It is a distant memory...the Chicago Bears playing against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI. The Bears haven't made the playoffs since that 13-3 season. Their neighbors, the Colts, still haven't missed the playoffs.
Everything that went right that season, has gone wrong for Chicago since. The offense finished second in scoring that season, despite a second half meltdown of Rex Grossman. The defense finished as the fifth overall defense.
One short year later, Grossman was splitting starts with Brian Griese, both were benched for the last three games of the season. The offense was sputtering, but Kyle Orton led the Bears to two victories in his three starts.
Coming into this season, the Bears looked to have an even worse offense than in 2007-2008. They were forced to let Cedric Benson go and Bernard Berrian opted for a big raise from the Minnesota Vikings.
They also saw Mushin Muhammed return to Carolina with parting words of advice to wide receivers around the league. Moose labeled Chicago as "The place receivers go to die."
At that time, it was believed that the offense would struggle, and the now healthy defense would be back to its vaunted self after an injury plagued '07-'08 season.
Despite what looked like an offensive game in week one, a 29-13 win over the Colts, the Bears looked to be a defensive team once again. The Bears only scored two offensive touchdowns and one was a 50 yard run by rookie Matt Forte. The other came on a one yard Jason McKie run.
The other 15 points were scored via two field goals, a saftey, and a Lance Briggs fumble recovery.
In week two, the Bears held a 17-3 lead over the Carolina Panthers mid way through the third quarter. A lead that looked insurmountable against the Bears defense, while Carolina was without star receiver Steve Smith.
Twenty minutes later the Panthers were walking away with a 20-17 win.
In week three, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears held a 24-14 lead with less than seven minutes to go. Ex-Bear Brian Griese then led Tampa Bay to an unlikely ten unanswered points to close out regulation.
The Bears would then lose the game on a Matt Bryant field goal in overtime.
So after three weeks, the Bears were as close to a 3-0 season as a 1-2 team can get. Losing two games they should have won, not because of the offense, but this time the defense.
While late offense would have been nice. The Bears defense collapsed in each second half. At this point in the season, they had only given up 23 first half points, to 34 second half points. Out of those 34, 27 were scored in their two loses.
The following week had a rejuvenated Atlanta Falcons team on the schedule.
This time, it was the Bears that would need a late score to snatch a game from the opponents grasp, which their offense did. With only 11 seconds left, Kyle Orton hit Rashied Davis to put the Bears ahead 20-19.
After a pooch kick that gave the ball to the Falcons at the 44 yard line. After Matt Ryan completed a 26 yard pass to Michael Jenkins, Atlanta had moved the ball far enough for Jason Elam. After a 48 yard field goal, the Bears were stunned for the third time in six games.
The Bears would then follow up with two wins against the Minnesota Vikings (Week 7) and Detroit Lions (Week 9) to move to 5-3. I think most Bears fans feel that Chicago should have been at least 7-1 at this point, if not 8-0.
At 9-6 the Bears were tied for the division lead with the Vikings, but would lose a tie-breaker due to their conference record. They also found themselves tied with the Cowboys and Buccaneers for the final wild card spot, which was left after the Atlanta Falcons won theirs the week prior.
So, with a win over the Houston Texans and Minnesota loss against the New York Giants, the Bears would become division champions. The wild card, which to me seemed impossible, would be much more difficult to obtain. They needed the Buccaneers to lose to the Oakland Raiders and the Cowboys to lose to the Eagles.
The Bears started fast, gaining a 10-0 lead through one quarter, but then fell apart completely. They ultimately lost 31-21 sealing their fate.
While the Vikings would end up beating the Giants on a last second field goal, the improbable happened in Tampa Bay as the Raiders beat the Bucs 31-24. The Cowboys would later lose big to the Eagles 44-6.
So, while Chicago went into this game with a 9-6 record, they very well should have been 11-4 and possibly 12-3. Playoff implications would not have existed. If they were 12-3, they would have had the NFC's No. 1 seed, since the Giants lost and they would have won the tie breaker with Carolina. At 11-4, a win would have also sealed them the No. 1 seed.
So, the Bears were literally one quarter (combined) away from being the NFC's top team, but instead, they aren't even in the playoffs.
How can this even happen?
I have one answer: Lovie Smith.
When the Bears lost the three stunners in the first six weeks, the Bears played with a scared to lose mentality. Instead of being more aggressive with second half leads, they played very passive.
The defense had more soft spots than a rotten banana, and the offense would run, run, run for three and outs. Despite being early in the year, and Hester not as reliable as late in the year, they had legitimate seven-to-ten yard receivers in Olsen, Clark, Lloyd, Forte and Hester they could have went to for clock killing first downs.
I still do not understand how you can be so scared of a return man with 11 seconds left, that you pooch kick it knowing you are giving it to them one play away from Jason Elams range.
Did Lovie not learn his lesson when he once again pooch kicked with less than a minute to go against Green Bay in week 16?
How many times did we see the cornerbacks getting beat deep because of bad positioning?
Looking at this season, the only positive thing I saw Smith do, was replace Hester on kick returns with Daniel Manning.
I don't give him credit for the Grossman to Orton move, because everyone and their unborn babies knew that needed to be done.
Looking ahead to next year, I feel we need a new coach. Hopefully he brings a revamped secondary with him.