The Chicago Bears were sitting pretty through the first half of the 2012 season. At 7-1, it appeared the team was on the fast track to a playoff berth. Yet a 3-5 finish de-railed a once-promising campaign. The Bears defeated the Detroit Lions this afternoon, finishing the season 10-6. Yet the Minnesota Vikings, who beat the Green Bay Packers 37-34, have claimed the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, holding a tie breaker over Chicago.
The Bears will not be going to the postseason for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
What held Chicago back all season was the offense, which came into the final week ranked 28th overall and 29th in passing. First-time offensive coordinator Mike Tice struggled to find any balance in the aerial attack, with receiver Brandon Marshall the club's only viable pass catcher.
Today's Bears game was a microcosm of their entire season. The defense forced four turnovers, giving the offense the ball inside Detroit's 25-yard line each time. Yet Cutler and company could muster just one touchdown and three field goals from those four opportunities, which allowed the Lions to creep back into the game.
The defense this year was as good, if not better, than most expected. Weathering numerous injuries, including a hamstring injury that forced Brian Urlacher to miss the final month of the season, Chicago's defense came into the final week ranked second in points allowed, fifth in total defense and second in turnover ratio.
In addition, the defense's eight interception returns for touchdowns this year is second most in NFL history.
Yet the offense consistently failed to live up to their end of the bargain and the Bears will again be watching the playoffs from home. The debate regarding whether or not Lovie Smith will keep his job as head coach rages on, yet only for a short time. Expect the front office to act swiftly one way or the other, with a decision regarding Smith's future likely to be announced either tomorrow or Tuesday.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.