It's another world at this point, but three weeks ago there was a measure of renewed optimism at Halas Hall for the Bears.
Yes, Chicago sat at an underwhelming 3-5 going into the bye week, which isn't normally acceptable by regular standards by any means. Yet the defense had enjoyed an unprecedented dominant run of late through October, doing things such as allowing but one passing touchdown in four games. A unit firing on all cylinders, playing with a renewed and needed swagger.
Mitchell Trubisky, for all of his faults, was putting the team in position to win and making the occasional flash plays like a jump pass against the Ravens to assist the Bears in being competitive. For all of the rampant and deserved talk concerning John Fox's job and for as much as the Bears were still sitting in a lame duck season, you could see growth and improved results to a degree.
After being summarily kicked around in three straight weeks following the bye, how naive these thoughts now seem in retrospect. Top that 0-3 stretch with a beyond lethargic performance against the NFC-leading Eagles on the road and the only proper question now is: how is Fox still here?
It's one thing to lose soundly against the best team in the NFL. That's expected. The Bears were two touchdown underdogs to the Eagles in Las Vegas. Falling 31-3 is not shocking in any sense. It's another altogether when player morale is so low that your team eases up on the gas and stops competing, otherwise known as quitting.
There's no other reasonable way besides quitting to describe the Bears offense either attaining a penalty on the return before or first play of four of their first five possessions of the game. Taking lazy, undisciplined penalties before any one has a chance to take a breath. That's a lack of focus. That's players subconsciously throwing in the towel.
Then there's not getting an offensive first down until the seventh possession - halfway through the third quarter. Regardless of the juggernaut sitting on the other side of the field, to not even string together 10 yards on three consecutive plays speaks to a lack of cohesion and chemistry for a team ripping apart at the seams.
Defensively, if not for Akiem Hicks showing no ill effects of a knee injury suffered last week while blowing up the Eagles' first possession with two tackles for loss, you'd be remiss to appreciate their effort as well. That output was best exemplified individually by allowing allowing Philadelphia runner LeGarrette Blount to get 22 yards - on a 1st and 20. Mailing it in even when you have the opponent behind the eight ball.
Any words the Bears have after performances such as this, mean nothing and have no substance. As much as Hicks will try to pick up the team up being the leader he is, these are the same messages reverberating for quite awhile around the lake front.
"I told the guys after the game, there is nothing really to say after a game like this other than, ‘Go home, look yourself in the mirror and be better than you were today,'" said Hicks.
That's easy to say from Hicks' perspective. To look in the mirror. Because that's what the Bears have been doing for three seasons. Professionals control what they can control. That's not how morale works, however. Human nature is to ease up when you don't fight for a cause you believe in. How the Bears played against the Eagles is how a team plays when it knows there's nothing to gain, or at least believes there's nothing to gain. When players know the coach, meaning Fox, is a dead man walking.
Quitting, as Fox does himself all too often, is the example he sets for his players after all. Contrast the Eagles' Doug Pedersen to Fox for a cringe-worthy comparison in that light.
Philadelphia, up 17-0 late in the second quarter, went for it on fourth down at midfield: a conversion on an eventual touchdown drive. The Bears, down by 24 early in the third quarter, were content to settle for a field goal at the Eagles 20-yard line: going for "respectability" rather than continuing to battle out, regardless of the result. One coach playing to win. Another playing out the string.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, Fox still believes his Bears will fight to the bitter end of 2017.
“They’re professionals. We all are. I don’t really buy-in to the “buy-in” part of that. These guys will continue to compete. They always have and they will going forward," said Fox.
Diving onto a grenade is much easier when you deem your sacrifice worth it. The 3-8 Bears have nothing to sacrifice for - aside from their pride - which is inherently overrated for a team heading for another meaningless December.
Of course, the Bears' problems don't all lie with Fox. There are true talent deficiencies in places on this roster such as on the defensive edge or at receiver. Ryan Pace is going to have a grueling off-season ahead of him to make this team a contender. It's almost certain he's going to spout how "fired up he is" at Chicago's season-ending press conference when this nightmare is mercifully over, with a new head coach in charge. And there will sit another spring of hope, of spending well in free agency and finally getting over the hump.
But actions speak louder than words. How can anyone trust Pace's diatribe of change when he'll let his roster sit in purgatory that's already checked out with a coach like Fox at his wit's end? When he would leave them susceptible to a tired mantra?
Selling "respectability" to the organization becomes difficult when your words don't back up your actions. This is a general manager that said the Bears "will never be in this position again" regarding the team picking in the top-three of last year's draft. Or that the team had to take advantage of "top-five cap space." Months later, here the Bears sit with another chance at a top-five pick in April and a putrid free agent class with few impact players. Needless to say, that correlation for Pace does equal causation with Fox.
The players know Fox is done. The coaching staff surrounding Fox knows he's done. Fox himself knows he's a goner, any of his public words to the contrary are merely an indignant attempt to save face.
So why prolong the inevitable? Fox has done nothing to show he's earned the trust of handling any of Chicago's bright young players and their development. He hasn't earned the right to handle them for five more games, potentially inflicting irreversible damage. If meaningful development is going to happen down the stretch as a springboard for 2018, it's not going to happen with Fox.
The only reason Fox is still here is some long-standing charter franchise tradition of keeping a coach until the end. Marc Trestman survived after driving Halas Hall into the ground and the Bears are still recuperating from his mess. They're now at risk of making the same exact mistake with Fox, if it isn't already too late. You know where long-standing tradition gets you? Sustained irrelevance, not excellence.
There are many that want to compare the Los Angeles Rams' cutting ties with Jeff Fisher to help save Jared Goff. Well, even those Rams had the gall to fire a toxic coach mid-season and prevent any more damage than need be done. A flexing of actual leadership the Bears could never dream of. You don't get to juxtapose those two situations when the Rams already made the competent move in advance.
Now, Los Angeles sits atop the NFC West as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, while the Bears are on their typical low perch of ambivalence and ineptitude, perennially confused as to why they haven't turned it all around. An endless cycle of self-inflicted masochism.
So it's fitting that the Bears' team charter broke down on the tarmac in Philadelphia on Sunday, as they were forced to dwell in their humiliation against the Eagles. With Fox still in tow, it was a symbol of a franchise held down by it's own inexplicable decisions waiting forever waiting to take off.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.