Opinion: Lopsided losses to end season must force Chicago Bears to acknowledge who they are
The Chicago Bears should be grateful the season ended the way it did.
If not for the undressing by the Green Bay Packers last week, followed with Sunday’s dismantling by the New Orleans Saints, the Bears could have sold themselves the fairy tale that they’re something they are not. They could have looked at those three wins in December and their playoff berth, and deluded themselves into thinking significant changes are not needed this off-season.
Instead, these lopsided losses to end the season will force the McCaskeys to take a good long look at who is running the team, who is coaching the team and who is quarterbacking the team. Or it should, anyway, if the family of Papa Bear Halas is as committed to winning as it always claims to be.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky walks off the field after an NFL wild-card playoff loss in New Orleans. (Photo: Brett Duke, AP)
The Bears were 1-7 against playoff teams in the regular season. Equally damning, that one victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aside, Chicago’s wins came against teams that finished a combined 32-80. Four of those seven teams were deemed so dismal, their coaches and general managers got fired.
The better measuring stick is how the Bears fared against teams they want to emulate. Teams like the Saints and the Packers, who have a sustained record of success. It wasn’t close against either.
Green Bay beat the Bears twice, by a combined score of 76-41, while New Orleans’ defense set a franchise record by holding Chicago to nine points in their wild-card game.
“We know this isn’t good enough,” coach Matt Nagy said. “What we need to do is do everything we can to be able to win a Super Bowl. That’s the goal. The goal is not to make the playoffs. We just got to sit down and evaluate all that stuff, and we obviously know there’s a lot of big decisions.”
That starts at the top, with general manager Ryan Pace.
Pace was the genius who decided Mitchell Trubisky was superior to Patrick Mahomes and Deshuan Watson, so much so that he traded up a spot to take Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. As any Bears fan can tell you, Mahomes has now won a Super Bowl and a regular-season MVP award while Watson would likely be right there with him if not for being on a dysfunctional team himself.
As it is, Watson has been impressive enough to earn a four-your, $160 million extension that makes him the NFL’s second-highest paid player behind Mahomes.
The cherry on the top? One of those picks Pace gave the San Francisco 49ers to move up and get Trubisky was then traded to the Saints, who used it to draft Alvin Kamara. That would be the same Alvin Kamara who bulldozed the Bears for 99 yards and a rushing touchdown Sunday, and had an NFL-best 21 touchdowns this year.
It’s clear Trubisky is not a franchise quarterback. While he played better after getting benched earlier this season, it’s a little like looking through a funhouse mirror. He put up good stats and made impressive plays against mediocre defenses. But when he faced the Packers and the Saints, he again looked one-dimensional. Certainly nothing like a quarterback who can carry his team like a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers does.
“I feel like I got better,” Trubisky said. “I feel like I got better this year.”
Four years in, that’s no longer enough.
Nick Foles, who was signed in the off-season to give Trubisky some competition, isn’t the answer, either. Nor was Mike Glennon, whom Pace signed back in 2017 after cutting ties with Jay Cutler, who, say what you want about him, is the only Bears quarterback to win a playoff game in the last decade.
Which means the Bears are starting over with the most important position there is. Again. Given how badly Pace botched the quarterback choice the last time, can the Bears really afford to give him a do-over? Another misstep will set the once-proud franchise back for the next five, maybe even 10 years.
A decision on Nagy isn’t as clear-cut as those on Pace and Trubisky. Nagy never seemed to figure out how to maximize Trubisky’s strengths, and it’s telling that Chicago’s best games offensively came after Nagy handed off play-calling duties.
The Bears also have shown a maddening inability to get consistent production from the running game, which, if it isn’t a criminal offense in Chicago, it should be.
“We struggled to get that run game going,” Nagy acknowledged after the Bears managed all of 48 yards on the ground against the Saints.
Chicago also has shown a tendency to be undisciplined. Despite Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s well-documented history of stirring up trouble against the Bears, Anthony Miller still fell for it Sunday night, shoving Gardner-Johnson after an exchange and getting ejected.
Yet Nagy never lost the locker room. The Bears lost six in a row earlier this season, the kind of streak that would cause anarchy in most teams. But Chicago continued to play hard and made the playoffs – even if it did back into them.
The development of young players like linebacker Roquan Smith and wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who could be franchise cornerstones, can’t be overlooked, either.
“For us to get better and to be the team that we need to be, something we’ll do in the off-season is make sure wherever there is a weakness, we make it a strength,” Nagy said. “That’s going to take everybody.”
And it's going to take acknowledging that the Bears aren't a very good team. Certainly not one that should keep going down the path it's currently on.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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