The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Bears Enter Uncertain Offseason After Missing Playoffs

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 31, 2012 3:00PM

The Bears' second-half struggles after a 7-1 start to the season put fans of the team in the odd (to say the least) position of hoping for a Bears win and cheering for the Green Bay Packers to beat Minnesota in order to qualify for the playoffs. The Bears held up their end of the bargain, beating the Detroit Lions 26-24 at Ford Field Sunday. The Vikings, had other plans and beat Green Bay 37-34 to keep the Bears from the postseason and send Bears fans to once again cursing the Packers and the Monsters of the Midway. Not necessarily in that order.

If ever a 10-6 record felt bittersweet, this would be the one.

Both offenses struggled out of the gate before Detroit drew first blood courtesy of a 44-yard field goal by Jason Hansen that capped nine play, 65-yard drive. But the Bears immediately responded with a three play, 80-yard drive, the highlight being a 60-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Earl Bennett. Detroit’s Joique Bell returned the ensuing kickoff 25 yards before he fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Bears’ Eric Weems, but the Bears couldn’t move the ball and had to settle for an Olindo Mare 33-yard field goal, which extended the Bears’ lead to 10-3.

The score remained 10-3 through much of the second quarter until Lions quarterback Matt Stafford fumbled the ball while being sacked by Israel Idonije, which was recovered by Julius Peppers and returned six yards to the Lions 10-yard line. Once again the Bears looked as though they would have had to settle for a field goal after the offense stalled in the red zone, but a defensive pass interference penalty gave the Bears a fresh set of downs at the Detroit 1-yard line and Matt Forte ran into the end zone untouched for a 17-3 lead. Tim Jennings then intercepted a Stafford pass and returned it to the Lions 23, but the Bears offense was once again anemic and the team had to settle for a 40-yard field goal from Mare to extend the lead to 20-3. The Lions showed some signs of life late in the half as Stafford connected with Kris Durham on a 25-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 20-10 at the half.

The Lions came out of the break with a bit of fire. A nine play, 80-yard drive ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Will Heller, cutting the lead to three. A Mare field goal from 28 yards out extended the lead to 23-17 with 1:54 left in the third quarter. Another Mare field goal, this one from 20 yards, made the lead 26-17 after an 11-play, 59-yard, drive sputtered. Stafford then engineered Detroit’s third 80-yard scoring drive of the game, which culminated with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie and suddenly the thoughts of the Bears tanking the game became acutely real.

Then the magic Stafford found late in the first half ran out, with an assist from the Bears defense. A three-and-out gave the Bears the ball with 3:40 remaining and they were able to run out the clock.

Cutler finished the day completing 18 of 31 passes with a touchdown and a 95.8 passer rating. Forte rushed for 103 yards on 24 carries and eclipsed 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. But it was the Bears’ secondary receivers who stepped up as the Lions focused on containing Brandon Marshall. Bennett ended the day with 109 yards on five receptions, while Alshon Jeffery had four catches for 76 yards and Marshall 42 yards on three catches. (Marshall was still Cutler’s favorite option; he was targeted 14 times.)

Jennings’ interception gave the Bears 24 total for the season, far and away tops in the league and proved why he and Charles Tillman were selected to the Pro Bowl.

The Bears have now missed the playoffs five times in the last six years and the calls for general manager Phil Emery to fire Lovie Smith—already at a fever pitch before the game—have now taken on the consistency of white noise. Among those who have called for Smith’s head are Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey, the Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom, ESPN’s Jon Greenberg and seemingly every on-air personality on WSCR-AM. Yet it’s possible that, with one year left on Smith’s contract, Emery may hold pat with the current status quo for one more season and try to reinforce the Bears’ gaping holes in the offseason.

During a pregame interview on WBBM-AM Sunday Emery said Smith has “done an outstanding job coaching the Bears” and evaluating coaches is no different from evaluating players.

"It's is the full season, and the whole body of work.

"It's about steady progress toward our goals which is to win championships."

The Bears have other tough decisions to face in the offseason, including whether to re-sign Brian Urlacher and possibly extend Cutler’s contract. Urlacher missed the last four games of the season and has stated to anyone who will listen (when he isn’t saying he doesn’t care what the fans think) that he wants to return to the team and supports Smith.

If Emery does let Urlacher go, our final images of him in a Bears uniform will be straining his hamstring while sucking the vapors of Seattle’s Russell Wilson.