Following Sunday’s loss and subsequent elimination from postseason play, I wanted to write an angry column to summarize my disgust with the Bears blowing what was a hand fed opportunity to make the playoffs.
Sadly, all I was able to muster up was a profanity laced tirade that more or less made me seem illiterate. So now, with the season sadly over, I have decided to compile a list of meaningless “awards” to the players I see most deserving to receive them. Here’s my take on the rollercoaster ride that was the 2008 Chicago Bears:
Offensive MVP: Matt Forte
This was the only name that even deserved to be on the ballot. Thrust into a workload that is almost unfair for a rookie, Forte delivered nearly every week, totaling 1,715 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. He also solidified one of the Bears shakiest positions heading into the season for years to come.
Defensive MVP: Lance Briggs
Another no-brainer. For the second straight year, Briggs proved to be the only consistent player in a maddeningly inconsistent defense. This season, Briggs easily supplemented a disappointing Brian Urlacher as the defenses best player. Stunning to think that at this point last year, the idea of Briggs in a Bears uniform seemed laughable.
Special Teams MVP: Robbie Gould
Though Robbie’s horrific onside kick at Houston last week is the final image we can take from him this season, his steady and clutch kicking will more than make up for that blunder in the long-haul. His 26-29 seems all the more impressive when you take into account that two of his misses were blocked. While the fact that he has yet to make a kick of 50+ yards in his four year career does raise an eyebrow, he is certainly worthy of this fictional prize for this season.
Biggest Surprise: Forte
The only multi-award winner of this sham of an award ceremony, the rookie from Tulane more than earned his additional hardware. Expectations were high for the second round pick, but what Bears fans got far exceeded our hopes. From the second he blasted a 50 yard touchdown run against the Colts on opening weekend, it was clear that #22 was something special.
Forte was the only reason to garner any hope that the Bears put forth any offense week in and week out. He was a sense of relief to fans who had to endure the likes of Enis, Salaam and Benson. For GM Jerry Angelo, he was atonement for the disastrous decision to keep Cedric Benson instead of Thomas Jones. And, above all, he was the most valuable player in a Chicago Bears uniform in 2008.
Biggest Disappointment: The “pass rush”
The quotations are well earned, as the Bears amassed a mere 28 sacks this season. Relatively pressure free pockets led to four different quarterbacks setting career high single game passing numbers against the Bears this season.
The defense never posted more than five takedowns in one game, and registered one sack or less eight times (including five games with zero and another game where the lone sack came by virtue of the quarterback falling to the ground before contact was initiated). Many would argue a beefed up receiving core is priority #1 in this offseason, but getting to the quarterback would have to be considered a very close second.
Best Win: Indianapolis (week 1)
The season began with a road game against a team I hate in a game I had no foreseeable reason to believe the Bears would win. But, my misery quickly turned to jubilation. Sure the Colts had a better season, and this hardly one-upped the Superbowl two years ago, the Bears 29-13 opening week drubbing of my least favorite team not named the Packers still brings a smile to my face.
Worst Loss: Atlanta (week 6)
It’s really sad that in a season that featured the losses to Carolina (blown 14 point third quarter lead), Tampa (blown 10 point lead with three and a half to play) and Houston (playoff elimination), that none of those losses are even a blip on the radar compared to the gut wrenching debacle to the Falcons.
Losing a game after you take the lead with 11 seconds to play would seem impossible to someone who wasn’t watching. Sadly, Bear fans witnessed it all too clearly. When evaluating why the Bears are not in the playoffs, the brightest light is to be shined on this game.
Most Encouraging Sign: Greg Olsen
Olsen’s struggles at the end of last season seemed as if they could be chalked up to him hitting “the rookie wall.” That seemed less obvious following his two fumble disaster in Carolinain week two.
Fortunately, the second year player put all that behind him and turned in an unspectacular, but still impressive 54 catch, 574 yard, five touchdown season, and also proved to be clutch in tight situations. If the Bears manage to bring in a viable threat at wideout to take some pressure off of him, there’s no reason to think Olsen couldn’t become a Pro-Bowl caliber player.
Most Discouraging Sign: Mark Anderson
Many people are likely to say the dissolving skills of Brian Urlacher or the poor return play of Devin Hester are the most disappointing happenings of 2008. While I don’t disagree that they were upsetting developments, I think the all-out disappearance of Mark Anderson’s pass rushing skills are more head scratching.
After getting 12 sacks as a rookie fifth round pick in 2006, and four through the first five games of last season, Anderson has totaled exactly two take downs in the 27 games that have followed. With his 18 tackle, one sack performance this season, he may as well of not even been on the field at all. Two years ago, Anderson looked to be on of the great defensive draft steals in recent memory. Now, as next season approaches, he’ll likely be fighting for his job.
Most Crucial Offseason Need: Wide Receiver
While the defense, in particular the pass rush, need revamping, if the Bears think that the receiving core they put on the field this season is a recipe for success, we may not be seeing the playoffs for years.
While Devin Hester did enough to make it seems as if he could be viable #2, the passing game cannot flourish with him as the top receiver. To make an immediate impact, the Bears need to make a major veteran acquisition. Drafting Receivers can be very risky as a list of this years busts (Limas Sweed, Malcolm Kelly and our very own reception less wonder Earl Bennett to name a few) proves.
Whether it’s signing a major free agent like T.J. Houshmandzadeh or trading for an unhappy player like Anquan Boldin, a trustworthy veteran presence in that receiving core is imperative. Giving Kyle Orton the starting job next season was the right move, and if the Bears are committed to him becoming their quarterback of the future, they need to surround him with as many weapons as possible.
That brings my evaluation of the 2008 season to a close. I can only hope that the problems that need to be addressed are so that I won’t have to wallow around in self-pity come playoff time next season. Watching simply to cheer against teams you hate is simply no substitute for watching the team you love.