It’s impossible to prepare for tomorrow’s matchup with the San Diego Chargers without taking a moment of silence for the Bears’ 2011 season. Over halfway through their schedule, the Bears’ future looked bright: The Monsters of the Midway entered Week 11 with a solid 7-3 record and four-game winning streak, including a dominating win against the playoff bound Lions. With a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Bears looked in contention for the North Division crown and a playoff spot.
While the stat sheet will show a comfortable 31-20 win over the Chargers, most fans will remember that fateful interception early in the fourth quarter: In a desperate attempt to prevent a pick-six, Jay Cutler broke his thumb tackling CB Antoine Cason.
The loss of Cutler presaged a cascade of freak accidents, costly injuries, and shocking losses. Caleb Hanie, who showed flashes as a backup in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, proved wholly inept. Matt Forte was knocked out of the Week 13 game against Kansas City with a season-ending knee injury. Brian Urlacher, the heart and soul of the Bears defense, went down with a devastating leg injury from which he would never fully recover. Chicago hit rock bottom in Week 14 with a jaw dropping loss to the Denver Broncos, led by the insufferable Tim Tebow, in overtime. The Bears dropped five straight, ending the season 8-8 and without a playoff birth.
This year’s preseason game against the Chargers comes during a new era in Bears football, however. The 2011 collapse heralded the eventual departure of Coach Lovie Smith and the end of GM Jerry Angelo’s tenure. The Bears now find themselves under new leadership, with an improved offensive line, receiving corps, and promising rookies in key defensive positions.
So before you settle down for tomorrow’s game (broadcast nationally on ESPN for you loyal fans out of state), pour a little out for the 2011 Bears. And please, by Ditka, no more Manti Te’o jokes.