Chicago Bears: The “What Ifs” of the 2011 Season

James DavisAnalyst IDecember 30, 2011

Chicago Bears: The “What Ifs” of the 2011 Season

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    The Chicago Bears close out their 2011 regular season with a game against Minnesota Vikings.

    It’s hard to believe that just a little over a month ago, this game carried with some significance in that it probably would’ve helped Chicago cement a no. 5 playoff seed and set up a possible NFC championship rematch with the Green Bay Packers.

    Now, the Bears are playing for little more than pride and not finishing with a losing record.

    Injuries seem to be the most mentioned reason for the losing five straight games since streaking to 7-3 over the course of October and November. But even with those injuries, the Bears were in some pretty winnable games and due to some small lapse in execution found themselves on the losing side.

    Change a few plays around and things would probably be looking very different for the Chicago Bears right now.

What If Caleb Hanie Didn’t Throw That First Half Interception Against Oakland?

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    Chicago had their five game win streak snapped by the Oakland Raiders in a final score if 25-20.

    This game was backup Caleb Hanie’s first start of the season and his uneasiness showed to the tune of three interceptions. Multiple INTs aside, there was one that probably proved most crucial.

    Chicago was down 7-9 late in the first half, but Hanie had the offense moving down the field.

    They managed to get all the way to the seven-yard-line before a screen pass was tipped by Aaron Curry and returned 83 yards by Kamerion Wimbley.

    Lance Louis made the touchdown saving tackle but Oakland still managed to get a field goal from Sebastian Janikowski.

    Instead of going into halftime ahead 14-9, the Bears trailed 7-12.

    Had Hanie made the plays he should’ve made on that late first half drive, it might’ve done wonders for his confidence over the course of the rest of that game.

    There’s a huge mental difference between playing while protecting a lead and playing from behind, especially for someone as inexperienced as Hanie.

    There are more “what ifs” you could call out from this game, including Hanie’s intentional grounding that ended their last minute drive. But the interception from the first half probably did the most damage.

What If Marion Barber Didn’t Commit the Illegal Formation Penalty?

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    The Bears loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was an exhibition in offensive anemia. The final score of 10-3 showed that every little mistake had the potential to cost a team massively.

    Hanie was under center for his second start in place of the injured Jay Cutler and didn’t look any more at ease than he did against Oakland.

    In the second quarter, the Bears were inside KC’s five-yard-line and decided to chance it on 4th-and-1. Running back Marion Barber shifted to the outside and caught a wide open touchdown pass from Hanie only to have it called back due to Barber being lined up illegally.

    The result was turnover on downs and the lost points wound up being the difference in the defeat.

    I guess for this game I could’ve also gone with the Roy Williams juggle that lead to an interception. But I chose the Barber play for the same reason I chose the first half Oakland interception.

    Easy plays like the Marion Barber touchdown catch that could’ve been are boons for quarterback confidence.

    Hanie immediately went from jubilation to deflation as he listened to the ref call back his touchdown toss.

    In a game where nothing much happened offensively, this very well could’ve been the game winner since the Chiefs defense would’ve felt a little dejected giving up a TD on fourth down.

    At this point, the Bears would’ve been sitting on a 9-3 record instead of 7-5.

What If Chris Conte Hadn’t Blown the Coverage Against Demaryius Thomas?

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    The “what ifs” are a grab bag in the 10-13 loss against the Denver Broncos.

    In the same vain as the Kansas City Game, there was not much for offensive production in this game. In the end it was one small mistake (well, a bunch of mistakes, but this was probably the most avoidable) that did the Bears in.

    Let’s pretend that the Bears taking three straight possessions to run the ball into consecutive three-and-outs didn’t play that much of a factor.

    Let’s pretend that the Bears defense going into prevent defense wasn’t the main reason Tebow was able to march down the field in the closing minutes.

    Denver was on their own 10-yard line, down on the scoreboard and Tebow Time was in full effect.

    The Bears lined up in what had been their effective Cover 2 scheme hoping to stop another late game miracle.

    With a shortened throwing field, cornerback Zack Bowman let Demaryius Thomas get by figuring that the safety Conte would pick up his assignment. It makes sense seeing as how Chicago was trying to also contain Tebow’s run.

    Conte, however, didn’t pick up Thomas and also played Tebow for the run allowing for an uncontested touchdown pass. Denver cut deep into the shallow 10-0 Bears lead.

    Had this miscue never happened, the Bears could’ve stopped the Broncos win streak and saved their playoff hopes.

    After this game, the Bears would’ve been looking at a 10-3 record with a wildcard berth all but locked up.

Anyway...

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    I won’t touch the Seattle and Packers games since the Bears lost handily.

    However, when you factor in those two losses, you still have a Chicago team that should be sitting on 10-5 on their way to 11-5 instead of looking at 7-8 trying to finish at .500.

    Chicago probably wouldn’t have put Cutler and Forte on IR since a return for the playoffs was a possibility.

    The temporary lapses on both sides of the ball have cost the Bears dearly over the course of this extended losing streak.

    What makes it even worse is the fact that a lot of this could’ve been easily avoided.

    You can blame the coaches for not preparing the team effectively. You can blame the players for not executing properly. You can blame the injuries and cite that Chicago hasn’t been playing at 100 percent for five weeks.

    Or you can blame the butterfly effect that covers how the smallest action can have gigantic results.

    Yeah, that must be it.