Chicago Bears: The 11 Defining Plays of the 2010 Season

Timothy HockemeyerCorrespondent IIJuly 1, 2011

Chicago Bears: The 11 Defining Plays of the 2010 Season

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    2010 was a roller coaster of a year for the Chicago Bears.  The Bears saw great success and heartbreaking failure mark the tides of the Bears final campaign of the aughts decade.  There were more ups than downs, but oh how painful those downs were.

    It's extremely difficult to encompass the defining moment of an entire season, especially one that was so varied in emotion, to just a few plays.  But today we're going to do just that.

    Narrowing a season down to 11 plays is not an easy task, and some moments that deserve mention inevitably are left on the cutting room floor.  Some examples that deserve honorable mention?

    Julius Peppers diving interception of his own deflection against Carolina:  He made this play look so easy, and yet there are few defensive linemen in the league who are athletic enough to have pulled this play off.  

    Jay Cutler's go-ahead touchdown to Earl Bennett against Buffalo:  This play marked the turn-around from Chicago's slide that started in Week 4 against the Giants

    Chris Harris's game-ending interception against Buffalo:  As much as the previous play rebuilt the confidence of the offense, this play seemed to do the same for the defense. 

    B.J. Raji's interception of Caleb Hanie in the NFC Championship Game:  The play that stamped the Bears passport home.

    Devin Hester's record breaking return against Minnesota:  This play was ultimately omitted because it more defines Devin and the Bears over the past 5 seasons than it does this particular year.

    In all, I narrowed a list of over 40 plays down to these eleven and that list was, itself narrowed down from an even larger one.  

    While every direction change and emotion won't be encompassed on this list, what remains are the 11 most defining plays of the 2010 Chicago Bears. 

Julius Peppers Makes an Immediate Impact

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    The Bears shocked the world when the normally reserved front office went all-in at the start of the free agent period and nabbed the biggest prize of them all in Julius Peppers.

    And Peppers wasted little time in showing the Bears the price they paid was worth it.  

    Peppers wouldn't reach double digit sacks this year, but his presence forced teams to plan for him and to adjust blocking schemes to him. That led to other members of the line getting more and better opportunities.

    But Peppers still got his licks in. He recorded eight sacks, and this was the first of them. Matthew Stafford would not return and the Bears would win their season opener.

    This was the play that turned the game. 

When Is a Catch Not a Catch?

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    This was where the "lucky" moniker started.

    Calvin Johnson did not catch this ball—not by the rules currently in place. Watch his hand as the ball bounces off the grass and his fingers pop together.

    The rules state that he must complete the action before it is a catch. This is no different than any other rule.

    Arguing this is a catch is no different that arguing a player who loses the ball after his knee is down should still be a fumble. But that isn't what the rules of the game say.

    Yet people still want to claim the Lions should have won this game. They didn't and the call was the correct one.  

    Johnson is a fantastic receiver, but he should have focused on maintaining possession of this ball instead of celebrating. Had he done this, the game might have gone the other way.  

    I say "might" because there would still have been 00:31 left on the clock with the best return man in the league taking the kick. The Lions would have had a two-point lead and the Bears also happen to have one of the most accurate kickers of all time on their roster.

    But the biggest problem I have with all of this is the hypocrisy. In 2004, the Bears lost a game in similar fashion to the Lions on a Chad Hutchinson-to-Bernard Berrian non-catch with 01:33 left on the clock. The play was reviewed for the same reason with the same end result.  

    What looked like a Berrian touchdown was ruled incomplete and upheld under review because Berrian didn't complete the process of the catch. Yet nobody screamed foul and nobody called for a new "Berrien Rule."

    The Bears accepted the loss and moved on.  

    Because this was Calvin Johnson and because the Lion's hadn't won an away game since 2007, this was turned into some slight on the Bears that is still used as justification for claiming the Bears didn't deserve what they earned on forums and message boards all across the Internet.

    When did we start picking and choosing what rules the referees should enforce? 

A Ridiculous Return

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    While some would suggest that Devin Hester's record-breaking return against the Vikings should be the one on this list, this one made it because it had more impact for the team.

    Hester hadn't hit a home run on a return in two years. He had come close multiple times, but never quite made it there.  

    All of that changed in Chicago's first meeting with the Packers.

    Down 10-7 in the fourth quarter, the Bears needed a boost. Hester provided it, and in doing so let the whole league know that he was back.

    The Bears chose to pull back on Hester's responsibilities as a receiver this year in favor of his impact on field position in the return game.

    The Windy City Flyer responded in ridiculous fashion, returning three punts for touchdowns and breaking the NFL record for total return TDs.

    His first TD return had the most impact. The Packers made the mistake of kicking to Hester and the Bears wouldn't trail again in this game.

Dude, Where's My Line?

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    Coming off that big win against the Packers, the 3-0 Bears went to New York on top of the world.

    Unfortunately that world would come crashing down on them, and the Giants would come crashing down on Jay Cutler.

    The Bears franchise quarterback would be sacked an NFL-record nine times in the first half and would end up leaving the game with a concussion.

    The Bears would shuffle their offensive line five times over the course of the season due to injury and ineptitude in an attempt to protect Cutler.

    But Cutler and his backups were ultimately sacked 56 times, the most in the league.

    The play that saw Cutler injured (at 1:38 in the video) was a defining moment in Chicago, though it would take Mike Martz four more games to figure out that he needed to game-plan more for the Matadors of the Midway than for the opposing defense. 

    On the brighter side, at least the folly of the Giants game gave the world The Taser (seen at 1:24 of the video).

Rushing Is His Forte

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    With Jay Cutler out, Todd Collins was pulled from his sarcophagus to lead the Bears in Carolina. That didn't go so well.  

    Caleb Hanie was eventually brought in after four Collins interceptions.

    But it was actually Matt Forte who led the offense to victory, rushing for 166 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.

    This game would be the Bears only win between the Giants fiasco and the Week 8 bye and Forte's performance in this game likely gave Mike Martz the confidence in the running game to finally adjust his strategy during the bye. 

The Washington Affair

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    Jay Cutler has a ton of confidence in himself. The Washington game showed us that. His leading receiver had four receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown in this game.

    Unfortunately, his leading receiver was Washington's DeAngelo Hall.

    The Bears entered halftime with a 14-10 lead over the Redskins after a late second-quarter touchdown pass from Cutler to Knox.

    But the Bears would give the ball away on their first five possessions of the second half and on six of their seven remaining possession.

    Two fumbles combined with four Cutler interceptions—all to Hall—sealed the Bears' fate. Cutler's second interception (0:17 in the video) to Hall was the defining play of the Bears skid into the bye week that started with the loss to the Giants.

The Hitman Changes the Game

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    The Eagles, down 14-13, were driving for the go-ahead score at the end of the first half of their game with Chicago.

    Michael Vick had been magic so far in 2010 and hadn't yet thrown an interception entering Week 11.

    But Chris Harris snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when he snagged this pass in the endzone that was tipped by Tommie Harris at the line and stopped the Eagles from taking the lead.

    Cutler and the Bears would respond with a touchdown of their own to take a 21-13 lead into halftime.

    The Bears defense would tighten up and the offense owned the third quarter, widening the lead to 31-14.  

    Vick and the Eagles would attempt a valiant comeback in the fourth, scoring 13 points in garbage time, but would fall short as they failed an onside kick and the Bears would kneel out the rest of the clock.

    But it was Chris Harris' interception that changed the course of the game and helped the Bears earn what the media called a defining victory. 

1st and 30? No Problem

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    The second meeting of the Bears and the Vikings was an important one for Chicago. A win in Minnesota would clinch the division for Chicago.

    But Minnesota wasn't willing to play the patsy initially and scored a touchdown on a Brett Favre-to-Percy Harvin pass on its first possession.

    Chicago would follow that with a punt.

    But the defense stepped up, and Julius Peppers intercepted Favre to give the Bears prime field position on the Minnesota 14-yard line.

    The offense would take advantage of this with all of three yards and a Robbie Gould field goal.

    After a Vikings three-and-out, the Bears decided to dig a nice hole for themselves. On their first two attempts on first down, the Bears managed to push themselves back from the Minnesota 47 to the Chicago 33 with two offensive line penalties.

    Faced with a 1st and 30, Mike Martz decided to go for the gusto and sent Johnny Knox on a streak route down the right sideline. Cutler fired a bomb through the wind that landed right into Knox's waiting arms in stride for a go-ahead touchdown that started a landslide.

Corey Wootton Ensures His Place in the Annals of History

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    After the Metrodome roof collapse, the Bears and Vikings played their second division game outdoors at the ill-equipped TCF Bank Stadium that plays home to the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  

    The field wasn't built to be used in late December and isn't equipped with heaters under the field. The Vikings made every attempt to thaw the field, but the ground was still hard when kickoff arrived.

    This turned out to be very bad for Brett Favre.

    Favre made a surprise purple-handed start and played reasonably well given his condition.  

    That is, until rookie defensive end Corey Wootton broke free and broke Favre.

    Now, I'm not one of those who enjoys seeing a player injured, and that extends to the Bears' arch-nemesis. This play makes the list not because it ended Favre's career, but because it took Favre out of the game and inserted a third-string quarterback into it.  

    Joe Webb would go on to throw two interceptions and the Bears would go on to a blowout win in the division-clinching performance. 

Chris Harris to the Rescue

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    Chris Harris had a habit last season of making crucial interceptions.

    He made a game-ending interception against Buffalo that started a five-game winning streak for the Bears and he came up big, as previously seen, with a late first-half interception of Michael Vick that changed the pace of that game entirely.

    And then there's this pick.

    The Bears were in a shootout with the Jets with the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs on the line and the Jets had just received the ball with just over a minute left on the clock and down by only four points.

    After the Bears gave up five yards on an offsides penalty, Harris didn't wait for any more theatrical drama.

    Santonio Holmes clearly had Tim Jennings beat for what would have been a touchdown, but Harris streaked in and grabbed the ball from right over top of Holmes.

    The Bears would kneel out the clock and, by virtue of a Philadelphia loss, earn the second seed in the NFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

    Talk about clutch.  

    The Bears could be said to owe three wins in 2010 to the safety the Bears traded Jamar Williams away for.    

Jay Cutler Exits the NFC Championship Game

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    Here it is. The play that defined the 2010 season in a nutshell.

    The Bears and Packers faced each other for a third time after splitting their first two meeting.

    The offensive line failed to do its job once again, and Jay Cutler suffered an MCL sprain and exited the game after the first series of the second half.

    I'm not going to get into the idiocy of the claims that Cutler quit—that can be saved for the comment section.

    But Cutler's play was noticeably affected by the inability to plant his back foot and eventually came out of the game after trying to play on the injury.

    While this may be the defining play of 2010 for the Bears, it may also be the defining play of 2011. 

    No team in the league is better at circling the wagons in an us-versus-the-world mentality than the Chicago Bears and Cutler's teammates took no exception to those who questioned Cutler's toughness.

    Especially the players like Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed the final two games of a playoff run for his Jaguars—both loses—with a knee injury, but who claimed he would have played with the knee injury if he were Cutler.

    The Bears will return in 2011 with a chip on their collective shoulder and this instance will be a driving force behind them.

    Now it's time for you to have your say. Think something's missing? Agree completely? Disagree intensely?  

    Step up onto soapbox below and let your voice be heard!