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updated: 12/30/2013 7:31 PM

Where does high-octane Bears offense go from here

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  • Quarterback Jay Cutler and veteran center Roberto Garza are free agents whose future with the Bears will be determined in the off-season.

      Quarterback Jay Cutler and veteran center Roberto Garza are free agents whose future with the Bears will be determined in the off-season.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

The satisfaction that the Bears' offense took from a franchise-record-setting campaign was outweighed by the team's failure to qualify for the postseason.

But it is something to build around for the future.

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While the Bears missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, the 2013 offense gained more total yards, more passing yards, more first downs, scored more passing touchdowns and completed a higher percentage of passes than any in team history.

"That is a feather in our cap, but it doesn't matter if you don't go to the playoffs and you don't have an opportunity to win a championship," said left guard Matt Slauson. "So we aren't happy unless we have that opportunity, and it really stings having to be here cleaning out our lockers, when we know that we could have done so much more."

The Bears go into their off-season with the knowledge that they have one of the NFL's elite offenses. The task now for the front office is to keep as many of the components as they can afford under the salary cap.

Slauson, who started all 16 games, helped solidify an offensive line that had been a team weakness for most of quarterback Jay Cutler's previous four seasons in Chicago.

The 27-year-old Slauson has now started 64 straight games, including 48 with the Jets from 2010-12. He is one of three offensive starters -- along with Cutler and center Roberto Garza -- who are eligible to become unrestricted free agents March 11.

"They've talked to my agents, but there hasn't been anything I can hang my hat on yet," Slauson said. "I know the reality of things with the salary cap being what it is, so we'll just have to see how it all shakes out.

"It isn't going to be the same offense next year; there are going to be different guys. That's just how the NFL works, but as far as what I would like, I would like to stay."

While it seems logical that the Bears would bring Cutler back with a long-term deal, the quarterback was not yet ready to discuss his future after Sunday's loss.

"I think we'll deal with that later in the week," Cutler said, although he apparently didn't mean Monday, when he failed to make an appearance while teammates were cleaning out their lockers.

"This locker room is never going to be the same," Cutler said Sunday. "Some guys are going to leave. Some guys are going to stay. It's part of the business."

Garza hasn't experienced free agency since he left the Falcons to sign with the Bears as an unrestricted free agent in 2005. Going back to 2006, Garza has started 126 of 126 games for the Bears. But at 34, after 13 NFL seasons, he's not sure what the future holds.

The Bears started the same five offensive linemen at the same position for all 16 weeks this season, creating the cohesiveness vital to an O-line. Bears quarterbacks were sacked 30 times this year, 14 less than in 2012.

"We had five guys go out and play together and get better every week," Garza said. "It's the start of something really, really good. Hopefully we continue to build on that.

"I'm going to definitely want to come back. I feel like I can still play. I can still go out there and help the team. So hopefully it all works out."

The Bears' 445 points were the second most in franchise history, just 11 off the record set in the 1985 Super Bowl season. Cutler and Josh McCown, who will also be an unrestricted free agent, combined for a 96.9 passer rating, the highest ever for the Bears. Cutler's 89.2 passer rating was the highest of his career, and McCown's 109.0 was also his best ever and almost 40 points higher than his career mark of 71.2 entering the season.

"You saw at times what we were able to do and be able to finish as one of the top offenses and to go out there and score points," Garza said. "We've got to continue to build on that. We've got something really special going on."

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