With the familiar blue and silver emblem prominent on the schedule, Bears fans are reminded of their team's Week 1 almost-loss to the Detroit Lines.
Nearly three months later, the Calvin Johnson "boo-boo drop" primes foggy memories of a Bears team that most thought were a sub-.500 bunch at the season's start. That was a squad of yesteryear. I mean after beating the Eagles, "da Bears" deserve to be considered amongst the elite, but nobody could have predicted their success at season's birth, right?
Not so fast. The Chicago Bears were suppose to do well from the start, and more fans and experts should have realized it.
For starters, the Bears went 7-9 in 2009, and added five-time Pro-Bowler Julius Peppers as well as a healthy Brian Urlacher to the defense. With the additions of one of the NFL's top all-time pass rushers and elite linebackers, it would be surprising to see the Bears not tally a couple more wins, considering they returned a majority of the 2009 squad.
You have to think at least an extra win per each Pro-bowler, right?
We also knew the team's schedule was average at best, with many of the powder-puff opponents lined up in the first half of the year. Doubters of the offense's ability to gel under new coordinator Mike Martz should have considered the quality of opponents' defenses. Entering the year the Bears' opponents were in the NFL's lower third in defending the pass and rushing the quarterback, and mediocre at stopping the run.
Speaking of the Bears offense, much hype was made of the fact the group didn't possess an elite wide receiver, when the owning of a premium set of hands is really unnecessary. In fact, out of the last seven Super Bowl winners, only the '06-'07 Indianapolis Colts owned a Pro Bowl receiver. If anything, the passing game should have been considered a strong point. The Bears set an organization record for receptions in '09, and Cutler's 3,666 passing yards ranked second in team history.
Solid seasons are often derailed by injuries. This Bears squad, however, has a track record of good health. Since Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Olin Kruetz, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman became starters in the NFL, they've combined for only 24 missed games with 14 being from "Peanut." Before missing almost all of last year, the only time Urlacher wasn't on the field was a seven-game stretch in '04. Baring any freak "bugaboos" (cough, cough Carlos Boozer) the Bears have epitomized good health.
With Urlacher, Briggs and Tillman on the brain, let's remind all those preseason doubters about this little statistic. Entering the year, the Bears had an impressive 45-29 record in games when all three played. Considering each was healthy, fresh and now complemented by Julius Peppers and an improved secondary, there was no reason to think the trio couldn't keep up their success.
Let's not leave out the superb special teams. The Bears '09 unit finished as one of the top in the NFL, with the third most yards per return. They also brought back Pro Bowl returner, Johny Knox, and speedster Daniel Manning. Oh, and that one guy with all the records, "what's-his-face." Oh yeah, Devin Hester. I guess he's been good too. Sarcasm aside, we knew the kickoff coverage team would be daunting as well completing a top-tier special teams unit.
Finally, preseason skeptics pompously indulged in chastening Jay Cutler, and his 26 interceptions in '09. What Cutler critics failed to consider was four of the QB's multi-pick games were against defenses the Bears wouldn't see this season. Cutler also launched eight TDs and only one interception in the team's final two games (both against divisional opponents). Many times, we see strong finishes in one season carry over to the next. To a significant degree, that has been the case for Jay.
There were other reasons to believe the Bears had a quality season in store. The team hasn't suffered back-to-back losing season under Lovie Smith, and division standings flip-flop so swiftly in today's NFL. They also have a sideline captained with four former head coaches, including a battery of Smith and Martz who've been successful together in the past.
Success, however, was not in the forecast for the Bears this season. Maybe their offensive line, which seems to be the team's only serious blemish, scared the skeptics. Maybe they figured the North would be dominated by the Packers and Vikings.
Whatever the reason may have been, the team's strengths outweighed their weaknesses. The Bears were underrated from start, and their 8-3 record shouldn't be a surprise.