Sometimes it is more difficult to stay on top of the mountain than it is to climb it.
The Bears' special teams unit discovered that in 2008 when sharp turnover within the core group and a dramatic slip by return man Devin Hester took a toll on performance.
Still, coordinator Dave Toub's unit managed to finish eighth in the NFL and third in the NFC in rankings that were published today by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Gosselin is credited with beginning the formula, that ranks special teams units in 22 categories, in 1980 when he got it from Frank Gansz, then the special teams coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. He publishes the final results every year during Pro Bowl weekend.
The Bears slipped to eighth after holding the No. 1 spot for two consecutive seasons. It is their fourth top-10 finish under Toub, who joined the organization in 2004 when Lovie Smith arrived, in five seasons. The Bears were 10th in 2004 and 11th in 2005 before Hester arrived and brought great attention to the return game leaguewide. He scored 11 return touchdowns in his first two seasons, an NFL record, but had none last season and eventually handed over kickoff return duties to Danieal Manning.
Turnover on special teams started with the departure of Brendon Ayanbadejo in free agency. He was a two-time Pro Bowl performer for the Bears and left for Baltimore last March. He will represent the Ravens in the Pro Bowl later today. Israel Idonije bulked up nearly 30 pounds to move inside to defensive tackle, and that limited his role on teams. Then changes in the starting lineup and injuries took some core performers away eventually leading Toub and the club to sign ex-Bear Cameron Worrell just to get through the season finale at Houston.
The Bears led the league in punts inside the 20 with 40 as Brad Maynard set a franchise record. They were also tops with four blocked kicks and tied for first in extra-point percentage. They ranked well in kickoff return, scoring and punt coverage.
Buffalo finished first in Gosselin's rankings, the third time in the last five years for the Bills.