CHICAGO -- Chicago's dream season came crashing down catastrophically at the NFC Championship Game on Sunday with quarterback Jay Cutler leaving the contest having raised even more scrutiny about perceived attitudinal issues.
Cutler suffered a left-knee injury that forced him out of the game in the third quarter of the team’s 21-14 loss.
But instead of rallying his team -- which was behind 14 points at the time -- from the sidelines, the quarterback hung his head in disgust as No. 3 quarterback Caleb Hanie came close to mounting a comeback.
In his first live action since Week 5 of the regular season, Hanie took the Bears 67 yards for a touchdown on his first drive, which was capped by a Chester Taylor 1-yard run that pulled the Bears to within 14-7 with 12:05 left to play. After throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji with 6:12 left to play, Hanie hit Earl Bennett for a 35-yard TD less than two minutes later to make the score 21-14 after Robbie Gould’s extra point.
It’s still too early to know exactly how everything played out with Cutler, but we’ll soon find out after speaking with the players and coach Lovie Smith in the locker room. Either way, the loss to the NFC North rival Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field with the Super Bowl on the line would seem to be a bitter way to end what’s been a strong season.
What it means: Vacation time for the players, while the coaching and personnel staffs prepare to head out to Mobile, Ala., next week to catch a glimpse of the college prospects competing at the Senior Bowl.
What’s next: The Bears have some decisions to make. The contracts of several key contributors are set to expire. Complicating potential negotiations will likely be the uncertainty concerning the collective bargaining agreement. Here’s a list of some of the team’s expiring contracts: Hanie, defensive tackle Anthony Adams, receivers Devin Aromashodu and Rashied Davis, running back Kahlil Bell, safety Josh Bullocks, tight end Desmond Clark, cornerback and special-teams ace Corey Graham, linebackers Brian Iwuh, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach, center Olin Kreutz, safety Danieal Manning, punter Brad Maynard, guard Edwin Williams and running back Garrett Wolfe.
Bennett, Zack Bowman, Kellen Davis, Matt Forte, Roberto Garza, Chris Harris, Marcus Harrison, Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings, Greg Olsen and Craig Steltz are set to enter the final year of their contracts. There’s a good chance the team is strongly considering whether to give Forte an extension after his strong season.