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SportsMonday: The Bears Are Who We Thought They Were

Tune in to WBEZ's Afternoon Shift today around 2:45 to hear Jim Coffman talk Bears.

In the grand NFL scheme, Sunday's Bears game meant nothing. Yes, it was aggravating to lose to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers again. And to do so with a division title and a spot in the playoffs on the line! What fun! But this Bears team was clearly not a championship contender.

Sunday's game didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. Jay Cutler is good, not great. His inability to get himself and his offense started these last two games (several discouraging three-and-outs in the first halves of both) mirrored what had happened on numerous occasions earlier in the season. Then again, he has been better late in games and he does have significant value as an NFL quarterback.

The question of Cutler's future is not binary, i.e., it is not a question of whether the Bears should keep him. We know at this point that Cutler will not win many big games by himself, i.e., he will not be a Rodgers-type player who so frequently pushes his team over the top in big games just with his own abilities.

But Cutler can lead a team to a significant number of victories if he gets enough help. He is a talented veteran and there is reason to believe that with another off-season with Marc Trestman's coaching, he will improve. Or at least he will get better at finding the opportunities Trestman's offense gives him. Of course, the same holds true for Josh McCown.

So here we have a question of efficiency, i.e., what is the best quarterback play the Bears can get for the smallest contract hit possible (leaving the maximum number of dollars to be spent on other needs). And here is where Phil Emery's negotiating skills come into play. His best bet is to bring back either McCown or Cutler for the least amount of dollars possible, re-sign the kind of cagey veteran who clearly can thrive in Trestman's system as a backup (Jordan Palmer would be fine) and then draft a young quarterback with skills that appeal to the coach.

Trying to guess which young quarterback will someday be a Super Bowl MVP is a fool's pursuit. All you can do is give yourself the best chance of enjoying at least competent quarterback play by having more than one promising talent on hand.

We also knew well before Sunday that the Bears defense had aged into oblivion. If they had had a bit better luck with injuries, they might have performed better this season but it also wasn't rational to expect veterans like Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs to sail though a season without significant injury.

Emery tried to ensure there was at least a little depth at positions like linebacker, but when the team lost D.J. Williams for the season and then Briggs for an extended period, they were in trouble. The team had draft picks Khaseem Greene and Jon Bostic in place as possible replacements and sometimes young players like that can make the transition to the NFL quickly. We now know Greene and Bostic did not possess that capability. The same held true at defensive tackle, where the Bears lost too many players to injury to reasonably not expect a downgrade in performance.

As far as the safety position goes, Emery has struggled to find competent players just as Jerry Angelo did before him. I'm sure there will be some new candidates for Bears secondary jobs next training camp. If the Bears can keep their quarterback cost relatively low and perhaps at least re-work Julius Peppers' contract if not downright release him, they'll obviously have more money to spend on the position.

And finally, we knew before Sunday that Trestman was still a first-year coach. Hopefully in his second year and beyond he will be less likely to make game-changing mistakes like the second-down field goal attempt against the Vikings and leaving Jay Cutler in way too long against the Lions.

Goat: Conte
"Looking as devastated as every Bears fan felt early Sunday evening, safety Chris Conte slowly walked away from his locker declining comment on the biggest play of the season," David Haugh writes for the Tribune.

"Conte's eyes were red and his head was down as he stared at the carpet.

"There was a little miscommunication on that final play," cornerback Tim Jennings said a few stalls away.

"Chicagoans, we have a nomination for Biggest Understatement of 2013."

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"The heroes of Green Bay's winning touchdown were easy to identify," Bob Wolfley writes for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who made the throw. Wide receiver Randall Cobb, who made the catch. Fullback John Kuhn, who made the block to allow Rodgers to make the throw.

"The goat on that play was just as easy to spot, first by Fox game analyst Troy Aikman and then by NBC studio analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison.

"Whatever else Bears safety Chris Conte does with his career, he will carry the burden of having been the guy who failed to cover Cobb and hence the guy who helped keep his team from advancing to the playoffs."

Hero: Aaron Rodgers
"So what if Aaron Rodgers was rusty early Sunday afternoon?" Linsday H. Jones writes for USA Today.

"By Sunday evening, he was spectacular."

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"The legend of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is only going to grow bigger, bolder and better following a game-winning touchdown pass for the ages on Sunday at Soldier Field," Mike Vandermause writes for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

"Rodgers has won bigger games, with a Super Bowl title under his belt. He has accomplished greater individual achievements, with an NFL MVP award in his trophy case. But what he did in the waning moments against the Bears, on a cold and blustery day with the Packers' season hanging in the balance, is the stuff of which legends are made."

*

The play.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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