2011 the year of Cutler's thumb

Looking back at the Bears' season, it's hard to ignore the injury that sent this team into a tailspin. We look at the things that went right for Chicago, as well as those things that went wrong.

The Bears were cruising toward a playoff berth at 7-3 when disaster struck.

Quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a season-ending fractured right thumb while trying to get into position to make a tackle after an interception. Five straight losses followed, eliminating the Bears from postseason consideration in Week 16.

Cutler was enjoying his best season as a Bear before the injury, with 13 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and an 85.7 passer rating. Cutler's numbers weren't spectacular, but he minimized the weaknesses of the Bears' offensive line by avoiding sacks with his agility and quick release. He also made a mediocre group of wide receivers appear better than they actually are.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Bears' core defensive players, all in their 30s, maintained a high level of play. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were voted to the Pro Bowl for the eighth and seventh time, respectively, and 30-year-old cornerback Charles Tillman made it for the first time in his ninth year in the league. Julius Peppers (31) did not make the Pro Bowl but did hit double digits in sacks for the seventh time in his 10 NFL seasons and was a consistent force against the run and the pass.

Until Matt Forte suffered a season-ending sprained knee in Week 13, he was the focal point of the offense, rushing for 997 yards and catching a team-best 52 passes for 490 yards. Forte was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage before he was hurt and was voted to his first Pro Bowl despite missing four full games and most of a fifth.

The often-maligned offensive line actually showed flashes of being a solid run-blocking unit, paving the way for a ground attack that was No. 8 in yards.

As usual, Dave Toub's special teams were excellent. Devin Hester returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns, and coverage ace Corey Graham made the Pro Bowl for his efforts.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Injuries killed the Bears. In addition to Cutler, who missed the final six games, and Forte, who missed the final four, the Bears were also without their No. 1 wide receiver Johnny Knox for the final two weeks. Starting left guard Chris Williams suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist in the ninth game. The Bears' first-round draft pick, right tackle Gabe Carimi, quickly emerged as the team's best run blocker, but almost as quickly suffered a season-ending knee injury early in Game 2.

The injury to Cutler gave backup Caleb Hanie a chance to play, but he was a disaster, going 0-4 as a starter, throwing just three touchdown passes while getting picked nine times and compiling a 41.8 passer rating.

The Bears had hoped for improved play from their wide receivers, with the addition of Roy Williams and the expected maturation of younger players like Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett. But it didn't happen. No wide receiver caught as many as 40 passes. Bennett missed five games with a chest injury, but he looked like a go-to guy when he came back, catching 14 Cutler passes for 251 yards in a three-game stretch. Without Cutler, however, Bennett practically disappeared. Hester seemed to regress as a wide receiver, going through an eight-game stretch late in the season where he caught a total of four passes for 47 yards.

There was also the shocking drug arrest of wide receiver and special teams standout Sam Hurd.

PLAYER NOTES

--LB Brian Urlacher suffered what the Bears said was a sprained MCL in his left knee near the end of Sunday's game.

--QB Josh McCown played well enough as the starter in the final two games to be included in the discussion of next year's backup to Jay Cutler.

--LT J'Marcus Webb was victimized by Jared Allen for 3.5 sacks.

--QB Jay Cutler (fractured thumb) should have no restrictions by the time the Bears begin their offseason workouts.

--RB Matt Forte (sprained knee) is expected to be close to 100 percent in the next couple of weeks.

--WR Roy Williams, who was a disappointment most of the season, finished strong with 10 catches for 141 yards and one TD in the final two games.


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