Do not be afraid, but I am from the future. It's a magical place where gas is only $2.50 per gallon, the Kardashian's fifteen minutes are already over and the phrase "fiscal cliff" is nowhere to be found.
It is February 3, 2014 and I find myself braving one of the worst snowstorms in Chicago history to be at O’Hare Airport on this historic day. I am just one in a sea of people waiting to welcome the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears back to the Windy City.
The doors fly open and Super Bowl MVP, Jay Cutler is the first player off the plane, holding the Vince Lombardi trophy high aloft toward the snow-filled heavens. After a career defining performance, Cutler has finally found redemption amidst all the second-guessers and question marks which had plagued his previous seven NFL seasons.
Those questions are now gone thanks to the masterful game-winning drive Cutler authored to give the Bears a 35-32 victory over the Houston Texans in Super Bowl XLVIII. Cutler found Brandon Marshall in the back of the end zone with just five seconds left, in what has been colorfully coined as “The Catch: Part II.”
So how did the Bears manage to go from their colossal collapse in 2012 to a Super Bowl victory just one season later? Ch-ch-ch-changes.
The Bears started 2012 with a 7-1 record, but would then have to face a treacherous six-game section of their schedule which saw them having to square off against the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, not to mention the rival Minnesota Vikings twice.
I could almost hear the sound of a cartoon anvil falling while the Bears waited helplessly below with nothing more than a tiny ACME umbrella for protection. Chicago went 1-5 through these six games and missed out on what was once a can’t-miss playoff berth. After this latest in a long line of Chicago Bears’ failures, the dominoes started to fall quickly.
Lovie Smith was the first to go, waving goodbye to a team he had led to an 81-63 record and their only Super Bowl appearance since Mike Ditka’s famed 1985 team. While players and fans may have mourned Smith’s firing the way a family member grieves over the passing of a loved one – looking back now – letting Lovie go turned out to be the first step the Bears needed to take to get them to become the Super Bowl Champions we all know them to be now.
Lovie Smith’s exit made way for a new coach and a re-dedication to the offensive side of the ball. Through the final six seasons as head coach, Lovie Smith’s offense ranked no better than 23rd in the NFL. In 2012, the Bears finished 28th in the league in total offense, despite having Matt Forte rush for over 1,000 yards and Brandon Marshall rack up over 1,500 yards receiving. The offensive weapons were there, it was just a matter of getting the right people in place to use what the Bears already had at their disposal.
Soon after Lovie Smith was shown the down, the Bears’ front office handed their offensive coordinator, Mike Tice, his walking papers as well. The number one objective was to bring in someone with a clear offensive mind-set. University of Oregon’s head coach, Chip Kelly, was looked at immediately and many analysts agreed he was all but a shoo-in after reports of multiple interviews and a contract offer began to surface; however, the two sides simply could not come to an agreement on the money aspect of the deal and he was soon dismissed as a candidate – thank your luck stars Chicago.
Despite repeated denials of interest in the media, the Bears shocked everyone when they announced Bill Cowher would become their new head coach. The Bears then doubled-down on the Pittsburgh Steelers connection when they also brought on recently fired Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt to be their new offensive coordinator – the position he held under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh when the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005. The combination of Cowher and Whisenhunt allowed the Bears to retain their defensive toughness, while also becoming less stagnant offensively.
Devin Hester had threatened retirement after Lovie Smith was fired, but it was a good thing that turned out to be all talk, because with Whisenhunt’s trademark trick-play package of the playbook, Hester was able to contribute like never before as a slot receiver. Hester had only 452 yards receiving, but he scored 7 touchdowns (4 receiving, 2 rushing and 1 throwing) in the Bears new-look offense.
Another big reason for the Bears overnight success was the emergence of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery as a true go-to option for Jay Cutler. In just his second season, Jeffery collected a 1,000+ yard season and became half of the most dynamic one-two punch in the NFL with teams no longer able to double-team Brandon Marshall on every play.
Brandon Marshall was targeted 194 times during the 2012 season – the next most targeted wide receiver on the team was Earl Bennett with just 49. The Bears were a one-trick-pony offense, but now with Jeffery and Hester being able to contribute, the offense is more balanced. Marshall still saw 145 targets for 105 receptions, but Jeffery brought in 62 receptions in his own right and Matt Forte caught another 54 out of the backfield. This type of spread attack translated to the most efficient season of Jay Cutler’s career.
Without having to force the ball into Brandon Marshall on every throwing play, Cutler was able to limit his interceptions. In his fifth season with the Bears, Cutler tossed for 31 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. While the new coaching staff’s offensive game-plan has been cited as a reason for Cutler’s vast improvement, another big contributing factor was the fact Cutler was no longer asked to run for his life on every snap.
In his first four seasons with the Bears, Cutler had been sacked 148 times, including hitting the ground a league worst 52 times in 2010. Besides the coaching changes, another key acquisition for Chicago in the off-season was the signing of left tackle Jake Long from the Miami Dolphins. After the Fins let the Bears have Brandon Marshall in a very lop-sided trade after the 2011 season, Miami refused to use their franchise tag on Jake Long after the 2012 campaign. The Bears swooped in and snatched him up in free agency to protect Jay Cutler’s blind-side. The Bears’ offensive line as a whole had been much maligned, but the addition of Long made all of their pieces fall into place.
Former left tackle, J’Marcus Webb shifted to right tackle, which moved Gabe Carimi to right guard. These small changes to the line became like night a day for the Chicago protection scheme. Cutler was sacked only 20 times all season, which can also be contributed to Ken Whisenhunt’s willingness to call plays which moved Cutler outside of the pocket on more play-action, bootleg throws.
Still, it was no easy ride for the Bears as their 2013 schedule featured one of the toughest opponent’s strength of schedule.
Chicago Bears 2013 Schedule
Home: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals
Away: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bears went 6-2 at home, with their only losses coming at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. They went 5-3 on the road after stumbling to the Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. However, even at 11-5, the Bears were still unable to get the NFC North crown. The Green Bay Packers also finished 11-5 and took the NFC North title based on the the divisional record tie-breaker.
Never fear, the Bears got their revenge in the playoffs. Chicago first had to host the Atlanta Falcons but they then traveled to Green Bay where they knocked off their divison rival in the snow. The Bears made quick work of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Champion game before squaring off against the Houston Texans in Super Bowl XLVIII – and we all know how that turned out. Bears 35, Texans 32.
Chicago Bears 2013 Stats
COMP/ATT YRDS PCT TD INT SACK
350/541 4,152 64.7 31 9 20
REC/TAR YRDS TD
105/145 1,358 15
REC/TAR YRDS TD
62/89 1,038 8
CAR YRDS TD REC/TAR YRDS TD
242 1,121 5 52/66 552 3
I’m sorry I had to ruin the surprise of next season, but I just had to tell you not to lose hope. There are brighter days ahead for the Chicago Bears. Bear-down Chicago!
F.Y.I., the Bears had 30-1 odds to win the Super Bowl at the start of last season…just saying, I did kind of give you the inside track for 2013.