Turns out, Bears just who we thought they were
So much noise. So much nonsense. So much for the playoffs.
The Bears are precisely who we thought they were on Labor Day, an 8-8 team with a much better offense than last season and a faltering defense, one that allowed the game-winning drive in the final minute Sunday at Soldier Field, costing the Bears a playoff berth and a 33-28 defeat at the hands of the Packers.
Naturally -- and despite the hysteria surrounding the position -- the result had nothing to do with quarterback Jay Cutler and everything to do with a defense incapable of making a play when it really needed a stop.
"It hurts pretty bad," said Brandon Marshall. "I knew it was going to come down to who had the ball last. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time on the clock to get it done."
Again, it's a matter of expectations and perspective. With a new staff, new offense, new players and an aging defense, a .500 season would have been considered a good year had the Bears not started 3-0 and looked at times like they were in good playoff position.
Had the division not been so bad and backed up to them at the end, the discussion the second half of the season would have been about 2014, not the chance to lose a playoff game.
Had they not been up 28-27 late in the fourth Sunday, it would not be so disappointing.
And had the defense not given up 3 conversions on fourth down during the final drive, it wouldn't be so devastating.
"At the end, they made a play and we didn't," said corner Tim Jennings. "It's been that kind of season for us."
How fitting it was on fourth-and-8 from the 48 with 46 seconds left, that safety Chris Conte tried to anticipate a route instead of staying deep and with his man, allowing Randall Cobb to run right past him and haul in the easiest touchdown pass of his career.
Conte is one of the most approachable Bears and a guy who always stays to face the music, but his day could not have been much worse and he left without taking questions.
"We had some miscommunication," Jennings said. "Every player has to be accountable for what their job is, and we just didn't get it done."
It was Julius Peppers, on perhaps the final play of his Bears career, leaving his feet after getting chipped and flying past Aaron Rodgers, allowing the Green Bay QB a chance to escape the blitz and fire to a wide-open Cobb for the game-winner.
"I actually had a hook route about 10 or 12 yards," Cobb said. "But I saw that the safety was flat-footed, so I threw my hands up and just stayed on the move."
It's unthinkable that Rodgers was barely touched by the Bears all day, even with them knowing he played with a collar bone still healing from a fracture, and that a single decent hit would have taken him out of the game.
"I didn't really take any major shots," Rodgers said. "The protection was very, very good. The guys kept me really clean up front."
In fact, the only time Peppers got close was on a sack that caused a fumble -- leading to one of the oddest touchdowns you'll ever see.
That play summed up not only this game for the Bears' defense, but really an entire season worth forgetting on that side of the ball.
"We had the opportunity to get off the field," said linebacker James Anderson. "We just have to make a play there and we didn't."
A very painful ending to a very predictable season, but with three major moves on defense -- a play-making safety, a pass rusher and a tackle -- the Bears could move quickly toward the top of the NFC next season.
And while no one in management will say it out loud, they couldn't have expected much more from this team coming into a rebuilding season that was all about expanding the offense and determining whether Cutler was the future.
"Jay will be back," Marshall said. "Write everything you have to say and then just say Brandon said Jay will be back."
After all the progress they've made offensively, anything else would be a surprise.
Of course, some of the bigger names of the last five or 10 years will be gone, and the feeling was palpable Sunday evening in a very quiet Bears locker room, where some players said goodbye for the last time.
It's the price of doing business. It's the price of rebuilding.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.