"Jay Cutler out four-to-six weeks with a broken thumb."
The Bears were 7-3 and riding a five-game win streak led by Cutler's stellar play and the career-season of Matt Forte. A deep playoff run looked promising with Cutler playing the way he was, and even a possibility of taking down the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day.
Then Cutler's broken thumb happened on a play that will haunt Bears fans for a long time. As Cutler targeted Johnny Knox on a slant route in the fourth quarter, Knox slipped and fell and it was an easy interception for Antoine Cason. Cutler broke his thumb while making a touchdown-saving tackle on Cason.
On the horizon of bad news was three more games against the AFC West, a home game against the Seattle Seahawks, a Christmas clash with the Packers in Green Bay and their season finale in Minnesota. The Bears would finish 1-5 to end what was once a promising season.
Going into the year, the Bears had high expectations with Cutler. After a NFC Championship run last season, the Bears expected to return and to be led there by their young gunslinger.
With poor offensive line play early on, Cutler struggled. In a Monday night loss in Detroit, Cutler played well, but the Bears fell to 2-3 on the year.
Things changed, however, as Cutler started to play better and led the Bears to a five-game win streak.
During the streak, the Bears seemed to change things. Using max protect to give Cutler more time, and even just a few more designed roll-outs for Cutler were used. Something we saw during the successful season last year.
It was obvious Cutler didn't believe in Mike Martz's philosophy and how he was running the offense. Cutler didn't like it, and most of the fans didn't either.
Cutler finished the season with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He had a 58 percent completion rate to go along with his 2,319 passing yards.
When Cutler went down with his injury, many fans panicked. Others remained calm thinking that backup Caleb Hanie could at least get the Bears into the playoffs.
With a relatively easy schedule looming and the Bears holding one wild-card spot, Hanie and the Bears' season went spiraling down.
Hanie, at times, played so bad, the fans wanted backup verteran Josh McCown who hasn't taken an NFL snap in a few years. Hanie didn't even play manageable football at times and just looked downright awful.
After Hanie struggled and the coaching staff lost faith in him, McCown finally got his shot. McCown did a little better then Hanie, but that isn't saying much.
McCown got his first start against the Packers on Christmas Day. It was a situation where the Bears just wanted him to manage the game and keep them in it. He did that—for the first half.
McCown executed a few nice drives, but like Hanie he committed a costly turnover in the red zone that costed his team a chance at the lead. His second and final start came in the regular season finale against the Vikings, a game the Bears won to salvage something on their season and finish 8-8.
McCown's play could earn him a backup job to Cutler next season, while Hanie's play earned him a one-way ticket out of Chicago and into the free-agent pool.
Final 2011-12 Grade: C-
Reason: Cutler's play in the 10 games he started saves this grade from being a F+/D-. Hanie was just awful and McCown was better, but not much better.