The Bears are probably in panic mode after losing three consecutive games, watching what was a golden playoff opportunity slip into a long shot. You can look at the Bears' schedule and see two highly winnable games, starting Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks and in Week 17 at the Minnesota Vikings. But even then, the Bears would be 9-7. If you take some time to enter scenarios into the ESPN.com Playoff Machine, you see that there aren't going to be many opportunities for the Bears to get into the playoffs at 9-7. Their best hope is for a collapse from the Detroit Lions, who are 8-5 and, based on tiebreakers, have a better chance to get in at 9-7 than the Bears. Suffice it to say, the Bears are going to need some help to get into the playoffs in 2011.
I don't think backup quarterback Caleb Hanie has been dreadful in his three-game stint, but the drop-off in the offense's performance since Jay Cutler's thumb injury has been painfully obvious. They've scored 33 points in three games. Hanie ascended into the role with hopes that a credible performance could boost his marketability in free agency this offseason. Unfortunately, the opposite is probably going to be true. Barring a dramatic turnaround over the Bears' final three games, Hanie's performance might spur the Bears to seek a new backup this winter. Hanie's 10.1 Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) is the worst among NFL quarterbacks with at least 100 qualifying plays this season.
Tailback Marion Barber rarely talks to the media, win or lose, good performance or bad. So at least he was consistent Sunday in avoiding questions about two critical mistakes he made late in the game. As a reporter, I expect players to be accountable for their mistakes and greatly respect those who take that step. But whether he takes the blame publicly or not, Barber ultimately will be held accountable by the Bears organization and the rest of the league. When you sign a veteran running back with some wear and tear, you're willing to excuse a lack of explosiveness or long runs in exchange for reliable decisions that enhance value. If enough NFL teams decide Barber can't provide that, he won't have a job next season. That's the ultimate measure of accountability.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
The buzzards have been circling the Bears' front office and coaching staff for a while, making you wonder what exactly is going on behind the scenes in Chicago. General manager Jerry Angelo downplayed speculation Sunday that he might retire after this season. And the Bears have been beating back rumors of offensive coordinator Mike Martz's demise for weeks. Will this late-season collapse spur a mini-overhaul of the front office or coaching staff? Or will it be attributed to injuries sustained by two of their most important players, Cutler and tailback Matt Forte? It's worth noting, at least, that this is the Bears' first full season under new chairman George McCaskey. The assumption has been that the Bears will operate with the same direction as long as Ted Phillips remains president, but sometimes assumptions are wrong.