Only five games left... Only five games left... Only five games left... That’s what most Chicago Bears fans are telling themselves after Sunday’s ugly 31-10 loss on the road to the New York Jets. At (3-9) and the injuries mounting, the charm of a rebuilding team is starting to fade. Outside of their 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers back in Week 2, this might have been their ugliest game of the year.
The Bears entered Sunday’s game missing a host of young players, including quarterback Justin Fields, and their pair of second-round rookies in cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker. They exited the game missing two more key players with safety Eddie Jackson (foot) and receiver Darnell Mooney (ankle) both leaving the game early and almost immediately being ruled out.
With the injuries mounting quicker than their losses lately, this team is becoming harder to watch. So, what now? We’ll dive into all of that and more in this Week 10 Bears Takes.
1. For those who believed that veteran backup quarterback Trevor Siemian would operate a more successful offense than Fields... Welcome back to reality.
Although this narrative hasn’t been a common theme or even something that I would say a large number of fans share, it was something that I’ve seen mentioned far too often for my taste. Does Fields have his own warts as a passer? Absolutely. Does he still need development as a quarterback? Without question. With all that being said, many fans got a real taste of how bleak this season would be without Fields behind center.
Yes, Siemian is a veteran and more than qualified enough to be a backup on a playoff team. Even so, he’s a backup for a reason, and we saw that on Sunday. The former Northwestern product finished the game 14 of 25 for 179 passing yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Considering he had close to 120 passing yards at the end of the first quarter, his final three quarters were about as underwhelming as it gets.
Now, it’s worth noting that Siemian faced a top-end defense with one of the better front 7s in football. That’s one of the main reasons I wasn’t comfortable with Fields playing on Sunday. The multiple pre-game reports that Siemian would not be starting because of a strained oblique suffered during warmups made the situation more turbulent. Despite those events, the veteran ended up starting and, frankly, started off hot with multiple successful short throws. After the opening two drives, it went downhill, and it trended that way in a hurry.
Only time will tell if Fields can get back for Week 13’s matchup against the Packers, but if there’s another game with Siemian behind center, offensive expectations should understandably be tempered.
2. Each loss feels more like a win right now, and that shouldn’t be viewed as a negative.
“You play to win the game,” are the famous words of former NFL head coach Herm Edwards. Unfortunately for the Bears (and most rebuilding teams), wins are hard to come by, especially in Year 1 of an extensive teardown. Yet, the Bears find themselves at (3-9) with five games remaining and a real shot at a Top 5 pick... Or higher.
For me, I’m all about doing what is best for the future of the franchise. Yes, wins are nice, but you know what’s even nicer? An elite player or more bites at the apple in the early rounds. That’s the difference between where the Bears currently sit and where they could find themselves with another win or two.
I’m also not a believer in carrying over momentum from year-to-year. Especially when you’re talking about a rebuilding team that will likely see another (50%) or more in roster turnover this off-season. Yes, players in the locker room want to win. As fans, we should want to see wins too. With that being said, sometimes losses can be more important than an extra game or two in the standings, especially when a team is already eliminated from the division and sitting six games below .500 with less than a third of the season remaining. At this point, I’d say embrace the “tank” and hope for as high of a draft pick as possible.
3. Whether you’re rooting for wins or higher draft positioning, it feels like we’ve officially reached the “dead zone” in the season like I mentioned last week.
Injuries are mounting, and this team’s will appears to be wearing down. It’s completely expected after losing five in a row and many more to injury. Now, I want to be clear about something. I truly believe the Bears have done an outstanding job of “fighting” most of the season. They’ve been way closer in games than they should have been, which I do believe is a sign that this team has been well-coached, considering their overall lack of talent.
That said, it’s only normal to see teams eventually fade as the losses mount. That’s where it appears the Bears are. That doesn’t mean they won’t keep a few of their games close, but when looking at their upcoming schedule, it’s not hard to see a few more blowouts in their future.
Of their final five games, they’ll face the Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Buffalo Bills at home (with a bye week sandwiched in between). They’ll finish with a resurgent Detroit Lions team on the road and then back home against the first-place Minnesota Vikings (who might be fighting for the No. 1 seed in the NFC in Week 18). There’s a realistic scenario where the Bears might finish the season on a 10-game losing streak. They could surprise and win a game or two down the stretch.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine what this team’s psyche will be if they enter their final two games on an eight-game losing streak with a pair of blowouts fresh on their minds. I’m not saying that you should expect them to lose out the rest of the year but don’t underestimate how tough these next three games could be.
4. Speaking of losses, the injuries to Mooney and Jackson will be worth monitoring as the week goes on, but the initial news on Mooney is not positive.
Late on Thursday, the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero broke the news that the “fear” is that Mooney will miss the final five games of the season. Ian Rapoport later added that it appears that the third-year receiver will need surgery to repair multiple torn tendons.
Darnell Mooney likely needs season-ending surgery to repair torn ligaments, sources say. A tough end to the season for the promising receiver. https://t.co/OATNCIYQmb— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 28, 2022
Regardless of how you feel about these final five games, it’s a tough blow for both Mooney and this Bears’ offense. The former Tulane product has been Fields’ top target the past two seasons and would be sorely missed, even if it’s only for the final five games of the season.
On the defensive side of the ball, we’re still awaiting word on Jackson’s foot injury that he was immediately ruled out from in Sunday’s game. According to our very own Mason West (also of Team Rehabilitation in Barrington, Illinois), it appears Jackson dodged something more serious.
A foot sprain could knock out the Bears’ play-making safety for a few weeks, but it might not be season-ending.
Only time will tell how each injury impacts this team moving forward, but the only real positive moving forward is that both players should be good to go for Training Camp next August, which is what is more important moving forward.
5. With Mooney’s season expected to be over, it’s time for the Bears to see exactly what they have in receiver Chase Claypool.
For the first time this season, Claypool led the Bears in both receiving yards (51) and targets (5). That’s a positive sign for his involvement in this offense, even if the passing portion has been anemic for most of the season.
With Mooney likely being done for the year, Claypool’s emergence is needed. At some point soon, Fields will be back, and he’ll be without his top target. It’ll be up to players like Claypool, Cole Kmet, and maybe even N’Keal Harry to fill the void as an outside threat. This could also allow for more opportunities for third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr. moving forward. Claypool’s involvement has been minimal thus far, but now is the time. It’ll be interesting to see how big of an impact he has over these next five games and how beneficial it will prove to be heading into the 2023 season.
6. Speaking of seeing what they have in players, it’s time to see what Alex Leatherwood (among others) can do in these final five games.
Starting right tackle Riley Reiff left Week 12’s contest early with a shoulder injury. Former starting tackle Larry Borom stepped in and played OK. With that being said, we know that Reiff is 34 years old and not a part of the future, and Borom’s future is at swing tackle.
What we do not know is where the development of Leatherwood stands. The former 2021 first-round pick was a high-priority waiver wire claim for the team back in September. He’s been getting a feel for the Bears’ system and suffered a bump in the road when he missed four games with mono. Since that point, he’s back and healthy. He’s also taking valuable practice snaps and according to coaches is getting more comfortable. With five games left in the season and many needs along the offensive line heading into the off-season, it’s time to see what they have in the former first-round pick. While it’s unlikely that he could do enough to guarantee himself a starting spot for 2023, his status on next year’s final roster could be drastically helped with a few good showings.
Among other names that should see more chances down the stretch:
- Safety Elijah Hicks (2022 seventh-round pick)
- Interior Offensive Lineman Ja’Tyre Carter (2022 seventh-round pick)
- Linebacker DeMarquis Gates
Now is the time to see what you have in some of the unknowns on the roster. It doesn’t mean they all need to start for the rest of the year, but they should see meaningful snaps over the final five games of the season.
7. In our weekly 2023 NFL Draft update, there Bears are up to No. 2 overall after Sunday’s results.
The bad news? The Bears lost another game. The good news? Four different three-win teams won on Sunday, and the (3-7) Pittsburgh Steelers have a shot against the (4-5-1) Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
As it stands now, the Bears would be picking No. 2 overall. They currently sit as the highest of the four current three-win teams because they’ve played an extra game, which means they have an extra loss. The three other teams with the same amount of wins? The Los Angeles Rams (3-8), The Denver Broncos (3-8), and the Steelers (3-7).
What does this mean? It means that the worst the Bears would pick (if they didn’t win another game) is No. 5 overall. That could end up moving up one slot tonight, pending the results of the Steelers vs Colts game. This also means that barring some unfortunate collapses down the stretch, the Bears could win one of their final five games and still comfortably expect to pick somewhere in the Top 10. We are six weeks away from knowing exactly where the Bears will be selecting in the first round, but picking at No. 2 overall would guarantee them either an elite defender or quite the haul in a trade-down with a quarterback-needy team.
The future still appears to be very bright, and that’s something that Bears fans should not lose sight of in a tough season.
8. Two standouts on Sunday: Running back David Montgomery and Linebacker Jack Sanborn.
Offensively, the Bears had their first “tough day at the office” in well over a month. In most ways, that was expected. Especially when they faced a top-end defense with a backup quarterback. There wasn’t a whole lot to write home about, but Montgomery’s effort and overall performance are worth pointing out.
The fourth-year running back finished with 14 carries for 79 yards and averaged his best yards per carry on the season (5.6). He also added three catches for 34 yards and was the only skill position player to break 100 yards on the day.
Defensively, the undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin continues to stand out positively. In Sanborn’s fourth consecutive start, he led the team with 15 tackles and a tackle for loss. He’s not the biggest or fastest player on the field, but his instincts allow him to make up for most physical shortcomings he may have. He’s quickly carving out a role on the 2023 roster. That should be a worthy celebration for this first-year regime.
9. NFC North check-in: The Minnesota Vikings have run away and hid, and Aaron Rodgers’ season appears to be on borrowed time after admitting to a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
Just a week after their 40-3 blowout loss at home to the Dallas Cowboys, the Vikings bounced back with an impressive Thanksgiving performance against the New England Patriots. They’ve already eliminated the Bears from divisional contention and are close to clinching the division. They are just one game back of the Eagles for the first seed in the NFC. Philadelphia does hold the head-to-head tie-breaker, though.
The biggest news of the week? Rodgers finally admitted to having a broken thumb. According to multiple reports, he has refused in-season surgery but may ultimately need to fix it during the off-season. There will continue to be plenty of speculation about whether or not Rodgers’ season will eventually be cut short, especially once the Packers are officially eliminated from playoff contention. At (4-8), that time could be coming soon.
Finally, the Lions’ impressive run continues. All of that despite not getting the win on Thanksgiving against a very good Buffalo Bills team. They took the Bills down to the wire but ultimately could not get the job in a 28-25 defeat. They’ve had quite an impressive rebound after starting (1-6).
10. Week 13 look ahead: The Green Bay Packers in what has turned into a meaningless game (in the standings) for both teams before their Week 14 bye week.
At this point, both teams are probably just holding their breath and trying to get into their (shared) Week 14 bye week as healthy as possible. For the Bears, it hasn’t been an overly surprising season. For the Packers, it’s been an incredibly disappointing campaign and one that has a pretty bleak outlook when peaking into the immediate future.
Rodgers is clearly not healthy and is finally starting to show his age. He’ll also account for a $31.6 million cap hit in 2023. The bad news for Green Bay? His cap hits rise to $40.7 million in 2024 and $59.3 million in 2025. Due to the unique contract structure, Rodgers’ cap hits in 2023 and 2024 are fully guaranteed and would severely hamper them if he is not on the roster for either year. With just a projected $10 million (or so) in cap space for 2023, it’s hard to see how Green Bay is going to be able to improve much this next off-season.
It might be later on in the week until we find out if either starting quarterback will play on Sunday. If not, we could see another battle of the backups for a second-straight week.