2011: A Slip, and a Season Goes Awry

On Nov. 20, the Chicago Bears’ season went slip-sliding away on a single play. With the team well on its way to a fifth straight win, wide receiver Johnny Knox slipped at the San Diego 20-yard line, and the pass that was thrown his way — a quick slant based entirely on timing and trust — was instead intercepted by Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason.

The play occurred late in the fourth quarter, and while it was inconsequential to the game’s outcome, quarterback Jay Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand while attempting to prevent the interception return for a touchdown by taking on Cason’s lead blocker. For a Bears fan (a k a me), the news seemed utterly catastrophic. ”The season is over!” was the initial lament.

But then came an effort to regain composure: breathe slowly, take a sedative, consult a mental health professional. After all, the sky, while sagging, had not yet fallen. The Bears were 7-3, and there were a few patsies on the schedule ahead. The team’s defense remained sturdy. The Bears had a good running game. With conservative play-calling, the team ought to have been able to eke out two or three more wins, enough to make it into the playoffs when Cutler could return with a surgically restored thumb.

But as such things often go, the initial instincts were correct. The season was over, the sky had fallen. The Bears turned to their second-string quarterback, Caleb Hanie, perhaps the only person in Chicago with that first name and possibly the worst professional player ever to take a snap from center (in the eyes of at least one Bears fan).

At the same time, Cutler’s injury proved only the first in what became a team-wide epidemic of knee sprains, muscle tears and brain freezes. The Bears even lost a game on a Hail Mary pass, something unthinkable in a largely Roman Catholic city.

Every day this week, reporters and editors for The New York Times will recall the people, teams and moments that made the past year memorable. Readers can share their favorite sports moments of the year at nytimes.com/sports.

PHOTO: Things went downhill for the Bears after Jay Cutler broke a thumb while making a play on the Chargers’ Antoine Cason, who had intercepted a pass. (PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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