Most may see the Chicago Bears' 25-20 loss and view their growing seven-game losing streak as the primary story on Sunday. For those who watched the game, it was hard not to come away impressed with the team's overall effort, even in another loss. Yes, it's frustrating to continually watch them lose games. Even so, they took the NFL's best team down to the wire and even held a lead for close to a quarter in the first half.
Injuries might end up being the bigger story in Week 15, but the Bears' overall effort and grit should not be overlooked. This was the type of culture-defining game that we might look back on in a year or two as being just as big as any win they had in 2022. Especially in a game where many (including myself) expected a blowout. The wins might not be coming as hoped, but the building blocks are there, and that should make fans feel good moving forward. With that in mind, let's dive into Week 15's 10 Bears takes.
1. It's usually best to avoid comparing and contrasting previous regimes. But at this point, it's easy to say that this game would not have stayed this close if this were 2021.
Rewinding to the off-season, there was a portion of the fanbase who believed that simply not having Matt Nagy as the head coach would be good enough for an improvement in their record. At the time, I remember cautioning people again that thought process because the two teams were nowhere near the same.
Rewinding a few months further from this past off-season and it's easy to see why many fans thought that way. The Bears were a poorly coached team, and at multiple points during the season, it appeared that they had given up early in games. Despite winning six games last year, they had eight losses in which they lost by 10 or more points. So far this year, three losses by two scores (or more).
Heading into the week, the Bears faced some of the longest odds of any team in Week 15. Yet, they kept it within a score for most of the game and ended up losing to the best team in the league by just five points. That's with multiple key starters out and many more injuries in-game. That's the identity of a well-coached team. Not only does this team not seem to doubt themselves, but they also play as hard as they can and believe they can win each game they play.
Now, that's a trait that is admirable during Year 1 of a rebuild but something that won't be viewed the same beyond this season. Considering none of us can see the future (that I know of), that's all we have to go off of. Establishing a culture in Year 1 is key. We've seen that fail to be the case with multiple first-year head coaches, even this season. Only time will tell how important this type of groundwork ends up being, but so far, there's nothing that has convinced me that the Bears aren't in good hands moving forward.
2. Quarterback Justin Fields didn't have his best game on Sunday, but with his current supporting cast deteriorating around him, these performances should be graded on a curve.
You can't expect great results when your young quarterback misses three of his top five targets and loses his best starting offensive linemen during the game. Especially when facing an elite defense that gets after the quarterback better than any team in the NFL. Those facts led to the second-year quarterback being sacked six times.
Despite that, Fields completed 14 of his 21 passes for 152 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also became just the third quarterback in NFL history to break the 1,000 rushing yards mark in a single season. On the day, Fields accounted for 247 total yards and two of their three touchdowns.
That doesn't mean Fields was perfect because he was far from it. He missed a few easy throws and looked rattled as a passer at multiple points in Sunday's game. Part of that was due to his receivers not getting open, and the relenting pressure, and part of that is proof that he has plenty of development left as a passer at the NFL level.
With all of that being said, it's extremely hard to evaluate a young quarterback who has arguably the worst supporting cast in the NFL. Fields has his faults that he needs to grow through, but he's also arguably done the most with the least. That should count for something. Don't expect things to get any easier next Saturday against the Buffalo Bills, either. For me, the biggest key over the last three games is keeping Fields healthy and productive. If he can do that, it would be hard not to feel very good heading into the off-season.
3. The Bears were a team lacking blue-chip talent coming into the season. Their injuries has done nothing but exacerbate the situation in recent weeks.
Any time you head into the regular season with $60 million-plus in dead cap space, it's going to be a long year. It's also going to be a season in which a team is under a massive overhaul, which the Bears obviously were. For the better part of the first 11 weeks, they had very good luck in the health department. Unfortunately, that has ended in a big way.
Heading into Sunday's game, the Bears were without three of their top five receivers. They were also missing their starting center and starting free safety, among others. Then the game happened... They lost Equanimeous St. Brown and Teven Jenkins in the first quarter. Then came linebacker Jack Sanborn. The injuries are mounting, and this team's talent is lacking.
Moving into the off-season, it's worth keeping this in mind. Yes, they obviously need plenty of front-line starters. They also need better depth. Some of that will come in the bargain portion in free agency, but most of that needs to come in the draft and undrafted free agency. Depth is hard to find, and cheap depth is invaluable. Keep this in mind during the latter parts of the upcoming off-season.
4. Teven Jenkins' injury was a scary one, but the initial news appears to be good.
A few drives into the game, the Bears' best offensive linemen went down in a heap. Immediately, it was clear that something was wrong. He lay motionless on the turf for close to 10 minutes before they finally loaded him onto a backboard and carted off the field.
Upon looking at the replay, it appeared to be a minor collision between Jenkins and a defensive lineman that ended in Jenkins crumping to the ground after continuing the play for a second or two. It was a scary scene, especially when considering Jenkins' past back issues that led him to miss the majority of his rookie year. Post-game, head coach Matt Eberflus called the initial news "encouraging" but that they would know more later in the week. The new regime has been well-known for not disclosing injury specifics until they need to, so the fact that Eberflus was a little more forthcoming is a good sign.
The second-year converted tackle has been the team's best offensive lineman this year and arguably, one of only two long-term pieces. His health is important, so having him ready to go for 2023 is the secondary concern, only to his long-term health as a person. Only time will tell if we'll see Jenkins again this season, but even if this is the end of his season, it was a great one.
5. Hats off to this entire coaching staff coming out of the bye week. This was the most prepared team coming out of a bye week we've seen since their last win in 2013.
A few years down the road, this will likely just be another loss coming out a bye week for us to track. It felt like something a little more than that at the moment. It was somewhat of a rough start on the first series. The Bears committed three penalties, including one on the opening kickoff. After that, they settled in and looked prepared. They played the best team in the league, yet led in time of possession, were (+2) in the turnover department, and had just 30 penalty yards. Overall, it was a quality performance against a team that was better than them in almost every department.
Only time will tell how this coaching staff continues to prepare their team coming off long breaks, but through two games this year (their "mini-bye week" before New England and now this), the results have been as encouraging as anything we've seen since the Mark Trestman era. More talent will help for sure, but as a whole, this coaching staff has been rated as a net-positive for me on the year. It feels like, more often than not, their getting the most out of a severely under-manned team. Add more talent to that mix, and the results should be considerably better. After all, this was their eighth one-score game of the season. Granted, they are (1-7) in those games, but if their luck flips there, things could turn around in a hurry.
6. Speaking of quality performances, the defense had their best showing in quite a few weeks. All of that, despite their alarming lack of proven talent.
Coming into Sunday's game, the Eagles had the best overall offense in the league. A big reason why? Their quarterback and MVP candidate, Jalen Hurts. Outside of the obvious storyline of hoping that the Bears see a similar Year 3 turnaround from Fields, many wondered how this defense would stop them. Before Sunday, the Bears were giving up an average of 34 points per game over their last six games.
Yet, the Bears' defense came away with three takeaways and gave up just 25 total points. In most games, that would have been enough to get the win. Unfortunately for them, they ran into an elite defense. They also simply ran out of time on Sunday. Despite that, it was an impressive day overall, especially for the secondary. With their pair of second-round rookies back in action, the secondary appeared much more active. Considering they didn't get much pressure on Hurts overall, their secondary play was even more impressive.
Jaylon Johnson looked like the guy he bills himself to be. Kyler Gordon might have had the best game of his NFL career. Jaylon Jones continues to impress as a boundary corner, and the safeties both played solid games as well. Make no mistake, the Bears have plenty of work to do on the defensive side of the ball. Even so, it feels like a better linebacker and a drastically improved defensive line could make a world of difference. Especially with a better, more consistent offense. This type of performance is also exactly why I refuse to label defensive coordinator Alan Williams anything without more talent to work with. This defense has an identity. Now it's time to add talent.
7. Three players continue to struggle, so what will these next three games tell about their future?
Third-round rookie Velus Jones Jr.'s trip out of the "dog house" might end up being short-lived. After being a healthy scratch in back-to-back weeks, Jones had a string of games where he wasn't impacting the team in a negative fashion. That ended on Sunday with a key fumble in the third quarter on an end-around. The rookie has yet to play (50%) of the team's snaps in any single game this year and lost his job as the primary punt returner. Couple that with this fumble, and it's hard to see a clear role for him moving forward over these final three games. It's also hard to see this regime counting on him as anything more than a depth piece moving into the 2023 off-season.
Kicker Cairo Santos' string of missed kicks also continued on Sunday. Yet, somehow his fifth missed extra point wasn't even the biggest cause for concern in Week 15. At one point, the Bears faced a third and way too long at their own 31-yard line. Instead of opting for a 48-yard field goal, they took a delay of game penalty and punted the ball. Later in the broadcast, they showed a replay of Santos basically "waiving off" his coaches when asked if he thought he could make the kick. Post-game, Eberflus was asked about a potential injury to the kicker. He quickly denied it, which has to make fans wonder why Santos would waive off a make-able kick. Was it the weather? Is it a mental hurdle he must clear? Santos, who was once a very reliable kicker, has become more of a liability lately. If cold weather is going to limit his already limited range, the Bears may be looking for a new kicker in the off-season.
Finally, the discussion on Cody Whitehair needs to grow. Not only is he set to be the second-highest-paid player on the roster, but he's been flat-out bad since returning from an injury. By my count, the veteran gave up three sacks on Sunday and has been the worst interior performer over the past few weeks. For as much grief as Sam Mustipher gets, the focus needs to be turned to Whitehair. At this point, I'm not sure how this team can justify keeping Whitehair and his $14.1 million cap hit in 2023. Cap space will not be an issue, and it might be worth eating $8.3 million in dead space in order to move on.
8. Week 15 draft positioning update: The Bears will lock in a Top 5 pick, assuming they don't go (2-1) or better, down the stretch.
It was a good week for the Bears in regard to draft positioning, and that alone is worth celebrating. They came into Week 15 with the No. 3 overall pick and one of only three teams with less than four wins. They'll leave this weekend with the No. 2 overall pick and the lone three-win team in the league.
Even better? There are only three traditional four-win teams and two of those teams will play each other (The Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos) in Week 16. That means that the worst the Bears can do with a (1-2) finish would be the fourth overall pick. Here's a look at the current Top 5 according to Tankathon.com.
- Houston Texans (1-12-1)
- Chicago Bears (3-11)
- Denver Broncos (4-10) Highest due to strength of schedule
- Arizona Cardinals (4-10)
- Los Angeles Rams (4-9) Set to play tonight against the Packers
Surprisingly enough, the Texans have taken a pair of 10-plus win teams down to the wire in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately for the Bears, they didn't win either game. With just three games remaining, it seems unlikely that the Texans will win two of their last three games.
As mentioned previously, the Broncos and Rams play each other next weekend. A tie would be the best-case scenario but is also the least-likely scenario. If a winner comes from that game, that team would move to five wins and would very likely find themselves out of the Top 5. Denver still has the Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers left on their schedule. The Rams have the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks. Neither team is likely to win a game in the final two, meaning it's a "pick 'em" of who you prefer to win next weekend. Ideally, it will be the Rams. The Detroit Lions hold that pick, which obviously would benefit an already-rising team. On the flip side, The Seahawks own the Broncos' pick and could very well take the top defender on the board if they finished in front of the Bears (assuming the Bears were to win another game).
The only team that feels destined to stay at four wins is the Cardinals. They could be down to the third-string quarterback Trace McSorely. They'll see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, and San Francisco 49ers. On paper, two of those games appear winnable but this looks like a team in shambles with big changes upcoming.
Long story short, the Bears are in an advantageous position moving into these final three games. If they lose out, they'll finish with no worse than the No. 2 overall pick. Even if they win a game, they'll finish no worse than No. 4 overall, due to the head-to-head matchup highlighted above. Things do get trickier if they find a way to win two of their final three games. Currently, there are four five-win teams. The good news? Each five-win team has a few winnable games down the stretch. It's also highly unlikely that the Bears find a way to win two of their last three games.
The most ideal draft situation remains them going winless down the stretch. But even with a win, maybe two, they will assuredly still be picking in the top 10, even as high as the Top 6 or 7. So, if you're about to start your mock drafts, you can confidently place them high in each round.
9. NFC North Check-in: The Minnesota Vikings making history, and the Detroit Lions are somehow one of the hottest teams in football?
We'll have to leave the Green Bay Packers off this list for now because they don't play until tonight. Even so, they appear to be in a distant third at this point in the division race. They'll be fighting for their playoff lives tonight with the slimmest of hopes hanging in the balance.
Let's talk about the Vikings. They found themselves down 33-0 at halftime on Saturday afternoon. I fell asleep, woke up, and it was 36-21. At that point, the game at least had my attention. A few crazy plays later, and it was 36-36, and the game was headed for overtime. Despite many, including myself, rooting for a different type of history (the Indianapolis Colts being the first team in NFL history to have two ties in the same season), the Vikings created history of their own with a game-winning field goal in the final minutes of overtime. Let's be honest. The Vikings have been one of the luckiest teams in recent memory. Of their double-digit one-score games, they've lost just one time. That said, what they did on Saturday was far from luck. It was improbable. It was chaos, and ultimately, it was history.
Finally, the Lions. If you want to talk about one of the more impressive turnarounds in the NFL this year, Detroit must be at the top of that list. Despite starting off (1-6), they've now gone (6-1) and find themselves back in the playoff mix at (7-7). Much like the Vikings, they've found themselves winning games in some of the most improbable ways. I've long been a doubter of head coach Dan Campbell, but it's hard to argue with the results. What was once viewed as the worst division in football has, at worst, become a very interesting one down the stretch this year.
10. Week 16 look ahead: The (11-3) Buffalo Bills.
From one high-powered offense featuring an MVP candidate to another in back-to-back weeks. That's what the Bears will be dealing with on a relatively short week this Saturday. Despite having their struggles earlier this year, the Bills seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. They'll feature a great offense with a top-notch defense.
At least on paper, this appears to be a slightly better matchup for the Bears. The Bills' offensive line is not nearly the caliber of Philadelphia's. Their defense is also not nearly as rough on opposing quarterbacks. Regardless, it's another "impossible" feeling matchup in which the Bears will have to play damn near perfectly to keep close.
If there's one thing we've learned about this team throughout the year, it's that they will not lack in the effort department. The Bears are a tough out for anybody, and it appears the league has taken notice. With all of that in mind, it's going to be tough for this team to end their long losing streak on Saturday afternoon.