Ironically enough, for the third time in the last four seasons, the Chicago Bears sit at 3-5 at the midway point of the season. A startling but mere coincidence. This third time in 2017, the charm, feels eerily and welcomingly different.
On the first occasion, it was the beginning of the end of the beyond humiliating Marc Trestman era, as Chicago headed into it's bye week following a 53-21 drubbing by the Patriots. That entire season is remembered as one of the worst in franchise history for good reason. The disastrous middle of the season punctuated by blowouts suffered at the hands of New England and the rival Packers immediately after the break were emblems of it's failure.
Two years ago, at the start of the John Fox era, matters started to be more stabilized. The Bears weren't necessarily good in 2015, but they were respectable. That season was more about shaking out the last drips of a shell of a previously somewhat successful core led by Matt Forte and Jay Cutler. Chicago was an upstart maximizing it's mostly mediocre talent en route to a 6-10 record.
Fast forward to the present after a month of Mike Glennon as quarterback in September that most everyone will want to wipe from their memory forever, and here the Bears sit at a fascinating launch point. An October dominated by a budding elite defense (four total touchdowns allowed, just one passing touchdown surrendered in the last four games) has Chicago sitting uncharacteristically pretty with a dramatically easier schedule on the way for the second half of 2017.
There were some missed opportunities to better an under .500 record, no doubt (hello Atlanta, Minnesota, and New Orleans) but it doesn't change the fact that this Bears core is on the precipice of something special. And not necessarily this season, rather the near future. The extended six-year playoff drought and general indifference to consistent playoff contention feels like it's about to come to an end.
In the first of this lengthy Bears bye week series, the Windy City Gridiron staff and I take stock of Chicago's 2017 season at the break, wondering what it means for the future, going through what's surprised us, and more. Throughout, I'll elaborate fully on each topic and then the rest of the team will share their thoughts.
The first question? Our feelings about where this Chicago team stands in the current moment.
After eight games, where do you stand on the 2017 Bears right now? How do you feel about them? (Playoffs, rebuild, etc.)
I've railed against Fox at length around these parts. I've been vehemently outspoken against the veteran coach being the man to take the Bears back to the top of the mountain. I still believe he isn't going to accomplish that, nor receive the chance to do so. However, I would be remiss if I didn't give Fox credit for ultimately doing what he was hired to do, as much as he might have had higher aspirations. Quite the turn of events, I know.
Bridge quarterbacks, in my mind, don't exist. That's a myth in football in the mold of icing the kicker actually working mind games or always adhering to picking the best player available in the draft.
Bridge coaches i.e. veteran types to stabilize the locker room and help set up a contender platform for a real modern leader to take over after a few years, do exist. Fox, for all of his faults in in-game management, failing to meticulously have his team prepared for every detail, and stubbornly sticking to a "Fox-ball" conservative offense, has absolutely helped craft the bridge for the Bears to jump to championship contention.
The 2017 Bears are a mostly competitive team not only because of Ryan Pace's roster acquisitions over the past few years such as Akiem Hicks, Jordan Howard, and Leonard Floyd. It's also because Fox has done his part in helping develop a lot of this bright defensive talent and stabilize this team as a whole.
I won't fully count them out, but this is a young Chicago squad that ultimately will miss this postseason barring a lot of help and miracles down the stretch. This is also a Chicago team, though, that's learning how to win, play together, and build chemistry for a coming very bright window. Write it down, believe it.
For one, it's been incredibly heartening to see the defense dominate of late.
The wait for competence on that side of the ball has been excruciatingly painful, but here they are, flexing their muscles on the league in the mold of the 2005 and 2006 Bears again. With hardly any juggernauts of quarterbacks left on the schedule besides Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, this uptick in defensive play is here to stay. It's not a newfound short lived trend. It's momentum to build upon for the next few seasons as well.
Offensively, as difficult as it's been to watch without putting your hands over your eyes, there are bright spots with the future of the franchise.
For all of his rookie inconsistencies and being held back by limited offensive coaching as well as a lack of help, Mitchell Trubisky still flashes in the face of adversity. There are intangibles and natural ability galore here. Learning by trial by fire while refining his game in the face of live bullets is serving the 23-year-old very well. No one can predict whether he'll surely make the leap, but signs of that happening are quite encouraging.
Simply put, the rebuild is reaching it's conclusion. The long night is almost over. As optimistic as it sounds, as everyone has been burned badly before thinking this: a new Chicago football tradition at Soldier Field is about to begin. One of a stadium full of seats in January regularly, and indeed, perhaps an occasional appearance at a neutral site in February. With expected upgrades and a jump from Trubisky, I expect the Bears to be quite fun and very, very good - all starting in 2018.
Fox isn't going to be around for that success. But he needs to be at least somewhat appreciated for setting it up.
Lester Wiltfong Jr.
This is still a rebuilding year, even if the team finds some way to get past .500. I'm happy as long as the young players continue to improve.
They might finally be turning out of the rebuild. We're seeing some younger playmakers emerge (Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson, Jordan Howard, and Floyd) and have some hope for more (Trubisky, Eddie Goldman, and Cody Whitehair could bust out of his slump). With a couple more pieces and a new, innovative coach, this team might be onto something.
I love where the defense is, but our lack of talent on offense is both glaring and something that needs to be addressed in wholesale this off-season.
The Bears are in a rebuild that is taking too long given the length of players' careers and the reality of the NFL and the new collective bargaining agreement. The 2017 Bears are not a disappointment, because this is where most of us thought they would be. However, if this is the best that they can be this year, then the current front office has squandered opportunity.
I feel decent, except that the Saints game made me feel hideous. I don't think we're a playoff team but we're not far off. My biggest questions are about the coaching staff, not the players, other than the obvious abyss at wide receiver.
There's still a lot of work to be done before we can consider these Bears to be playoff contenders. However, they're much better than they were last season. Their defense has been very good, from their front seven to their surprisingly steady secondary. The offense isn't nearly as good, though. The ground game is solid, but the passing attack needs improvement. Because of that, I'd say that they're still in a rebuilding phase, one that is almost complete.
I think they are at the tail-end of the rebuilding phase. They have a nice, young core of talent which is starting to play well as a team. The future is bright, they just aren't ready for prime time yet.
Exciting rebuild. I'll be honest, going into the Saints game, I was starting to let myself feel some playoff hope. But I knew everything would have to go right. That game was a reminder that everything rarely goes right. This defense has been as good as I hoped, Howard has proven his rookie season wasn't a mirage, and Trubisky has shown he has the talent and attitude to grow into a terrific NFL quarterback. This is the most exciting it's been to be a Bears fan in a long time.
WCG Contributors: Jeff Berckes; Patti Curl; Kev H; Sam Householder; Jacob Infante;Andrew Link; Ken Mitchell; Steven Schweickert; Jack Silverstein; EJ Snyder; Lester Wiltfong, Jr.; Robert Zeglinski; Like us on Facebook.