A close 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions seems to be the expectation for a depth-ridden Chicago Bears team. Inspire a faux rally and fight to the bitter end. Never give up. Believe in each other and good things will happen. Think of other football cliches and they apply.
Surely, these close defeats will mean more in the coming months and years. They’ll be the springboard towards desired success. At least, that’s what John Fox’s Bears want you to believe. They’re this close. It’s who the Bears are. They’ve always been this close. They’re always on the right track even if it doesn’t seem like it in the present.
“Our record doesn’t indicate some of the positive things. When you dig a little bit deeper, I think you do see some positives,” said a confident Fox in the lead-up to Sunday’s game in Detroit.
Despite every untimely and undisciplined penalty in a paltry 11-flag, 139-yard display or more specifically - holding calls on Chicago’s final drive - they’re close. Despite a lack of rhythm in offensive play calling - such as forgetting your best offensive player in Jordan Howard, still existing - they’re close.
Moral victories will only take you so far in the NFL, because this is what a team full of un-drafted talent and lower-end depth chart guys should look like. Moral victories will only take you so far, because they won’t take you anywhere.
Is it as much Fox inspiring and galvanizing the team, as these guys just playing for their own livelihood? A team attempting to prove itself with scrappy guys is supposed to play this way. There would be deeper rooted problems within the organization if players less than heralded weren’t giving their best regardless of the status of their head coach.
They might not be here in the future, after all.
“There’s no issue of effort or wanting to win. You can really see the fire and the drive is there,” said newest Bears quarterback legend, Matt Barkley.
Play hard, but ultimately fall in the end. Give it the old college try.
Barkley did his best even as his receivers dropped catchable balls (see: Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, etc.). Or, offensive lineman after offensive lineman negating big throws with holding penalties (Example: Charles Leno Jr., Ted Larsen). Barkley’s an example of one those guys playing his way into a job next year, even if no one is quite sure what it is yet - or if anyone on the roster is actually willing to help him out with more cohesion.
Count cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc among that group too. Two young and former un-drafted free agents creating the two biggest plays in a topsy-turvy fourth quarter on Sunday.
First, was Callahan’s deflection on a pass from Matthew Stafford intended for Golden Tate with the Lions in the red zone that led to a Demontre Hurst interception - the Bears’ first takeaway in a month. Then, LeBlanc topped his companion with a pick-six to give Chicago the late lead with approximately seven minutes to go. The Bears’ first pick-six since Ryan Mundy had one in Week 3 of the 2014 season.
Sound the alarms.
The belief was validated, for a moment.
Players like Barkley showing out, and by greater extension - Callahan and LeBlanc - are what you want to see from individual development in a stretch run the Bears will tell you means everything. Rookies such as running back Jordan Howard and center Cody Whitehair accomplish the same objective of hope. Of at least presenting the idea the roster is improving, even while the Bears flounder. Because that’s true.
Much of the talent to count on is on defense, as it in particular again played quite well too, even while shorthanded in spots. A testament to a staff Chicago would be wise to keep.
Led by the prized rookie, Leonard Floyd - who had nine quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus - a vicious front seven chased around Stafford all afternoon, pressuring him and generally keeping him uncomfortable. But they couldn’t finish every time.
You saw it with Stafford scrambling out of the pocket on various occasions creating plays out of nothing even while Bears defenders flashed in his face. Whether it’s a long 48-yard back breaking bomb to Marvin Jones while flushed, or the game-winning touchdown run in by Stafford capping another loss as seemingly every defender missed a makable tackle.
An effort characterized by dominance at times, but not closing - the perfect metaphor for the Fox Bears. So close, yet so far. Positivity to build on, if that’s your preference, but not much else. This is what bad teams do. They lose winnable games. This is what 3-10 teams do.
“When everybody is playing at an elite level in this league, you have to be elite to win too,” said Barkley of the Bears’ failure, ultimately.
Even if the margin seems close, many a game is decided by a few key plays, or really, those who can slam the door shut. These Bears don’t do that consistently.
Now, there’s a less than enviable list to count on organization-wide.
With the loss, Fox is now guaranteed to have less wins than his much-maligned predecessor, Marc Trestman.
The Bears of that era brought about some of the worst football this franchise has ever seen in two seasons. Now, with the man in Fox that was supposed to transform fortunes and offer stability, they will have actually won less games than those dark ages in the same time frame.
Injuries or not, 9-20 through 29 games, is what you first see.
To continue the ringer, Chicago now has it’s third consecutive double-digit loss season, and while a mere formality at this point, will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. The Bears are also 0-7 on the road, with the potential to go winless away from Soldier Field with one more opportunity against the Minnesota Vikings.
If you’re wondering, the last time these commendable marks were attained, was in the halcyon days of the late 90’s and 70’s. Back in the days of other revered football minds many fans will surely appreciate and look back on with great candor - mostly of regret.
Yes, it’s been a long time since there’s been relevant January football on the lakefront.
Maybe the ever-positive Fox is the man to bring the Bears back to glory yet.
Maybe these first two seasons mired by injury, and a lack of continuity and victory, will soon be forgotten in a haze, as the Bears laugh it away with champagne.
But maybe not.
The former sentiment is just what Fox’s Bears operate on. You heard of this resolve after a supposed statement win against Green Bay last year on Thanksgiving. A 5-6 Chicago team was thinking playoffs should matters have bounced their way. The Bears would go a meek 1-4 to close the season.
After a 2-6 start and a controlled explosion win over the Vikings on a Monday night in 2016, the Bears were also supposed to go on another run. Similarly, they’re just 1-4 since, with likely more damage to come.
Each crescendo of the Fox era, met with a crashing halt after.
“Effort’s not an area we’re deficient in,” said Fox of his team’s continued fight.
Indeed, these scrappy Bears are scratching and clawing their way towards something tangible, yet still to no avail. Does it mean anything?
Those in charge at Halas Hall will determine that notion.
What does have meaning is a Bears team beginning to brim with promising talent, but without much stacked wins, potentially giving the Halas Hall higher-ups the best and only message they need.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.