Twice in the span of barely a year, the Bears have accomplished major season-altering turnarounds. Now, to save 2011, they need a third.
And the group squarely at the crossroads with the heaviest turnaround load, as it was at the off week in October 2010 and again after the consecutive losses to New Orleans and Green Bay in September, is the offensive line.
The line was the point of the spear that reversed the slide last year after the sack nightmares against the Giants, Seahawks and Redskins. It was the main difference going from five sacks against Atlanta, six at New Orleans and three vs. Green Bay to just nine sacks over the next seven games.
But Caleb Hanie was sacked four times at Oakland and seven by Kansas City and the offense has averaged less than four yards per carry in three of the last four games.
The line, and the Bears, are at a crossroads.
I'm completely confident in those guys, said Hanie, who took blame for some of the sacks by the Chiefs in particular. They're playing their butts off in there. From left tackle to right tackle, from J'Marcus Webb to Lance Louis, they're going to fight, and that's what type of group they are, and I'm confident they'll have a good game.
They will need it.
Where the Chiefs came into the Bears game with only 13 total sacks, the Broncos have 32 and with edge rushers in end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Von Miller significantly better than what either Oakland or Kansas City fielded.
They are fast. They are very fast, said line coach Mike Tice. They are very tenacious. They remind me a lot of the Steelers. They get after it pretty damn good.
Miller in particular; the Bears think enough of him to put a red 58 jersey on a scout-team linebacker to condition the offense to accounting for Miller.
Hes a phenomenal player, Tice said. Were going to know where hes at all times.
The line was not helped by play-calling in the fourth quarter vs. Kansas City that consisted of 15 pass plays and two runs but played generally OK except for Louis, who had perhaps his worst game of the year. He was beaten by speed rushers for multiple sacks after a steady run of strong performances previously both as a blocker and running down a Raider to save a touchdown.
Now he is at a particular crossroads with the Bears needing him to put a nightmare game behind him.
I think theyve been doing a great job, Tice said. We had unfortunate circumstance with one of our players who didnt play up to the way he had been playing. For a guy who has been thrown over there, at right tackle, who has been holding the fort pretty good. Im not down on him. Hes down on himself, a little bit right now. I dont think he should be. We could have helped him as a staff, a little more, and we will, moving forward.
Hes got to bounce back, and we all got to bounce back.