The Bears came into the season determined to clear the final hurdle that tripped them up in 2006 – a Super Bowl win. But it was clear almost from the beginning that this was not the same team that rolled to a 13-3 record and the NFC championship last season.
The Bears lost three of their first four games, including a blowout loss at home to the Cowboys (34-10) and a 37-27 loss to a mediocre Lions team.
From that point on the playoffs were a pipe dream, although head coach Lovie Smith and his players never stopped talking about the possibility until they were mathematically eliminated.
In retrospect, it seems ludicrous that they even mentioned the postseason since this team went into the final weekend without ever having won back-to-back games.
The offense was hamstrung by an aging offensive line that performed adequately in 2006 but seemed to get old overnight sometime before the start of the 2007 season. That killed any chance for the Bears to "get off the bus running the football," as Smith continued to say, despite a running game that was the league's worst – 31st in yards and 32nd in average gain per rush.
Running back Cedric Benson, the fourth-overall pick in the 2005 draft, rarely had running room, and even when he did he failed to take advantage, failing to break a run of longer than 16 yards in the first nine weeks and averaging more than 4.0 yards per carry in just one of those games. Benson showed improvement in Games 10 and 11, averaging a combined 7.0 yards per carry, but then suffered a fractured ankle which ended his season. The change to Adrian Peterson seemed to fortify the argument that the problem wasn't Benson but the o-line, since he averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry.
Quarterback Rex Grossman, unfairly singled out for criticism because of his inconsistency in 2006, was consistently awful early in 2007 – and was benched in favor of Brian Griese, who played as expected. He was and is a decent backup but nothing more. When the Bears went back to Grossman, he played much better but then suffered a sprained knee early in Game 13, sidelining him for the remainder of the season. In Grossman's second go-round, he played well enough to be a factor next year if the Bears pursue him, although he may seek a fresh start as an unrestricted free agent.
Third-string quarterback Kyle Orton got his chance after a two-year layoff and played well enough in the final three games to be in the mix next training camp.
DT Darwin Walker
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Defensively, the decision to fire coordinator Ron Rivera and promote Smith's good buddy, linebackers coach Bob Babich, was criticized with good reason as the group plummeted from a top-five unit to a sad-sack outfit that was No. 28 in yards allowed.
In Babich's defense, injuries played a significant role in the defense's demise. The season opener was a sign of things to come when starting nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek, perhaps the best run defender on the line, and former Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown were both lost for the season because of injuries.
The Bears had traded for defensive tackle Darwin Walker during training camp to provide veteran leadership and depth on the line, but he failed miserably to step up when he was needed. Walker missed five games and was ineffective in at least five more with minor knee and elbow injuries similar to those that more devoted teammates played through. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris made his third straight Pro Bowl even though he didn't deserve it, but he was playing hurt most of the season. Anthony Adams filled in admirably until a torn triceps ended his season with four games remaining.
The groin injury that kept Pro Bowl cornerback Nathan Vasher out of 11 games was equally as detrimental to the defense. And the free-agent signing of strong safety Adam Archuleta was a bust as he was benched after 11 games, proving that last season's failure with the Redskins wasn't a fluke.
What went right
Devin Hester lived up to expectations, even when those expectations were that he might be the best return man in NFL history. He had six more return touchdowns and made strides as a wide receiver, although he's still very much a work in progress.
First-round draft pick (No. 31 overall) Greg Olsen showed in one season that he is the Bears' most talented tight end since Mike Ditka was playing, and the tandem of Olsen and Desmond Clark provided consistent production.
Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye stayed healthy for a full season and had the best year of his four in Chicago, making an impact almost every week by pressuring the passer and creating turnovers.
What went wrong
Injuries crippled the Bears but can't be totally blamed for their precipitous fall from grace. There seemed to be a palpable Super Bowl hangover that many players hinted at even though they wouldn't fully admit it. The Bears offense is built around a strong running attack but the ground game was hardly ever a factor, and the banged-up defense wasn't nearly good enough to make up for offensive failures
News & Notes
All of that plus much more in the February issue of ...
BEAR REPORT, the only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears ... CLICK HERE to subscribe today