Remember the end of the Lou Piniella era? Aging veterans, underperforming seasoned players, a lack of productive talent on the field, and none within sight to provide hope for the future; the Cubs were simply depressing as Lou attempted to wait-out the end of his contract. The 2012 Bears are turning into those Cubs.
After choking away a game that should, and could, have been won a number of different ways- if Earl Bennet had reeled-in Cutler's TD pass early in the game, if Major Wright had caught the interception thrown right at him, or if the defense had simply stopped the Seahawks from driving the length of the field in back-to-back possessions- the Bears have inched closer to to finding themselves in football purgatory.
The defense is still talented enough to take control of certain games, and look dominating while doing so. The same defense is capable of giving a game away to a mediocre team. The offense has the ability to dazzle in doses, but cannot be relied on as a guaranteed strength in any game. The special teams has been as much of a non-factor as it ever has under coordinator Dave Tobe. Put this all together and what do you get? Exactly what the Bears are: an 8-4 team that is good enough to provide an entertaining regular season, while remaining unable to make a dramatic impact on the playoffs, should they even make them.
Losing to Seattle did not just set the Bears back; it altered the entire course of this season, as well as next. Instead of being a game up on the Packers and looking at a first-round bye week as the two seed for the playoffs, the Bears would now be on the road facing the New York Giants in the Wild Card game the first round of the playoffs. That is a devastating loss.
Ripple effects from the Seahawks game make this week's match-up against the Vikings in Minnesota, and week 17's bout against Arizona, absolutely must-win games. For good measure, you might as well throw in the final game against Detroit as well. After seeing the inconsistency that the Bears have put on display, winning the game against Green Bay seems like a stretch right now. That would give the Packers a sweep against the Bears on the season, likely locking up the division if they do so. This means there is a reasonable chance that the Bears are doomed to be on the road when the playoffs start, and will be battling a number of teams just to make the playoffs.
Although home field advantage is largely overrated, the Bears clearly need any breaks they can get, so playing a road game under a playoff atmosphere is a bad start already. With Lance Louis, the Bears' best offensive lineman, already out for the remainder of the season, and Urlacher's injury keeping him out till the playoffs, not to mention the spotty health of Tim Jennings, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, and the oft-concussed Cutler, the Bears now have quite the road ahead of them.
I do not want Bears fans jumping overboard, but the cards that appeared so good just a couple of weeks ago now look stacked menacingly against the Bears. If things do not work out well the rest of the way for Chicago's beloved football franchise, Bear fans may want to take a look at what was going on at Wrigley Field last season.
While, as a Cub fan, I am thrilled that the team has made a commitment to properly rebuilding the franchise, the Cubs are experiencing the penalty for the years of poor development and over-spending that took place in the regimes prior to Theo Epstein taking control. The Cubs will likely not contend for at least another season or two, as they attempt to fix their entire system piece-by-piece.
With the defense's well-documented age, and susceptibility to injury, and an absolute lack of young talent ready to fill any potential holes that may open up, the future of the Bears' defense looks about as promising as the Cubs' minor league system did a few seasons ago. This is leaving aside the fact that, on the offensive side of the ball, the Bears could use a minimum of three to four offensive lineman, at least one tight end, and another receiver. I look forward to seeing Phil Emery get to work. At this point, there is no reason to believe that he will fail at providing the necessities this roster dictates as time moves forward. However, if he is able to completely restock an aging and tiring defense, while also revamping the entire offensive line and providing an extra piece at a couple other positions, all in one off-season, then the man is the greatest GM football has ever seen.
The players on the field are not the only thing Phil has to worry about either. If Lovie blows this playoff run, how can he be retained as head coach? Even with the injuries, everyone will point to this loss at home against the Seahawks as the turning point for the season. With few candidates out there that sound better than Lovie, however, keeping him around through next year may easily be the wise choice for the Bears. Furthermore, aside from protection, one thing Cutler has lacked since coming to Chicago is consistency. While thinking about another season with Mike Tice and Lovie Smith next year is somewhat unpleasant for me, it would be nice for Cutler to have finally have the same offensive coordinator and number one receiver for consecutive seasons.
If the Bears do not hold things together and at least make the playoffs this season, that may force Emery's hand sooner than is good for the Bears. Who is realistically going to replace Lovie that would actually be a better option for the Bears next year? If Lovie fails this season and gets booted for it, Bears fans could be looking at a road similar to the one Cub fans are staring down right now. You will have a new, likely low-profile, head coach, oodles of player scouting and development to do, and a few seasons ahead of you till things realistically could start looking bright again.
Can this Bears team show enough now to forgo this ominous future? The best hope seems to be making the playoffs, and being competitive in them. Perhaps Emery can do enough in the off-season to address some of these serious roster concerns, and the Bears can compete again next season. "Rebuilding" then would at least seem more realistic if there are two or three fewer concerns, as well as if the team is able to show positive signs throughout the remainder of this year and next season.
One thing is for sure, and that is: one Cubs team is enough for this town, we certainly do not need our Bears turning into cubs.
Filed under: Bears
Tags: Alshon Jeffery, Arizona Cardinals, Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Lions, Devin Hester, Football, Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler, Lou Piniella, Lovie Smith, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, NFL, Phil Emery, Player Development, Player Scouting, Seattle Seahawks, Theo Epstein, Tim Jennings