According to OptaStats, the Chicago Bears are the first team in NFL history to score at least 29 points in three consecutive games and lose all three. That’s where we’re at as we inch toward the final third of the NFL regular season. After Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Bears fell to (3-7). Do wins and losses mean a whole lot when your second-year quarterback continues to rise to stardom? That’s a question each fan must ask themselves individually.
The good news? The offense is scoring points at a clip many could have only dreamed of coming into the season. The bad news? This defense might be worse than we saw in 2013 in Marc Trestman’s final year. Welcome to Year 1 of the rebuild! This team is unpredictable, and yet, it’s the most exciting team we’ve seen since 2018. With that, let’s dive into our weekly 10 takes.
1. Quarterback Justin Fields continues to change games, and that should excite Bears fans.
It’s been four straight games where Fields simply looks like he’s turned a corner and is not looking back. Over that span, Fields is 59 of 92 (64%) for 620 passing yards, 467 rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns, and just two interceptions.
Yes, you’d like to see the second-year quarterback throwing the ball more and, in return, throwing for more yards. The reality is this is the offense they are running right now, and as time goes on, things will change and hopefully get better. Even so, Fields is averaging 272 total yards and three touchdowns per game.
I know it can’t be just me when I say that watching the Bears has not been this fun in quite some time. The main reason? Their young quarterback is routinely making multiple “wow” plays a game.
Fields is still growing, and over time, he’ll start to throw the ball more. Once that happens, he’ll find more success in the passing game, but even right now, he’s been one of the more electrifying players in the NFL. Not just quarterback. Not just an offensive player. He’s been one of the better players in the NFL over the past month of the season.
He’s far from a finished product and still has plenty to improve on, but considering the lack of talent he’s surrounded by, this type of jump over the past four games is incredibly impressive.
2. I firmly believe this new coaching staff has maximized the minimal talent on this roster, but their in-game coaching needs to improve.
The Bears are devoid of talent, and we all know that. I firmly believe this coaching staff has done a quality job of leaching every bit of talent out of this current group. That alone should make fans feel good about the future of this coaching staff.
With that in mind, their in-game decision-making needs to improve greatly. Far too often this year, we’ve seen a conservative approach. It’s more understandable earlier in the year. They were trying to figure out their personnel, and ultimately, they were still in “contention.” At (3-7), they are no longer in contention. The tendency of coaching not to lose needs to take a back seat. Take some chances. There’s no need to go into a shell offensively when you’re up 14 points, and there’s an entire quarter and a half to be played. While I understand Eberflus is a defensive coach by trade, this defense cannot be trusted.
At some point soon, it would be nice to see more aggression. Allow Fields to throw the ball more. Step on the team’s throats when you have a lead. Those types of actions can create a more aggressive philosophy, and ultimately, that’s what you need in today’s NFL.
3. The Bears are rebuilding. They’ll undoubtedly have a high draft slot in next April’s draft. Yet, I’m still convinced that these types of losses equate to a net positive when the year comes to an end and we’re reviewing the season.
Losses to contending teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, and Minnesota Vikings are understandable. Even if they are by one score in most of those cases. In a rebuilding year, you’ll win some games you’re not supposed to. It happens. What is harder to swallow is losing to an inferior team, especially in a game where you dominate the majority of the game and carry a 14-point lead midway into the third quarter.
Does that mean these are the types of losses that will cause players to “tune out” or turn impending free agents away? Absolutely not. There’s still a human element to this game, and the reality is the Bears should be winning games like the one they lost on Sunday.
We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but these are the types of losses that will stick with players through the off-season. Even if there’s no real impact long-term, it would also be nice to see the offense complete a game-winning drive or the defense to come up with a game-ending stop. That’s part of the development and growth of a winning football team, too.
4. Speaking of draft position. Only time will tell how this game impacts each team in the long term. But this is the type of game that will surely impact each team’s draft status and draft plans come April.
On the surface, you never want to put too much value into any one game. Right? Usually, I would agree. Yet, as the season winds down and draft positioning starts to shape up, these are the types of games that fans will look back on for years to come. Want a good example? Look no further than the Bears’ win against the San Francisco 49ers back in 2016. That win ended up as the final difference between the Bears picking No. 3 versus No. 2 (where the 49ers picked). Although former general manager Ryan Pace did not have to give up the world to move up one spot for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, he did have to give up something, and that’s worth noting.
For now, this Bears’ loss pushed them “up” the draft boards by three spots. It also launched the Lions from Top 5 to No. 11 overall. Had the results been reversed, the Bears would currently be slotted in at No. 16 overall, and the Lions would have been No. 2. Some of this will resolve in the coming weeks with bye weeks yet to come, but one close game can change a team’s entire draft outlook. That’s something worth keeping in mind moving forward over these final seven games of the regular season.
5. Want a positive development (outside of Fields)? Look no further than undrafted free agent Jack Sanborn’s performance on Sunday.
It’s been two games since the Bears traded away linebacker Roquan Smith. Last Sunday’s performance (across the board) was lackluster, but even so, Sanborn had moments where he flashed. Sanborn was arguably the best defender on the field this Sunday for the Bears.
That’s quite an impressive feat, considering the undrafted free agent is starting just the second game of his NFL career. Sanborn finished the game as the team’s leading tackler with 12. He also had a pair of sacks, two tackles for loss, and what should have been an interception but was called back on a non-existent “illegal hands to the face” call against cornerback Jaylon Johnson.
Is it time to pencil in Sanborn as the team’s 2023 Week 1 Mike linebacker? Not quite, but these are the types of developmental stories the Bears need more of. These cheap finds are the unsung heroes of most successful rebuilds. Needless to say, the former Wisconsin product is off to a good start.
6. Speaking of this defense, don’t be surprised if general manager Ryan Poles makes this defensive line a top priority during the off-season.
Objectively, this might be the worst defensive line in the NFL. That’s a wild thing to even think about after multiple years of having one of the league’s best front 7s, right? Unfortunately, that’s where the Bears are at. Especially after trading away Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, plus letting go of Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, and Eddie Goldman.
Forecasting to March and April, there are going to be some free-agent options on the interior, but the most likely scenario for any top-end edge rushers will have to come through the draft. Either way, I’d fully expect that both Poles and Eberflus will push hard to get some immediate fixes with this group. For the time being, it makes it much harder to evaluate anything going on in the secondary.
7. Although it has been a rare occurrence throughout his second tenure in Chicago, kicker Cairo Santos’ missed extra point ended up being a big “miss” on Sunday.
I’ve highlighted Santos’ reliability and positive impact on this team many times over the past few years. While I fully expect that to become a reality again, Santos’ third missed extra point on the year came at a costly time. I’ve re-watched the replay a few times and still can’t understand what happened. He either slipped or simply just pulled it hard to the left. Either way, these are the types of mistakes that make the difference between wins and losses for a rebuilding team. Hopefully, for Santos’ sake, he can redeem himself in short order.
8. The Bears’ logjam at receiver will be interesting to monitor moving forward. Especially considering how many of them will be free agents in seven games.
First was third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. as a healthy scratch last week. In Week 10, it was N’Keal Harry, whom the team traded a future seventh-round pick for during the off-season. This is a symptom of a team that is trying to figure out its best five (or six) receivers every week. It’s also something that is not a bad thing at this point in the season.
Matchups will dictate who is up and down weekly, but it’s clear that the Bears are still searching for an answer along the depth chart at this position. It’s also interesting because this is a team that has four impending free agents coming up this off-season. Byron Pringle, Dante Pettis, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Harry will all be unrestricted free agents in seven games. Pettis has carved out a clear role as the punt returner and quality route runner. St. Brown is an excellent blocker and knows this offense inside and out. Pringle’s re-emergence leaves out a guy like Harry, who has done his best work as a big slot. Jones Jr.’s value relies upon special teams, and considering he has lost the trust of the coaching staff, he has a long uphill climb ahead for playing time.
How these next seven games unfold will be interesting. It will also be telling of their plans to re-sign any of their upcoming free-agent receivers due to hit the open market.
9. The NFC North’s landscape is taking shape. As the Minnesota Vikings appear to be running away with the division, the Bears fell to last place on Sunday. The biggest story may end up being where the Green Bay Packers wind up, though.
The Vikings’ improbable season continues after they squeaked out another close win against the Juggernaut Buffalo Bills on Sunday to move to (8-1). They currently hold a (4.5) game lead within the division and are primed for their first division title since the 2017 season.
The real “battle” comes down between the final three teams in the division. The Packers ended their five-game losing streak with an impressive win in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions beat the Bears, which means all three teams are separated by a single game. Yet, somehow it feels like the Packers are the only team in the division with an outside shot at a playoff spot. The good news for the Bears? It’s looking increasingly likely that they’ll have the top draft selection within the NFC North. The bad news? Many fans will be holding their collective breath over the next few weeks hoping that the Packers don’t come back to life and continue the nightmare that has plagued this fan base.
10. Week 11 opponent look-ahead: The (4-5) Atlanta Falcons.
Much like the Bears, the Falcons are in the middle of a rebuild. They traded away quarterback Matt Ryan in the off-season and took on a large amount of dead cap space because of it. They’ve also been extremely inconsistent on a game-to-game basis, even though they are still in the NFC South divisional race.
The Falcons are giving up a league-high (280.1) passing yards per game on the season. They’ve also given up exactly 25 points per game, which is sixth worst in the NFL. On paper, this appears to be a spot where the Bears can once again score a lot of points, and hopefully, they can break the 200-yard passing mark.