And just like that, the season is over.
The Bears concluded their 2011 season with a 17-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, wrapping up the once-promising campaign with an 8-8 record. And that’s the last I’ll speak of the pointless win, other than to say it probably would have been better for long-term gain if they had lost that game and received a higher draft pick. I wouldn’t have expected them to tank the game, though, because that would have been unprofessional. But a loss would have been better.
Six weeks ago, the Bears were sitting at 7-3 and destined for the playoffs where there was a legitimate chance they’d meet up with the Green Bay Packers for a second-straight season in the NFC conference title game. But one broken thumb changed all that.
Maybe it’s for the best that that scenario did not pan out, for last year’s conference championship was painful enough and it’s one I’d rather not see again. Some movies just don’t deserve a sequel.
Still, who doesn’t enjoy playoff football, especially when your favorite team partakes in them? The stakes are raised, the intensity intensified, and the scrutiny magnified. In short, the drama of the tournament makes for good television. All the Bears needed to do over the last six games of the regular season was go .500. Just 3-3, that’s it.
They didn’t have to beat the Packers — nor would they have under any circumstances — and they didn’t have to win on the road against the Raiders in their first game without Jay Cutler. They just had to beat three of the following teams: a 4-7 Kansas City team with Tyler Palko at quarterback, a 7-5 Denver team with Tim Tebow at quarterback, a 6-7 Seattle team with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, and a 3-12 Minnesota team with Christian Ponder and Joe Webb at quarterback.
I’ll let that sink in for a few seconds…
…thumbing through my most recent issue of BasketBull magazine…
You know what, take a few more seconds to reread that previous paragraph if it didn’t sink in yet…
…setting my DVR to record the next game of the NHL-best Chicago Blackhawks…
Okay, that’s enough time.
Are you kidding me?? Those are five of the worst quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL and the Bears couldn’t beat three of those four teams? And the one team that they did beat was without running back Adrian Peterson, which means the Bears’ four-point victory easily could have been a loss?
I understand the Bears were without their two best offensive players in Cutler and running back Matt Forte for most of five games. But it says something really damaging about this team that they don’t have enough talent or depth on offense to beat teams as bad as the Chiefs, Broncos, and Seahawks.
It’s easy to second-guess the Bears’ decision to have Caleb Hanie serve as the primary backup quarterback after he stunk for four games and veteran Josh McCown came in and played well for the past two. But it showed proper and justifiable foresight by Mike Martz when, in his two seasons with the organization, he was never willing to put out the welcome mat and greet Hanie with open arms. Not to mention, it made sense when the legions of fans who didn’t feel comfortable with Hanie as the primary backup quarterback were requesting the Bears seek a veteran alternative.
This entire offense has been mismanaged far too long and I’m tired of suffering through it. I’m tired of the front office trying to build within when it is painfully obvious to fans, local media, and even national pundits that there isn’t enough talent on offense to win a championship. I’m tired of the Bears seeing “potential” in their young players — sometimes ridiculously low draft picks like left tackle J’Marcus Webb, a seventh-round pick — and saying that those players just need a little time to develop.
I’m not going to continue harping on Jerry Angelo and blame this mess entirely on him, even though he’s in charge of this operation. There are problems within the Bears’ college scouting department, their pro personnel evaluation, and, let’s face it, their ownership and management of football operational finances.
Why is it that teams like the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Packers, Ravens, and to some extent, the Cowboys, Giants, Chargers, Saints and Falcons can restock their talent year after year? And how is it that they can select the right players in the draft and develop them from prospects to dependable starters and even Pro Bowlers? Meanwhile, the Bears have to resort to free agency to bail them out whenever they notice a glaring hole that emerges because they couldn’t fill it with a young player that they had drafted.
Those holes, by the way, are growing bigger and spreading to more and more positions as the years go on. Angelo won’t be able to desperately cling to his defensive prodigies for too much longer because the bulk of Angelo’s successful acquisitions are on the wrong side of 30. Unfortunately, when those players depart, so will Angelo, leaving the Bears with nothing from which to build.
Mike Martz may be the sacrificial lamb for this disaster, but he’s hardly the problem. The Bears offense this season, prior to the Cutler injury, looked like an actual, modern day NFL offense. The passing game was clicking, Cutler was playing like a Pro Bowler and a potential MVP candidate, and the offense was thriving under the guidance of Martz. Sure, he made some boneheaded decisions and he was never too far from straying back to his seven-step drop offense that was getting Cutler killed by angry defensive linemen. But it was an offense putting up huge numbers and winning games — not just riding the coattails of the defense.
No, the real problem is in the front office, behind the scenes; not on the sideline or in the coaches’ skybox. Sure, I’d like to see an offensive coordinator replace Martz that utilizes’ Cutler’s strengths more, such as moving outside the pocket. Plus, Cutler, in his sixth season in the league, is a smart enough quarterback to make adjustments and call audibles at the line of scrimmage and he should have a coordinator that gives him the flexibility to do so.
But when that situation is resolved, who is going to block for him? And who is going to catch passes from him? The Bears, in typical fashion, will say that the line was playing just fine with the absence of first round picks Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams, and when those two return, the problems will go away.
No, they won’t. Carimi played in just two games, so he deserves some development time. Chris Spencer could have been a fine solution at any one of the three interior offensive line spots. Roberto Garza was named a Pro Bowl alternate in his first season at center. But Williams and Webb form a shaky left side of the line and the Bears need to fix the protection on Cutler’s blind side.
Roy Williams turned out to be a failed experiment. He’s the big receiver with prototypical size for which Bears fans have been clamoring for quite some time. Problem is, when Angelo tried to solve the problem, he chose the wrong prospect. Also in typical Bears fashion, rather than go after one of the many — many — free agent wide receivers available this offseason who could have truly upgraded the position, the Bears chose an outcast, flash in the pan player who had one good season in his career and it came with Martz at the helm. Angelo said he wanted to “bet on players who bet on themselves” but I’m sure the only thing about himself that Williams bet on was the “over” in how many passes he’d drop this year.
When Earl Bennett returned from his chest injury, he and Cutler continued the rapport they had from the previous season. Then he all but disappeared when Cutler went down with an injury. Bennett and Johnny Knox are both situational receivers. Bennett has good hands and can develop into a solid No. 2 and possession receiver in this league. Knox is a good deep threat. Neither is a No. 1 receiver. Nor is Devin Hester, and I’m tired of the ongoing offensive experiment the organization has with him.
I honestly would be shocked if there is much of any kind of front office shakeup this offseason, so don’t get your hopes up, Bears fans. The only thing we can possibly root for is an offseason like the one prior to last year, where everybody at Halas Hall feels their seats getting warmer and can feel the sense of urgency to put pieces around Cutler and add depth to the defense so that the Bears can possibly make one last championship run before their window closes.