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When winning means losing and losing means winning

Yes, I know that a Bears loss yesterday helped the franchise. But as we drove for a winning touchdown, I could not help but root for the win.

Tennessee Titans v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The extra point hadn’t landed yet when I told my wife in a half-joking, all-too-serious tone that our 7-0 lead set us up perfectly for a 31-7 loss. I’ve come to expect this Bears team to lose, and perhaps as importantly, I am okay with their losses. I am fully committed to a top-5 draft pick. I’m hoping for the #1, or at least the #2, since the Cavs and Indians seem to have sucked all the wins out of Cleveland for 2016.

The Bears have not drafted in the top 5 since picking Cedric Benson 4th overall in 2005. We haven’t picked in the top 3 since 1972. As I type this, we are 2-9, tied for the league’s fourth worst record. We won’t know our draft slot until the end of the season (the first tiebreaker is strength of schedule), but we do know that we’re on pace to be top 4.

I’m pulling for top 4.

Yet at the same time, I’m always, ALWAYS, pulling for a win on game day.

That’s because the instinct that allows me to tolerate losing individual games for a larger goal is the same instinct that pushes me to root for winning those same individual games.

And that was the tension I felt yesterday as I watched the Bears nearly pull out a miraculous comeback victory with our 4th-string quarterback throwing touchdowns to our 4th-string tight end and our 5th- and 6th-string wide receivers, with a would-be game-winning touchdown dropped by our 7th-string wide receiver.

Keep that all in mind when you rehash this ballgame and call it a missed opportunity.

Also… missed opportunity for what exactly? For me, that was the strange part of this game. At 27-7 I sarcastically told my wife that my prediction had failed, because the Titans were unlikely to bag a pair of safeties to get them to 31 points. But my overall prediction seemed successful: we’d allowed 27 unanswered after our 7-point lead.

It was around this time that I started daydreaming about past Bears-Titans games that were happier than this one, and then started tweeting them with photos and GIFs and the hashtag #BetterBearsTitansMemoriesThanThis.

Fittingly, it was during this time that the Bears staked their comeback. Barkley connected on big plays to Deonte Thompson (WR #6), Daniel Brown (TE #4), Cameron Meredith (WR #4), Josh Bellamy (WR #7), and then a touchdown to Marquess Wilson (WR #5).

I say “fittingly” because the purpose of tweeting that stuff is:

  1. Making myself feel better, and…
  2. Hoping I’ll be wrong

I was HOPING the Bears made the comeback, even as I simultaneously recognized that it was better if we didn’t. My mind flipped back to our 1998 win over the Ravens, a completely improbable victory as the Bears broke a six-game losing streak to topple Baltimore 24-3.

We did so with backup quarterback Steve Stenstrom posting his highest full-game QB rating ever (100.6) and rookie running back James Allen rushing for what remained his career high of 163 yards with one touchdown.

That win was our 4th of the year in our 15th game; a loss the next week left us one of three 4-12 teams instead of one of four 3-13 teams, thus knocking us out of the top 4 (the expansion Browns had the #1 pick, and we owned the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker with the Colts).

If we’d picked at #4, would we have taken Champ Bailey, the guy Bears fans wanted at #7, our original slot? Would we have traded up with Philly at #3 to grab hometown quarterback Donovan McNabb? Can you imagine McNabb as the Bears starting QB in the Lovie era? Or hell, the 2001 Bears with McNabb facing down the Rams in the NFC title game?

Instead we ended up with the #7 pick, traded down to #12, and ended up with Cade McNown, his short-lived sadness blanketing Soldier Field...

All this was running through my mind as Matt Barkley led the Bears on consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, pulling us to within six points before forcing the Titans to punt.

“I can’t believe it,” I said to no one in particular. “We’re going to get the ball back with a chance to win.”

So yes, I knew what was at stake. All throughout that final drive I was thinking of Bailey, McNabb, and McNown. Or, more appropriately, Jabril Peppers and Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer.

But I didn’t care.

I wanted the win.

I can root for tanking six days of the week. But on the one day when tanking actually occurs, I can’t do it. I have to root for the Bears to win.

“NOOOOOO!” I shouted when the would-be game-winning touchdown bounced off of Josh Bellamy. “Oh my goodness, he was all alone.”

Three plays later, I groaned when a 2nd shoulda-woulda-coulda touchdown evaded Deonte Thompson on our final offensive play.

“Could have had that one too,” I said in despair.

The Titans knelt and the game was over. Beyond disappointment for Bellamy and Thompson, I was bummed for myself and all Bears fans who just want a win on Sundays. Later this week, I suspect I’ll view the Titans game as a W.

For now, 2-9 feels just as bad as it looks.