NFL midseason reports usually are written after eight games—ya know, at midseason. But with seven games in the books and injuries piling up, the 2013 Bears have reached a crossroads. No time like the present, then, to distribute awards and look at what's to come.
The Mike Ditka Award for Best Season Ever for a Chicago Bears Tight End
Iron Mike, meet the Black Unicorn. When the Bears signed Bennett after his one season with the N.Y. Giants, nobody knew quite what to expect from the gabby, imaginative player. But off-the-field creativity aside, it's been awhile since Bears fans have seen a tight end like Bennett, whose season projections in touchdowns (nine) and yards (814) would trail only Ditka's best marks (12 TDs, 1,076 yards).
The Walter Payton Award for Eye-Popping Running Back Stats
The hiring of coach Marc Trestman brought lots of speculation about a potential increase in offensive production, and nobody seemed giddier over the summer than Matt Forte. He was right to be. The sixth-year back is having a career year, averaging 113.5 total yards per game while on pace for nearly 14 touchdowns. He's also within striking distance of his own franchise record for receiving yards per game for a running back (40.8, set in 2011).
The Marcus Robinson Award for Breakout Wide Receiver
Is this award just an excuse to get Marcus Robinson's name in print? Of course! But Alshon Jeffery's receiving numbers—he already has career highs in receptions and yards—warrants ties to Robinson, who like Jeffery also attended South Carolina. And with 88 yards rushing, he can become only the second Bears receiver to gain 100 yards rushing in a season, something Dennis Gentry did twice.
The Marty Booker Award for Best All-Around Receiver, Only If Booker Was a Game-Breaker Like Brandon Marshall
While Bennett, Forte and Jeffery have been the most obvious beneficiaries of The Trestman Effect, Brandon Marshall continues to be the Bears' key offensive performer. He's on pace to tie his 2012 TD mark despite fewer catches per game, but more important he has refined his blocking to an art, meaning he affects plays on every down, not just the ones on which he's targeted.
The Erik Kramer Award for Best Season by a Bears Quarterback
The Jay Cutler "I Can't Believe I Just Went Down in a Contract Year" Award
Norm MacDonald had a joke about how depressed all the crocodiles must have been when they found out a stingray killed the Crocodile Hunter. The same can be said for every defender who ever packed a wallop on Jay Cutler, only to see him limp off the field on a relatively benign tackle. Unfortunately, that tackle included a debilitating groin injury. Also unfortunate is Cutler was producing his best season as a Bear. Before getting hurt, he was on pace for franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns.
DEVIN HESTER & ROBBIE GOULD
The Devin Hester & Robbie Gould Awards for Excellence in Returning and Kicking, Respectively
Since entering the league, Devin Hester and Robbie Gould have been among the league's standard-bearers at their positions. And with chips on their shoulders, both have delivered in 2013: Hester is leading the league in kick return yards, and he snapped his no-TD streak last week with an 81-yard punt return score, his NFL record-tying 19th career non-offensive touchdown. Meanwhile, Gould's converting field goals at a career-best 92.3 percent clip and is tied for the NFL record with 12 straight field goals made of 50 yards or more.
TRENDS TO WATCH AFTER THE BYE WEEK
Losing streak vs. Green Bay
If the Bears want to avoid a 4-4 record, they'll have to do something they haven't done since 2007: beat the Packers at Lambeau. They've lost five straight in Green Bay, while a win Nov. 4 would be their first over the Pack ANYWHERE since Sept. 27, 2010. Yuck.
Regular-season elimination games
The Bears weren't eliminated from the 2012 playoffs until the last day of the season. But they eliminated themselves over the season's second half by losing six games to playoff teams. Five of the Bears' nine remaining games are against possible playoff teams (Green Bay twice, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia). As those games go, so goes the season.
Jay Cutler's contract year
Cutler was putting together a career year before he was derailed by his groin injury. With his contract expiring, has he done enough to warrant a new deal? If not, the pressure will be on him big time upon his return.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack
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