|Bears out of playoff race year after Super Bowl|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 18 December 2007 13:34|
That was the Chicago Bears' mantra since losing the Super Bowl 10 months ago. Their goal was to get back to the NFL's marquee game and win it. It's what they expected.
Instead, with two weeks left in a follow-up season that has gone afoul, the Bears are finished for sure, officially and mathematically out of the playoffs after a Monday night loss in Minnesota.
``It's very disappointing. That was the tone, one of the key phrases we've used, and just what we wanted to do, what we thought we needed to do to take that next step. We weren't able to do that this year,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday.
``We haven't been able to finish. We've had leads in quite a few games. For whatever reason, we just haven't been able to get the job done.''
Look everywhere for reasons. From a wacky offseason that saw them trade their best running back and get rid of their defensive coordinator, to an offense that couldn't run the ball and used three starting quarterbacks, to a defense that was no longer the major force it was a season earlier.
Throw in a number of key injuries and that's why the Bears are 5-9 headed into matchups against the Packers and Saints. Last year, they went 13-3 and won a pair of playoffs games before losing to the Colts in a rainy Super Bowl in Miami.
The Bears' fall continues a trend where the team that loses the Super Bowl runs into major problems the following season. Last year, the Seahawks were the first Super Bowl runner-up to make the playoffs since the 2000 Titans.
With Thomas Jones, a 1,000-yard rusher in the two previous seasons, traded to the Jets, Cedric Benson got his opportunity. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry before his season was ended by an ankle injury in late November.
Others on the season-ending injury list included quarterback Rex Grossman, safety Mike Brown, guard Ruben Brown and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. Mike Brown and Dvoracek were hurt in the season opener. And top defensive back Nathan Vasher missed 10 games with a groin problem.
The Bears' defensive front was so banged up, with injuries to Darwin Walker, Anthony Adams and Antonio Garay, that they were playing two guys against the Vikings they just signed last week: Jimmy Kennedy and Matt Toeaina.
The oft-criticized Grossman, the starter on the Super Bowl team, lost his job after three games, got it back when Brian Griese was hurt, and then went down with a sprained knee. Grossman's contract expires and once again the Bears are unstable at the most important offensive position.
They turned to third-stringer Kyle Orton, who hadn't played in nearly two seasons, against the Vikings, but he couldn't pull off enough plays to win the game. Smith wouldn't disclose Tuesday if Orton would start against the Packers.
On one curious call on a fourth-and-1, Orton lofted a swing pass to fullback Jason McKie that sailed over his head. After the exchange, the Vikings moved in for the winning score.
Bad call or bad execution? A little of both. The Bears were 1-for-14 on third-down conversions Monday night.
``We were in position to make quite a few plays that we didn't make, and that's kind of been our season a little bit this year,'' Smith said. ``It's a combination. We're in this situation because of what the team has done, and part of that is calls and part of that is execution.''
There was a defensive drop-off, as well.
In the offseason, the Bears didn't renew the contract of coordinator Ron Rivera after he'd interviewed for numerous head coaching vacancies; the job went to longtime Smith associate Bob Babich.
This season, the Bears have been vulnerable to big plays and suffered from poor tackling. And after leading the NFL with 44 takeaways last season, they have just 28 this season, including the four they managed in the 20-13 loss to the Vikings.
Linebacker Lance Briggs was one of four Bears selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, joining electrifying kick returner Devin Hester, who has five kick returns for TDs, defensive tackle Tommie Harris and special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Briggs earlier vowed to never play for the Bears again after they slapped a franchise tag on him. He skipped offseason workouts and signed just as training camp was opening.
Meanwhile, teammate Brian Urlacher, a six-time Pro Bowler who wasn't selected for the game in Hawaii this season, revealed he had an arthritic condition in his back. Urlacher had one of his best games of the season against the Vikings with an interception, fumble recovery and two sacks.
Asked if was surprised Urlacher didn't make the Pro Bowl, Smith said:
``We're 5-9, so you don't expect to get a lot of honors when you're 5-9. So let's leave it at that.''