After the 2010 season ended, the NFL entered its longest work stoppage in history. The lockout began after a failure to reach an agreement between the owners and the union in early March. Both sides agreed to extend the deadline another week. However, the talks broke down and the union officially decertified, after which a group of 10 players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league. After months of failed negations, the two sides finally reached an agreement in late July. The owners announced on July 21 that it had approved a new collective bargaining agreement by a 31–0–1 margin (the Oakland Raiders abstained). On July 25, the players association's executive board voted to approve the new collective agreement and the players voted to ratify it on August 4. The delayed start to the season brought free agency and the opening of training camps to coincide. This gave clubs a short period of time to get a full roster signed before camp opened.
The Bears held training camp once again at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. The club has held annual training camp activities at the university since 2002. The franchise opened up training camp with an expanded roster of 90 players. Over the next month players will compete for spots on the final roster. By August 30, the club will cut down players from 90 to 75 after the third preseason game. It was though announced on August 20, the roster cuts would be changed from 75 to 80 players. The franchise will then have to make another round of cuts at the conclusion of the fourth preseason game on September 3. The final roster will consist of 53 players. The Bears wrapped up training camp with a final public practice on August 19 before heading back to team headquarters in Lake Forest, Illinois. The practice marked the end of the team's three week training camp in Bourbonnais.
The club had scheduled an evening practice at Soldier Field in front of fans in an event called "Family Fest". However, the event was cancelled hours before the event was scheduled to begin due to the unsafe playing conditions at Soldier Field. This is not the first incident related to the playing surface at the stadium. Brian Urlacher and other players have called for the surface to be changed from natural grass to artificial FieldTurf. Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel has called on the Chicago Park District to find a permanent solution to the decades-old turf battle at the venue. However, Bears chairman George McCaskey has stated on record that the playing surface at Soldier Field will not change from grass to an artificial surface. McCaskey cited fewer injuries occur on natural grass and therefore believes the natural grass surface prolongs player careers. He did admit a poorly maintained grass surface is unacceptable and promised the club will take a more active role in maintaining the playing surface so the field can be ready for home games. In Week 13, the field was resodded for the Bears-Chiefs game.
Even though the league was in the midst of the lockout, the NFL announced the Bears' preseason schedule on April 12, 2011. The schedule contained the traditional four opponents and a fifth game to be played during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011 induction weekend. The first scheduled preseason game for the Bears was to be the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game against the Rams. However, with the lockout lingering into late July resulting in a delayed start to training camp, the NFL cancelled the game. The Bears won their first preseason game defeating the Bills 10–3. The offensive line struggled in the game while giving up nine sacks over the course of the game. The Bears continued their preseason campaign with a visit to Met Life Stadium in New Jersey to take on the New York Giants. The offensive line improved in the game by allowing only one sack of Cutler compared to the nine they gave up in a game last year. Cutler even joked about the experience by responding "Yeah, upright" to the question asked to him if this game against the Giants felt any different than last year's debacle. Cutler did express pleasure with the performance of the two young tackles, Webb and Carimi, when asked to assess their performance during preseason. The team did however fail to score twice inside the red zone in the 1st half against the Giants in a 41-13 loss. The game also saw the Bears had a punt blocked by the Giants and newly signed WR Roy Williams drop the first two passes thrown to him in his Bears career. In the third game, the Bears's first team offense showed more effectiveness than in previous games. The offensive starters racked up 239 yards in the first half. The team wrapped up the preseason season against the Browns by sitting out many key starters with instead going with various second-, third-, and even fourth-stringers in a very warm and humid night in Chicago. On September 4, a day after rosters were trimmed down to 53 men, the Bears signed former first-round draft pick and two-time Pro Bowler safety Brandon Meriweather, who was released by the Patriots the previous day. In response to adding Meriweather, the Bears released corner back Joshua Moore to keep the roster at 53 men.
The Bears opened up the season against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field. The Falcons were the top-seeded NFC team in 2010, and were picked by many to be a Super Bowl contender. The Bears dominated the game against the Falcons, forcing 2 turnovers, and battering quarterback Matt Ryan for five sacks. Brian Urlacher recorded an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown resulting in Urlacher being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Defensive end Julius Peppers recorded two sacks and forced a fumble. Jay Cutler in his first game since the criticism of the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, had a solid performance throwing for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cutler did have a pass tipped in the fourth quarter that was returned for an interception by Kroy Biermann. Falcons running back Michael Turner finished with 100 yards on 10 carries, but 53 came on one dash and the low carry total is what mattered. Ryan was forced to throw 47 times as the Bears made the Falcons one-dimensional by getting out to a 16-3 halftime lead.
Coming off their home win over the Panthers, the Bears flew to Ford Field for a Week 5 Monday Night duel with their NFC North foe, the Detroit Lions. After a scoreless first quarter, Chicago trailed in the second quarter with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completing a 73-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The Bears would answer with a 44-yard field goal from kicker Robbie Gould, followed by quarterback Jay Cutler fiding tight end Kellen Davis on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Detroit responded in the third quarter with Stafford completing an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, followed by running back Jahvid Best getting an 88-yard touchdown run. Chicago tried to rally in the fourth quarter with a 49-yard field goal from Gould, but the Lions pulled away with kicker Jason Hanson nailing a 31-yard field goal.
Coming off their bye week, the Bears flew to Lincoln Financial Field for a Week 9 Monday night duel with the Philadelphia Eagles. Chicago delivered the game's opening punch in the first quarter as quarterback Jay Cutler found tight end Matt Spaeth on a 5-yard touchdown pass. The Bears added onto their lead in the second quarter with a 51-yard field goal from kicker Robbie Gould. The Eagles would answer with kicker Alex Henery getting a 47-yard field goal, followed by linebacker Brian Rolle returned a fumble 22 yards for a touchdown, yet Chicago closed out the half with a 2-yard touchdown run from running back Marion Barber.
Philadelphia took the lead in the third quarter with running back Ronnie Brown getting a 4-yard touchdown run, followed by running back LeSean McCoy getting a 33-yard touchdown run. The Bears replied with a 38-yard field goal from Gould. Afterwards, Chicago regained the lead in the fourth quarter with Cutler connecting with wide receiver Earl Bennett on a 5-yard touchdown pass, followed by Gould's 22-yard field goal. The Eagles tried to rally, yet the Bears' defense held on to preserve the victory.
The Bears received a scare in the Seahawks game when wide receiver Johnny Knox bent his back awkwardly after taking a hit on Seahawk's defensive end Anthony Hargrove while trying to recover his own fumble. Knox remained down for nearly ten minutes leaving Bears fans in shock. The major hit ended the receiver's season, and he was placed on injured reserve.
After backup quarterback Caleb Hanie showing poor performance in his starting of 4 games that were all losses, the Bears decided to start third string quarterback Josh McCown who was recently signed after being waived by the 49ers.
The Bears finally cracked their five game losing streak on New Year's beating out the Vikings 17-13. The Bears also suffered through another devastating injury when line backer Brian Urlacher sprained his left MCL after colliding into safety Major Wright.
^[a]Preseason games air and are produced by the team as the "Chicago Bears Network". WFLD-TV in Chicago is the flagship station but games are broadcast to other local affilities in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. These include: KFXA - Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Ch. 28); KLJB - Quad Cities, Iowa-Illinois (Ch. 18); WCCU - Champaign, Illinois (Ch. 27); WMBD - Peoria, Illinois (Ch. 31); WIFR - Rockford, Illinois (Ch. 23); WRSP - Springfield, Illinois (Ch. 55); WSBT - South Bend, Indiana (Ch. 22)
^[b]The Bears game will be shown locally on WLS-TV.