Chicago Bears longsnapping practice
16-year longsnapper Patrick Mannelly has retired.

The Chicago Bears have lost a lot of veteran leaders and stars this past couple seasons since Marc Trestman took over as head coach. I wasn't terribly surprised when Brian Urlacher became a free agent and retired, although I was extremely disappointed that he would not be back in a Bears' uniform. Earlier this offseason, return specialist Devin Hester was released and signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Hester was one of the most electric players in the league in his prime, and he was a huge factor in making me watch football (and specifically the Bears) on a more regular basis. These guys were probably my two favorite players, and neither of them is a Bear anymore.

And now, yet another elite veteran leader has departed from the team. 16-year veteran longsnapper Patrick Mannelly has retired.

Longsnappers are unheralded players. You won't find any action figures or jerseys for Mannelly in sporting goods stores, nor would you even find Mannelly in the rosters of some Madden NFL video game (that I can recall); although, I would always add him to my roster every year before starting a franchise. But whether he's a household name or not, Mannelly was a cornerstone of the Chicago Bears' special teams for 16 years! His precision has been a key factor to the success of the special teams unit, which has been widely considered an elite unit during Lovie Smith's era. In his 2006 Pro Bowl acceptance speech, kicker Robbie Gould praised Mannelly specifically for his role in Gould's kicking success (Gould is currently one of the most accurate field goal kickers in NFL history).

Chicago Bears longsnapping practice
Patrick Mannelly practicing longsnapping with holder/punter Adam Podlesh and placekicker Robbie Gould.

Mannelly had suffered from injuries the past few seasons, but when he was playing, he was as good as perfect...

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Chicago Bears alt logo

Jay Cutler can take as long as he wants to return from his groin injury. No rush.

Josh McCown is looking fantastic in Cutler's absence. He played very well against the Redskins, but the defense just couldn't stop them. He also played exceptionally well against the Packers, including managing a late game scoring drive that ate up almost a full 9 minutes of the fourth quarter clock to seal the win for the Bears.

In fact, McCown played a near perfect game against the Packers. Trestman's gameplan was very aggressive, and he put the game squarely in McCown's hands early on. He hardly missed any throws, and the few incompletions were usually the result of a receiver dropping the ball (Marshall had several drops). I only noticed two or three throws that looked significantly off the mark, and every one of them was a very safe miss. On top of that, McCown made several good plays under duress, including some scrambles for first downs and weaving around the pocket in order to sling the ball out to a receiver. And he did all of this without losing his chewing gum!

Bears 27 - Packers 20: Josh McCown
Josh McCown has looked exceptional as a replacement for Jay Cutler!
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I have to say that I am not surprised that the Chicago Bears decided to fire Lovie Smith after the second late-season collapse by the team that lead the division the first half of the year. I also agree with the decision, mostly. During the entire tenure of Lovie Smith, the Bears' offense has been incompetant. Lovie is a great defensive mind, but I'm just not sold on his ability as a head coach. And judging by the fact that no other teams hired him, I guess I'm not the only one who had doubts.

The Bears went through several offensive coordinators during Smith's time, including the revolutionary mind of Mike Martz, but the team's offense remained abysmal throughout. They changed quarterbacks, changed offensive linemen, changed running backs, and rotated through a number of receivers. They even changed stadiums. The only constant was Smith.

The firing of Lovie Smith just further expands my concerns with the Bears' defense. I've already expressed fear that the defense is getting old and that veterans like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman just might not have much left in their tanks. The window is definitely closing for these players, and they can't afford to wait around for several "rebuilding" years in order to become championship contenders again. I want to see Brian Urlacher win a SuperBowl with the Chicago Bears, but if the team's new coaching staff isn't able to fix Chicago's offensive woes, while maintaining strength on defense, then it doesn't look like Urlacher will get that ring. At least, not with the Bears.

Marc Trestman hired as Chicago Bears' head coach
New Chicago Bears head coach, Marc Trestman.
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At the start of the 2012 season, I may have had my hopes for the Bears a little high. I argued that the Bears might be the most balanced team in the league this year, potentially featuring an elite offense, defense, and special teams!

For the first half of the season, in which the Bears got off to a 7-1 start, it looked like I might have been right. But red flags started going up out of the gate. The offensive line just wasn't protecting Cutler very well, and Mike Tice's offense too often looked like the anemic offenses under coordinator Mike Martz. Although not ruled out for sure, it didn't look like Johnny Knox would be playing this year, and Devin Hester just doesn't have the same spark he once had. Early in the season, it seemed as if the Bears might have to rely once again on their defense. That defense shocked the league by being more effective than the offense, with both cornerbacks (Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman) earning Pro-Bowl honors for forcing turnovers and scoring touchdowns! Things were looking good at 7-1, but there was a bad feeling in my gut that this all looked too familiar.

Starting the second half of the season, that feeling became justified. Once again, the injury bug started biting the Bears. Alshon Jeffrey and Earl Bennett were both the victims of multi-week injuries, leaving Brandon Marshall as the team's only true threat in the passing game and allowing opposing defenses to send everything they had after Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Cutler and Forte also suffered temporary injuries, and backups Jason Campbell and Micheal Bush were ineffective against the 49ers.

Chicago Bears 26 - Detroit Lions 24 - Brian Urlacher on sideline
I'm getting too used to seeing Urlacher in street clothes.

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Chicago Bears - Matt Forte
Matt Forte (and fans) should be smiling after he signed a 4-year deal.

Bears players left and right are stating in interviews that they think this year's Bears team is going to be great. Recently, receiver Earl Bennett said in an interview that he thinks the Bears are the best team in the NFC North. Other players have expressed similar thoughts over the summer. Pro Bowl linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher have both stated in interviews this year that the 2012 Bears team is the best team they've been on, and that includes the Bears' 2006 SuperBowl run!

So are these sentiments even remotely accurate? Or are the players just a bit overconfident?

Well, in my humble opinion (as a Bears' fan), these players have every right to be excited about their team this year!

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Gaming for life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to opinions about video games and the video game industry. But occasionally, I talk about other stuff too. Feel free to read about the blog.

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Dark Souls Collector's Edition breaks my boycott of pre-ordering gamesDark Souls Collector's Edition breaks my boycott of pre-ordering games09/13/2011 The Dark Souls pre-order Collector's Edition includes a soundtrack, behind-the-scenes DVD, art book, and mini-game guide, along with the standard version of the game. Despite it's insane difficulty, the PS3-exclusive RPG Demon's Souls became one of my favorite games on the console. Unfortunately, after my PS3 died on me and...