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posted: 12/30/2013 7:29 PM

Change in the air, on field for Bears

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  • The future of cornerback Charles Tillman, who finished the season on injured reserve, with the Bears may depend on whether he would consider a move to safety.

      The future of cornerback Charles Tillman, who finished the season on injured reserve, with the Bears may depend on whether he would consider a move to safety.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Bears kicker-returner extraordinaire Devin Hester wants to know sooner rather than later if the Bears want him back next season.

      Bears kicker-returner extraordinaire Devin Hester wants to know sooner rather than later if the Bears want him back next season.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • DEFENSE, or the lack thereof, was what kept the Bears out of the playoffs this season.

      DEFENSE, or the lack thereof, was what kept the Bears out of the playoffs this season.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Bears' defense got the job done against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on this play Sunday at Soldier Field.

      The Bears' defense got the job done against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on this play Sunday at Soldier Field.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Packers running back Eddie Lacy attracts a swarm of Bears defenders Sunday at Soldier Field.

      Packers running back Eddie Lacy attracts a swarm of Bears defenders Sunday at Soldier Field.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Bears kick-returner extraordinaire Devin Hester says that Bears fans want him back next season.

      Bears kick-returner extraordinaire Devin Hester says that Bears fans want him back next season.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

As much as anything, shock was pervasive throughout the Bears' locker room Sunday night.

It just happened so fast.

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There was Alshon Jeffery getting his hands on a Jay Cutler pass down the left sideline with 6:32 left in the game, but failing to make a catch he had made so many times this year. If Jeffery holds on, the Bears don't punt, maybe they score and the Packers have fewer minutes on the clock to move down the field.

There were the 3 conversions on fourth down during Green Bay's game-winning drive, but mostly it was that last fourth-and-8 from the Bears' 48 with only one timeout remaining.

The Bears really believed they had the game won -- and they had that feeling a few times in the final minutes.

"This is the closest you will ever see someone lose a playoff spot," said Devin Hester. "How many seconds left were there? Thirty-eight seconds and they were on the 50-yard line where they weren't going to kick a field goal. It's hard. It's hard to swallow."

Suddenly, the game was over, their season was finished and many Bears players -- some of whom have been around these parts a long time -- were sitting in that room and wearing that jersey for the last time.

"It was such a swing of emotions," said 34-year-old Roberto Garza. "It's kind of like our season. We were feeling great at times, but we didn't do it. We played well in the second half, but just not enough points on the board."

A 13-year veteran, including nine seasons with the Bears, Garza is one of many fixtures that might be elsewhere next season. If he's gone, Garza leaves with 142 games played in Chicago, No. 31 on the all-time Bears list and eighth among offensive linemen behind only Olin Kreutz (191), Keith Van Horne (186), Mark Bortz (171), Big Cat Williams (166), Jay Hilgenberg (163), George Trafton (149) and Stan Jones (144).

"You think about it," Garza said. "Obviously, I was focused on a big game coming in and doing my job.

"Now, this being the last ... My contract is done. The possibility of me never wearing a Chicago Bears uniform again is there. We'll see what happens. I feel like I can keep playing and that's what I plan to do."

Another who might be on the way out is corner Charles Tillman. He has said in the past that he has no interest in playing safety. When I asked him Sunday night, all he said was, "It's too early to think about it. It's premature to get into it."

So he didn't rule it out, but he also knows the future is uncertain.

"There will be a lot of changes, a lot of new faces," said Tillman, who will be 33 in February. "It's like that every year on every team. You'll never have the same team twice. You never have the guys together again like this.

"I don't know where I'll be, but I don't plan to retire."

Free agent corner Tim Jennings said he doesn't want to leave after four years in Chicago, and it would seem that he'll be one of the Bears' defensive priorities.

"Kind of tough to answer after a tough loss. Take some time, let this sink in and everything will work out in the future," Jennings said. "Just extremely frustrated. Last year, 10 wins can't get you in playoffs. This year, we're right there. Up and down all year. Such a strange thing. We had the opportunity to keep going. We blew it."

It's hard to imagine another year in Chicago for Hester, whose inconsistency was the only consistent part of his game the last few years.

"I really want to know right away," Hester said of his status. "I don't want to go through the whole off-season not knowing where I am going to be. I want to retire as a Bear. I put in too much hard work here and did a lot of things around here. I am pretty sure the fans want me back."

That would be an interesting debate.

"We have players in this locker room that we know are never going to play (here again). This locker room will never be the same,'" Hester said. "That's just the way the business goes.

"And then there are guys like (Julius Peppers) and older guys that don't know whether they want to continue with their career. It's tough for those guys. To lose it like this is tough."

Rookie lineman Kyle Long will be here for a long time, and as difficult as it was to see the season end, he believes the future is bright.

"You learn a lot from every practice and every game," Long said. "You can take it even smaller than that and say each rep is like its own little game. You're not gonna win every game or every rep, but you have to move on to the next rep.

"I think as a group, we've done a great job of that. We have a great nucleus and it's something to build on going into the off-season."

Though he may be new to the NFL, Long is familiar with change.

"As a guy who's bounced around the last three years with three different teams, I've grown accustomed to developing relationships and trust with guys that I just meet," Long said. "Obviously, some guys are going out, some new guys coming in.

"We still have our thought process on certain things. We'll approach competition the way we approach competition. That's full-fledged. We have a nucleus, so we're moving forward. We will still be the Bears."

They will still be the Bears with an advanced offense, but there must be improvement to terrible defense and special teams units.

There will be change. There needs to be change. Some of the best of it has already occurred.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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