Ken Palmer: What's the biggest reason the Bears have gone from NFC champs to just struggling to get to .500?
John Crist: The easiest answer for most any NFL team that goes from success to failure so abruptly is injuries, and the Bears have certainly had their fair share this season. Losing safety Mike Brown yet again in Week 1 was a devastating blow, not just on the field but from a leadership standpoint since he's one of the most respected senior members of the locker room. Young defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek was also lost in the season-opener, Pro-Bowl cornerback Nathan Vasher has been out since Week 4 and left the secondary in complete disarray without him, and an arthritic back for All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher is apparently the explanation for why he's been so, well, human this year.
But on top of the injury bug, aside from return specialist extraordinaire Devin Hester, linebacker Lance Briggs, and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, not one member of this team on either side of the ball is exceeding – or even duplicating – his level of production from last year's run to Super Bowl XLI.
KP: Do you think this team is poised for a playoff run after a potential season-saving victory last week?
LB Lance Briggs
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
JC: Every time the Chicago media tries to kick dirt on the Bears' collective grave, they pull off yet another improbable victory that keeps their fleeting playoff hopes alive. If you take a peek at the standings right now, it's certainly conceivable that the Monsters of the Midway could make a postseason run because all five remaining opponents are potential playoff teams in the NFC. And as for the current wild card front-runners, the 6-5 Lions appear to be in freefall mode and have a brutal schedule down the stretch, and the 7-4 Giants have a history of crumbling in the second half during the Tom Coughlin regime.
Beating the G-Men this Sunday would do wonders for their playoff position because head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker when determining who qualifies for the postseason, but there is very little reason to be optimistic that the Bears can finish strong with how inconsistent they've been on offense and how beat up they are on defense.
KP: Do the Bears wish they had never let Thomas Jones get away?
JC: Considering the fact that Cedric Benson was just moved to injured reserve Tuesday with a nasty ankle injury, it wouldn't be a bad consolation prize to have Jones still around to resume his role as the primary ball-carrier. But while the two of them formed one of the better tailback tandems in the NFL during the second half of 2006, there was no way they could co-exist for another year in Chicago. GM Jerry Angelo made a $17 million commitment to Benson and it was time to start seeing some returns on that massive investment, plus Jones had no chance of getting the contract extension he wanted so badly and eventually got from the Jets.
While I do believe that Adrian Peterson can be a good back in this league and is a more well-rounded player that Benson will ever be, it's possible the Bears' special teams will take a hit because Peterson is dynamite on the coverage units.
KP: If you were game-planning against the Bears, would you even consider kicking or punting to Devin Hester?
WR Devin Hester
Rex Arbogast/AP Images
JC: As I've written several times over, I've simply decided to stop slinging superlatives Hester's way because no words can possibly describe what he does with a football in his hands. The Bears would have been blown out by the Broncos last Sunday if Hester hadn't scored those two return touchdowns in the third quarter, yet another example of what he can do to single-handedly swing the momentum of a football game and put six points on the board faster than any man on the planet. And not only is he already the best return man the league has ever seen, he even has a major impact on field position when teams kick the ball away from him because those squibbers are often returned by upbacks beyond the 40-yard line.
That being said, teams are insane kicking to this guy because the Bears offense hasn't displayed the ability to consistently move the ball this season – boot the ball out of bounds and dare Rex Grossman and Co. to drive 60 yards.
KP: How has our old buddy Brad Maynard been for you guys, and has he taken a beating from his teammates for being voted the sexiest Bear by the Chicago Sun-Times?
JC: The Bears are considered to have the best special teams in the league, and Maynard is a big reason why. He averaged 44.2 yards per punt last season and incredibly only had seven touchbacks on 77 attempts, although his numbers are down to some degree in 2007 – 42.5 and six touchbacks on 55 attempts. Maynard is still one of the best directional punters around, tying for fifth in the NFL with 21 balls downed inside the enemy 20-yard line.
And yes, the team had a few laughs at Maynard's expense with the day or two of special attention he got a year ago for being named sexiest Bear, but Alex Brown in particular felt he was more deserving.
Be on the lookout for Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where Ken answers five questions from John, on Friday.