season and as much as I hate everyone associated with the team right now (and I do, god how I hate those choking motherf#$%ers), at least we made an unexpected run at the playoffs and didn't got 6-10 like most people projected.