By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Time-travel stories never really work, upon inspection.
We suspend our disbelief enough to be entertained by Marty McFly, Sarah Connor or Shoeless Joe Jackson, agreeing to not examine too carefully the logical wormholes necessary to hold the plot together.
The fact that we know it's impossible is what makes it fun, and it misses the point completely to mutter "That could never happen" in between handfuls of Sno-Caps.
So allow me some latitude, here, as we imagine the fate of the Bears had GM Phil Emery been given permission to make a coaching change immediately upon his hiring, instead of waiting a season. This will involve multiple assumptions and presumptions amid countless variables and an infinite number of separate realities.
It's fiction. So chill out.
We first should see the 4-2 Bears as they are: Marc Trestman's skill as an offensive expert has allowed them to show signs of growth behind a line rebuilt on the fly with two free-agent acquisitions and two draft picks. They have an actual tight end that can catch, block and run. Most importantly, a well-protected Jay Cutler is thriving, averaging career-bests in completion percentage (65.9) and passer efficiency rating (95.2).
Meanwhile, the aging defense is crumbling. Charles Tillman is already a week-to-week maintenance concern, fighting more than one nagging injury. The line is a mess of torn knee ligaments, street free agents, ends used as tackles, and a version of Julius Peppers that doesn't noticeably influence games. One of the veteran linebackers signed as a stopgap is done for the year, the other also recently knocked from a game, and in their respective places are a raw rookie and a special-teams grunt. This all conspires to expose low-impact safeties too far away from the play.
They can only hope to stop opponents by stripping the ball or picking it off – a defensive strategy of desperation, and one that is largely based on the other team's incompetence.
This is just not a possible Super Bowl champion, now, regardless of any lofty optimism when the season began.
But we'll rewind to the end of the 2011 season and screw around with the space/time continuum, just for fun.
The promising 7-3 start fizzled after Cutler broke his thumb and Matt Forte sprained his knee. Caleb Hanie happened, they puttered to 8-8, and Emery replaced Jerry Angelo burdened by an edict from ownership to retain Lovie Smith and most of the current staff for one more year.
Let's pretend what many suspected, that an unfettered Emery was more than ready to accelerate change at Halas Hall.
He asserts full control, blows out Smith and conducts the same exhaustive search for somebody who can coach scoring. His methodical process finds Trestman, the odd man from the northern forests who arrives with his new tactics and team-building hugs.
The new coach gets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who unlearn the leftover Mike Martz playbook immediately – click/dragging all those useless files to the mental trash can and downloading Trestman's ideas, never wasting a year assimilating anything "taught" by Mike Tice.
Needs are recognized by fresh eyes on both sides of the ball, influencing signings and drafting with both short- and long-term goals in mind, and with a singularity of purpose.
Our 2012 Bears address their weaknesses similarly as was done this past offseason, and feature something approximating this offense. They move the ball and score. The defense, still spry enough to be third in the league in points allowed with 277 and help the team to second in turnover differential at +20, is allowed the chance to find rest for veterans later in the year due to added wins that solidify playoff position. Brian Urlacher doesn't tear his hamstring in December, instead leading another deep postseason run.
The championship window might have been open, reasonably, for one more year. The larger operation to build the next one would have had a considerable head start with no conflicting agendas or cross-purposes. 2013 is year two of a complicated system instead of a hastily-installed crash course, ready to advance further as mini-camp convenes.
While we're at it, we can find a way to keep the parents of Aaron Rodgers from slow-dancing at the high-school prom. A suddenly self-aware SkyNet system might find a way to keep Dave Toub from leaving. And off goes J'Marcus Webb into the cornfield, never to be seen again.
Gale Sayers' knee is fine, just a tweak. Zorich is moved to linebacker. On January 26, 1986, Walter Payton scores a touchdown from the 3-yard line in the first quarter.
I think I remember some prominent Bear quipping once that the past is for cowards and losers. Perhaps so.
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