By Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) Coming into the season, the Bears organization and their fans were optimistic about what this team could accomplish. Chicago was the second-highest scoring team in the NFL in 2013, and general manager Phil Emery allocated draft picks and dollars to rebuilding the defense. Once the team got to training camp, plenty of people thought this would be a playoff contender. NFL analyst Michael Irvin went so far to say that Jay Cutler could be the NFL MVP.
So what went wrong? Here are some moments that I think were important throughout the season. Looking back, it seems like they were harbingers of the disaster yet to come.
Aug. 5-6: Martellus Bennett gets thrown out of training camp
During an on-field kerfuffle with rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, Bennett body-slammed Fuller. It led to an abrupt end to practice and a furious Marc Trestman. Bennett was sent home from Bourbonnais. The Bears suspended Bennett for “conduct detrimental to the team.” It was Emery who made the announcement. At the time it looked as if he and Trestman were in lock-step. Later on in the year, that didn’t seem to be the case.
Aug. 28: Bears’ preseason finale
Most teams, the Bears included, rest their starters in the last preseason game. It’s a glorified practice. No issue there, but the Bears had almost 40 players sit out. With so many questions still unanswered at the time — kick returner, safety, linebacker, etc. — it was a curious move. Here are some of the players who didn’t play that game: Shea McClellin (who was moving positions), Jon Bostic, Josh Morgan, Ka’Deem Carey and Chris Conte. You mean to tell me that there wasn’t value in getting these players in-game reps?
Sept. 2: Mr. Briggs goes to California
On the Monday before the season opener, Lance Briggs received permission to leave the team. He returned to his hometown of Sacramento to open his restaurant — 55 Double Nickel. It was bizarre that a veteran and team leader would a) leave the team the week before the first game and b) that he would be given permission to go.
To many, this was a sign that Trestman didn’t have a connection with his players or control over the team.
Sept. 7: Bears lose to Bills
Defending against the zone-read had been a problem for the Mel Tucker-led defense in 2013. This was a terrible loss to a quarterback in E.J. Manuel who would eventually be benched less than a month later. The Bears defense gave up almost 200 yards on the ground. Jay Cutler had a disastrous interception to a defensive lineman, and the Bears lost the game in overtime.
Sept. 14: Charles Tillman gets hurt
It was a triceps injury that cost Tillman the 2013 season. In a Sunday night game, he re-injured it. It’s hard to get the image of a tearful Tillman out of your head. It was probably the end of his storied Bears’ career.
In the short term, it left a leadership void. Tillman worked as hard as he could to assist from the sideline. He was ever-present with the team, but injured players can only do so much. I believe Fuller ended up playing more snaps on the corner instead of nickel than anticipated. Right now, Pro Football Focus has him as the lowest-ranked corner in the league. I also think Tim Jennings was greatly affected by Tillman’s absence.
Sept. 14: Comeback win over San Francisco
Brandon Marshall made an incredible catch before the half, and the Bears rallied behind Cutler, who had four touchdown passes. The Bears outscored the 49ers, 21-0, in the fourth quarter. It was a great victory in primetime and looked like the team was turning the corner. The unfortunate by-product of this game: Emery kept referring to this game, late in the season, as a reason for optimism.
Sept. 18: Brandon Marshall rambling domestic violence press conference
At the time, the NFL’s response to domestic violence issues was being scrutinized. Marshall’s history of arrests was brought up by a past accuser and Gloria Allred in a press conference.
The point (missed by Marshall) was that commissioner Roger Goodell had a history of not taking accusations like this as seriously as he should. Marshall took it as an affront and went on the offensive. In a rambling, 45-minute press conference, he resorted to victim blaming. He passed out information to the gathered media that he felt proved that at the time he was being extorted.
It’s clear that Marshall has worked on himself since his days in Denver. He would probably admit to still being a work in progress, but this was a bad moment. He looked bad and made the Bears look bad for allowing the presser with their logo in the background. It seemed ill-timed and served as another example of Trestman not having control of the team.
For a franchise headed by a woman, this press conference seemed tone-deaf.
Sept. 28: Bears vs. Packers I
Before the game, we found out that Jared Allen had dropped 18 pounds due to pneumonia. The defense was torched by Aaron Rodgers and the boys, but the Bears offense looked like they could keep up. Right before the half, a pass over the middle with no time left went to Bennett, who was stopped at the goal line on what was a controversial call. (For the record, I thought he was in, but there wasn’t a clear replay that showed it). Instead of being up 24-21, the Bears went to the locker room down 21-17 and stayed stuck on 17 for the rest of the game. I wonder what happens in that game and for the Bears season if that play counts …
Oct. 5: Olsen’s revenge?
The Bears took a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter against Carolina, but couldn’t stop Greg Olsen, the former Bear who had six catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. With a hurt Cam Newton, the Panthers rattled off 10 unanswered points in the quarter and dropped the Bears to 2-3.
Oct. 19: Bears lose to the Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill ripped their hearts out with zone-read looks. After the game, Marshall was heard yelling at Robbie Gould in the locker room. Things seemed to be imploding.
Oct. 26: Tom Brady and the Patriots show no mercy
Brady threw for 354 yards and five touchdowns. It’s one of the best quarterback performances of the year. The Patriots scored a franchise-record 31 points in the second quarter. On top of this, Lamarr Houston hurt himself doing a sack dance after taking back-up Jimmy Garopolo on the ground. The Bears were down 25 points at the time, and Houston would go on IR.
Trestman would say, “We’re disappointed for him.”
Nov. 9: Bears vs. Packers II
Rodgers somehow tops Brady’s performance, as he goes for 316 yards and six touchdowns. He posted a nearly perfect passer rating of 151.2. It’s an embarrassing 55-14 loss for Chicago and marked back-to-back weeks in giving up 50-plus points. And remember, this one was with two weeks to prepare.
Things were so bad that punter Pat O’Donnell had the ball taken away from him on his drop — before he can even kick the ball. Here, relive that again. There’s talk that Trestman could be fired the next day.
Dec. 7: “Buyer’s remorse”
Ian Rapoport went on NFL Network and said, “There is serious doubt within the organization that Cutler can lead them where it wants to go — namely, the Super Bowl.” Rapoport got his details from a source about Cutler not checking out of doomed plays. It’s given as a reason why the Bears’ run game hasn’t popped.
Dec. 8: Aaron Kromer outs himself as the source
As the Bears’ offensive coordinator, Kromer offered a tearful apology to Cutler in front of the rest of the offense, after explaining that he was one of the sources on the story. He insisted he wasn’t the person who coined the phrase “buyer’s remorse.” According to a Brad Biggs report in the Tribune a few days later, there was a player who called this: “The most (messed) up thing they’ve ever seen.” Plenty of people wonder how Kromer can work with the offense after that trust was breached.
In a strange turn of events, Marshall says on his radio show: “I can understand that as far as as a business man, I would have buyer’s remorse, too.”
Dec. 15: Monday Night Football debacle
After a week of silence about the Kromer situation, Emery speaks out on the WBBM pregame show:
““The venting by a coach and the way it was brought about and the apology was surprising And, again, that brought a lot of anger.”
Emery talked for five minutes uninterrupted and declared that the decision to keep Kromer on staff was “contractually” up to Trestman, which seemed a contradiction to the way the Martellus Bennett situation was handled.
The Bears got housed by a terrible Saints team. Cutler had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions and posting a 55.8 passer rating.
Dec. 18: Cutler benched
News broke that Cutler is going to the bench. Jimmy Clausen would start the game against Detroit. Trestman said of the switch: “We need a lift at quarterback. I think we need a spark.”
Dec. 21 Clausen hurt
Clausen performs well for a guy who hasn’t started in four years, but the Bears only score 14 points. They average 3.7 yards per play and lose to a Lions team that turned the ball over 3 times and had two huge special teams mistakes. Clausen is speared in the helmet by Lions defensive lineman, Ziggy Ansah. Clausen has concussion symptoms later that night and is ruled out for the season finale. In a bizarre twist, Cutler is re-installed as the teams starter.
Dec. 22: Robbie Gould on the Score
During his weekly visit with the Speigel and Mannelly Show, Gould gave some valuable insight into what’s happening in that locker room.
“This whole season’s not the Bear way,” Gould said. “Pointing fingers, things getting out of the locker room — that’s not the Chicago Bear way. I think for me, being around the organization for 10 years, seeing guys like Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs who most likely have played or walked through the tunnel for the last time, it’s tough. Because we weren’t taught this way under Lovie [Smith]. We weren’t taught to do these sorts of things. We always stayed together, as close as we could.”
It has been a lost season for the Bears on every level of the organization. We’ll find out how they want to tackle the obvious dysfunction that has been displayed this season.
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.