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What Has Happened to the Chicago Bears?

Not long ago, the Chicago Bears were 7-1. They were riding high, the toast of the NFL, intercepting passes left and right and scoring defensive touchdowns faster than most offenses could manage. However, there were signs of trouble even then. Their schedule wasn’t great. Their offense looked sluggish. Jay Cutler pushed his offensive lineman on the sideline. They were 7-1, but they were perhaps the most controversial 7-1 ever. Since then, the team has lost four out of its last five and currently sits at 8-5. What happened to the team that looked like the best in the league not long ago, and what are their chances of making the playoffs in the wake of their December swoon?

It’s fairly simple: the Bears early season success was predicated on taking the ball away defensively and scoring with it. When the Bears aren’t scoring defensive touchdowns, they can struggle to put points on the board at all. Their offensive numbers are nothing special: they rank 18th in the NFL in yards per carry, 27th in passing yardage and 28th in scoring. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice talked a lot in the offseason about how “explosive” the Bears offense was going to be, but that simply has not happened. Brandon Marshall is a very dynamic weapon for Jay Cutler to throw to, but that can’t be the sole facet of an offense.

Of course, the injury bug has played a role too. The Bears have lost some of their most prominent players to injury, including cornerback Tim Jennings and linebacker Brian Urlacher. Additionally, their aggressive defense has been exposed, primarily by the San Francisco 49ers and Colin Kaepernick a few weeks back. They showed that Chicago’s biggest weakness is its safety play, and if you have a quarterback and receivers who can get behind the secondary, they can make it a long day for Chicago’s opportunistic defensive unit.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chicago Bears season if Jay Cutler didn’t stir up a little controversy to make the season interesting. He recently said on his radio show on ESPN 1000 that he wants to be on a winning team, an interesting remark to make when he’s currently the starting quarterback for a 8-5 team with three games to go.

“It’s interesting. I was just talking to somebody about this a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to turn down money in this league because you never know when it’s going to come back around,” Cutler said. “You never know what’s going to happen with your career, if you’re going to get hurt or what’s going to happen. To turn down money if it’s offered to you, it’s a tough decision to make. But also I want to be on a winning team, I want to be in a successful offense. Some decisions I’ve got to make, some decisions the Bears got to make if they want to get it done and when they want to get it done. We’ll see.”

The Bears season, while it has taken a severe turn for the worse, isn’t collapsing by any means. They have three games left, and all are highly winnable. The toughest match comes this weekend against the Green Bay Packers, but then the Bears are at Arizona and at Detroit, two teams that look damn close to quitting on the season. They should be able to get to 10-6 and claim a wild card spot, but that can’t be viewed as anything other than a terrible disappointment after their wildly promising start.