- Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears beat reporter
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This was a year of transition for the Chicago Bears.
The firing of former head coach Lovie Smith, who led the Bears to three division titles in nine years, signaled a changing of the guard philosophically at Halas Hall. No longer was defense king. New coach Marc Trestman brought with him impressive offensive credentials, and the theme of free agency centered around improving that side of the ball with the signings of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett, while the Bears spent their first-round pick (No. 20 overall) on right guard Kyle Long.
These additions, coupled with the 2012 acquisitions of wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, gave quarterback Jay Cutler the best assortment of offensive talent to work with since he arrived in Chicago in 2009 via a trade with the Denver Broncos.
With speculation about Cutler's soon-to-be expired contract swirling from the moment the Bears reported to training camp -- general manager Phil Emery said on the eve of camp that no contracts would be extended during the season -- the quarterback had moments of brilliance in 2013, coupled with stretches of frustration. Cutler missed five games due to injury as veteran backup Josh McCown filled in admirably, raising the idea by many in town that McCown deserves to be the Bears' quarterback of the future.
But for all the progress on offense, the defense fell apart. The unit was barely recognizable from their glory days under Smith. Injuries and overall ineffective play were too much to overcome.
Somehow, the Bears emerged as legitimate playoff contenders late in the year. But with significant changes to the roster expected to take place in the offseason, the Bears figure to have a completely new look when they report to camp in the summer of 2014.
5. Bears upset Packers at Lambeau: Few believed the banged-up Bears had a shot of knocking off the Packers in Green Bay, but Shea McClellin's sack of Aaron Rodgers on the game's opening drive altered the course of the NFC North race. McClellin's hit on Rodgers resulted in the Pro Bowl quarterback fracturing his collarbone. Rodgers' replacement, Seneca Wallace, proved to be ineffective. McCown passed for 272 yards and two touchdowns while Matt Forte rushed for 125 yards and one score in the Bears' 27-20 victory, the club's first in Green Bay since 2007.
4. Back-to-back comeback wins to kick off season: Cutler's 2013 campaign started off on a high note when the quarterback guided the Bears to consecutive comeback victories to open the regular season. In Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bears rallied from a 21-10 third-quarter deficit and eventually won the game 24-21 after Cutler hit Marshall for a 19-yard touchdown with 7:58 left on the clock. The next week, Cutler connected with Bennett for the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass with just 10 seconds remaining to push the Bears past the Minnesota Vikings 31-30.
3. Bears tab Trestman to replace Lovie: The Bears ushered in a new era of offense when Emery, following an exhaustive search, hired Trestman on Jan. 16. While Trestman seemed like an unusual choice given he spent the previous five years as the head coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, the veteran coach instantly transformed the Bears' offense into one of the better units in the NFL. Even with Cutler injured for much of the season, the Bears consistently ranked in the top 10 in points scored, total offense and passing offense.
2. Jeffery rewrites record book: In just his second NFL season, Jeffery set a Bears' franchise record for single-game receiving yards with 218 in a Week 5 loss to the New Orleans Saints. But Jeffery wasn't done. He later broke his own record when he hauled in 12 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns on Dec. 1 in Minnesota. Jeffery is the first Bears player to record a pair of 200-yard receiving games in the same season.
1. McCown torches Dallas on Ditka night: The Bears rolled out the red carpet to celebrate Ditka's career as both a Hall of Fame player and Super Bowl-winning head coach. Ditka delivered a heartfelt halftime speech at midfield to energize the home crowd, but it was McCown who sent the Soldier Field fans into a frenzy. McCown completed 27-of-36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 141.9. He also ran for a score. McCown took home the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for the performance, but returned to the bench the following week.
5. Defense collapses in D.C.: McCown (14-of-20 for 204 yards and one touchdown) was near perfect coming off the bench to replace Cutler who suffered a torn groin muscle, but the defense permitted Washington to score touchdowns on four of their final six possessions, including the game-winner on Roy Helu Jr.'s 3-yard run with 45 seconds left in the game. Final score: Redskins 45, Bears 41. Many had suspected the glory days of the Bears' defense were over. This game erased any lingering doubt.
4. Rams run wild: The Bears' run defense could best be described as miserable for most of the season, but allowing the Rams to rush for 258 yards on 29 attempts on Nov. 24 qualified as rock bottom. St. Louis exposed the Bears in a 42-21 win that featured Tavon Austin scorching the defense for a 65-yard touchdown run on the Rams' third play from scrimmage. St. Louis scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and led the Bears 21-7 at the end of the first quarter. The Bears' confusion level reached an all-time high that afternoon in the Edward Jones Dome.
3. Injury bug repeatedly bites Bears: The Bears' rash of injuries deserves special mention. The list of key players to miss at least three games due to injury in 2013 includes: Cutler, Charles Tillman (injured reserve), Lance Briggs, Henry Melton (injured reserve), Stephen Paea, Nate Collins (injured reserve), Kelvin Hayden (injured reserve) and D.J. Williams (injured reserve). The most damaging injury was to Briggs. The Bears' defense ranked near the bottom in most categories, but would have benefitted from the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker's presence during the rocky times in the middle of the season.
2. Meltdown in Metrodome: The Bears let a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead slip away and failed to capitalize on countless chances to finish off the Vikings in a 23-20 overtime loss on Dec. 1. The game will be remembered for Trestman's decision to have Robbie Gould attempt a game-winning 47-yard field goal on second down, instead of allowing the offense to remain on the field and run another play to potentially shorten the distance of Gould's kick. Gould's attempt sailed wide right and the Bears never recovered. Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson rushed for 211 yards and the Vikings racked up 496 yards of total offense.
1. Bears obliterated in Philly: The Bears had every motivation possible to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16. With a victory, the Bears would have clinched the NFC North title after both Green Bay and Detroit lost earlier in the day. Instead, the Bears acted as if they were playing a preseason game. The Eagles demolished the Bears, scoring 54 points and racking up over 500 yards of total offense. The Bears said after the game they planned to burn the tape and move on to the regular-season finale against the Packers. That's a wise decision. Not even the most diehard Bears fan could stomach watching that game for a second time. That disaster easily ranks as one of the worst Bears' losses in the past 15 years.
This was a year of transition for the Chicago Bears. The firing of former head coach Lovie Smith, who led the Bears to three division titles in nine years, signaled a changing of the guard philosophically at Halas Hall.