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The Bears' loss to the 49ers in the middle of the just-concluded NFL season wasn't just another setback for the locals. It was the beginning of Colin Kaepernick's amazing run to the cusp of Super Bowl glory.
He may have fallen just short of a world championship in his just his 10th professional start, but he went a long way since his first start in that game against the Bears - a 32-7 win that wasn't close to that close.
More importantly to folks around here, Kaepernick's immediately dominating performance couldn't have made it more clear how far the Bears had to go to be competitive with the Niners. Sure, Jay Cutler missed that contest due to a concussion and the Bears had to go with backup Jason Campbell. Kaepernick, though, was also starting because the 49ers' starter, Alex Smith, was out with a concussion. See what I mean?
Even if Cutler had been behind center, though, it's doubtful that the Bears' offensive line could have stopped the San Francisco pass rush from shellacking him the way they did Campbell.
Not so from the Bears' side of the ball. Just a few plays into the second quarter, Kaepernick had already staked his team to a 17-0 lead and put the game away. The rest was just details.
As for Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, props must be given to WGN/CLTV sports talker David Kaplan, who argued all season that the Ravens had a better quarterback than the Bears - and was still catching flak from dumb Bears fans like this one on Twitter last night:
@thekapman thanks to his defense and special teams. i know your not dumb he was not a factor in the 2nd half— Brandon Morris (@BMEN2619) February 4, 2013
@bmen2619 The Ravens won and was MVP. Give it up. You have no shot.— David Kaplan (@thekapman) February 4, 2013
Bears fans watching the Super Bowl couldn't help but imagine if Kaepernick would just be Cutler behind the Bears' offensive line, or if Cutler would be Kaepernick behind the 49ers' offensive line, or if we could ever even imagine the Bears playing offense the way the Niners - or the Ravens, for that matter - do.
The answer would have been a resounding NO if Bears general manager Phil Emery hadn't switched out Lovie Smith for Marc Trestman. Emery saw the same thing we did - in that 49er game in November and through the rest of the season. He saw that a Lovie Smith-coached team is never going to be competitive offensively with the rest of the league's elite. (Just look at that 1-6 record against Aaron Rogers and the Packers the last three season.)
Now, we can't say "In Trestman We Trust" just yet, but there is plenty of reason to believe the new head coach will implement offensive sophistication the likes of which hasn't been seen around here in, well, forever. Clearly some reinforcements will be needed but the Bears have the most important ingredient - a reasonably smart, seriously strong-armed quarterback, even if he is no Joe Flacco or Kaepernick.
The question is: Is he good enough anyway?
It won't be easy for Cutler to hit the ground running and passing accurately in his fourth offensive system in the last five years. But given the success of rookie quarterbacks of late, it is crystal clear that signal-callers can lead their teams to great seasons with only one off-season (and with the rookies it is only a partial off-season) to get comfortable with their coach's overall scheme.
This next season really is the key to Cutler's career and he has to know that. There is no more time to get acclimated or comfortable or whatever. There will only be wins or losses during the year in which Cutler turns 30. He also has a potential big payday coming the season after next if he can get it together. Otherwise, the Bears will have to start looking for someone new to lead them to the promised land.
As for reinforcements, word out of Miami last week was that pending free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long might not be particularly easy for the Dolphins to re-sign.
Long, a four-time Pro Bowler with just five seasons in the league, would be exactly what the football doctors ordered for the Bears, even if their accountants will be less enthusiastic.
Signing Long would be akin to former GM Jerry Angelo's signing of Julius Peppers-like, and would go a tremendously long way toward addressing shortcomings on the line. It would also free the Bears up to really go after "best talent available" players in the upcoming draft.
Because they will almost certainly need the best players available, and then some, if they are to compete with Kaepernick's 49ers in the NFC in coming seasons and get back to the Super Bowl - where they are likely to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or even the great Joe Flacco.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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