If anyone is still counting, the Chicago Bears are up to six losses in a row. Should this alarm anybody? No. Is it getting old? I guess that depends on each individual fan. With that being said, this season is starting to drag on, and not even the excitement of quarterback Justin Fields can help that at this stage.
Despite leading for most of the game, the Bears again found a way to fall apart late and did not have the needed offensive firepower (or defensive prowess) to notch their first win in six weeks. It's become a story as old as time. An Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers team beat the Bears. In some ways, things felt the same. Yet, somehow it feels like we are finally seeing the end of an era that has lasted an eternity.
Following the 28-17 final score, both teams head into their Week 14 bye. The Packers are still clinging onto slim playoff hopes, while the Bears and their fans are just wondering how high they'll pick in April's draft. Although it doesn't feel like the losing will stop any time soon, we'll once again dive into dissecting their Week 13 loss and what we can expect over the final four games in our weekly install of 10 Bears takes.
1. Despite leading for most of the game, the Bears once again find a way to lose a game. It has become a common occurrence in 2022.
For the majority of the year, the Bears have remained competitive. All of this, despite them being overmatched in the talent department by almost every single one of their opponents. The issue? They are (2-7) in single-digit-deficit games. What's even worse? All of those seven losses have come in consecutive situations. Despite starting out the season with a pair of wins in these types of games.
While I wouldn't call it troubling, it's frustrating for sure. I strongly believe that young teams (especially those in rebuilds) must learn to win over time. Where my opinion differs is the importance of wins in Year 1 of an extensive tear-down and rebuild. Yes, it would be nice (in theory) to see them win more games. But I also don't believe that if they don't win games, they'll somehow ruin the foundation that they are currently building.
Why? You might ask. Well, the answer is simple. The Bears will have a lot of turnover again this upcoming off-season. That turnover won't just come in the way of roster depth. It's safe to assume that the Bears could turn over close to half of their overall starters on both sides of the ball. That means there could be as many as 11 new starters in total. Accounting for minor free agent signings and Day 3 draft picks, there's a very good chance that we'll once again see close to a (50%) roster turnover rate overall. This is why I don't believe "learning to win" in 2022 is quite as important as some seem to believe.
With that all being said, they need to improve on their "close game" margins. Most of that should come with better talent, and the only way they can acquire better talent is to do that in the off-season. With well over $100 million in (expected) effective cap space and high picks in each round, that should help with the positive turnover.
2. Speaking only for myself, I've officially seen "enough" to know that quarterback Justin Fields will be a good NFL quarterback.
Up until the fourth quarter, it could be argued that the second-year quarterback was having his best game as a passer. Not only did Fields set a season-high in passing yards (254), but he also set a career-high (80%) completion rate. That included a completion streak that reached 11 passes.
Fields also posted his second-highest QBR of the season and has now had six straight games with a completion rate over (60%). His lone touchdown came as a rusher, but his poise and overall composure in the pocket might have been his best of the season. I guess that's what happens when you only get hit twice and don't see a single sack. He also posted a 17% CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expected) and a 10.4 ADOT (Average Depth of Target).
The reality (for me) is quite simple. Yes, Fields needs to continue to improve as a passer. Maybe he's more "fun" than "great" right now, but he's turning into a quality quarterback in front of our eyes, and his ceiling is still immense. Does that mean he'll ever be a Top 3 quarterback? Maybe not. What it does mean is that he still has plenty of room to grow and is doing a lot with minimal talent around him. I still maintain that general manager Ryan Poles did him no favors this past off-season, but as most good quarterbacks do, he has risen above the lack of talent and elevated the entire offense around him.
With a productive off-season and more talent around him (especially in the trenches), we should see a sizable Year 3 jump that could compare to the likes of Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovialoa.
3. I'm not saying the Bears' coaching staff was intentionally "tanking" during the second half, but there were many questionable decisions and play calls in the second half.
For the most part, I've been pretty impressed with this coaching staff and how they've handled having one of the league's worst rosters. The Bears have consistently played hard this year and frankly, have stayed in games they should have been in. With that being said, what the hell was that second-half play calling?
The Bears had a first and goal from the 9-yard line. After a penalty, it became a first and goal from the 19-yard line. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy opted to run the ball twice in a row, then called a yard-eating pass play. The Bears settled for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Later in the game, they were up 19-17 and just had a big 48-yard bomb from Fields to N'Keal Harry. They were stuck in a 2nd and 12 at the Packers' 30-yard line. Getsy opted to run the ball twice and settle for another field goal on fourth and four from Green Bay's 22. The issue? The field goal was blocked, and Green Bay took the lead on the next drive.
Before the final two drives of the game, the Bears had thrown the ball just seven times in the second half. All while up a maximum of nine points. Again, I understand not wanting to make mistakes, but at that point, Fields had just two incompletions on the day and looked outstanding as a passer.
Settling for field goals in close games and running the ball in scoring situations is something I'll never understand. Again, I won't go as far as to say they were purposefully "tanking," but it sure felt and looked that way.
4. Yes, the Bears once again lost to the Packers, but in some ways, it feels like a changing of the guard in the NFC North is afoot.
Yes, I am aware that Rodgers was far from healthy for Sunday's game. I'm also fully aware that the Packers are in the midst of a down year for the first time in half a decade. Even so, this team looks beatable, and Rodgers looks human. Mainly because he's finally aging. In many ways, it feels like there's light at the end of the tunnel. The Packers are tight against the cap for years to come, and any exit from Rodgers over the next three seasons would incur large cap implications.
Only time will tell how it all plays out, but considering how well both the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions are playing and how optimistic fans should feel about the Bears' rebuild, the Packers could soon be the forgotten team in an up and coming division. That alone is worth celebrating, or at least waiting with bated breath to see how it plays out.
5. On first review, right tackle Alex Leatherwood had a quality 2022 debut in his rotational role.
Despite veteran Riley Reiff being named the team's honorary captain for Week 13 and starting at right tackle, the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders first-round pick was still able to make his 2022 regular season debut. Considering how far out the Bears are "out" of things at this juncture and Reiff's age, getting a strong look at Leatherwood is key.
At least in my broadcast review of the game, it appeared that Leatherwood had a few nice blocks and didn't have many mistakes. The All-22 will tell a better story, but if I were on the offensive coaching staff (or even Poles), I would be dead-set on starting Leatherwood over the final four games to see what you've got in the former top pick.
The Bears took a decent financial gamble when they claimed Leatherwood earlier this year. They took on the rest of his fully guaranteed rookie contract ($5.904 million over the next three years) with the benefit of holding the rights to his fifth-year option in 2025 if things pan out. There's still a strong chance the Bears will add at least one starting-caliber offensive tackle this off-season but knowing who Leatherwood is (or can be) would be a great benefit for this team moving forward.
6. Despite the Bears missing four of their five Week 1 starters in the secondary, the young guys impressed against a quality offense.
Before the game, I tweeted this out.
Do I regret it? Absolutely not. I truly believed Rodgers would pick this defense apart, and for the most part, Fields outplayed the 39-year-old veteran. Considering how impressive journeyman Mike White looked against this same defense last week, most of us had expected the worst.
To our (pleasant) surprise, this group of young, inexperienced defensive backs played pretty damn well. Jaylon Jones highlighted this young group of primarily undrafted free agents. His play on the outside was admirable and a sign that he could be a long-term depth piece. Josh Blackwell (one of the team's six initial waiver wire claims) also played well in the slot.
Rookie safeties A.J. Thomas and Elijah Hicks also held their own, which was a pleasant surprise. Although they did not out-shine veteran DeAndre Houston-Carson, this defense was able to keep most big plays to a minimum and most throws in front of them. That's an impressive accomplishment against a top-end quarterback, especially when the defensive line didn't have a single quarterback hit on Rodgers on the day.
It's far too early to say whether or not any of these guys can play themselves into starting roles, but this could go a long way in carving out roster spots for themselves in 2023 and beyond. In any rebuild, these types of developments are key.
7. Their Week 14 bye week will be a welcomed sight for all involved. With that being said, what awaits them in the final four games of the season is going to say a lot about the character of this team.
I'm just going to say that a Week 14 bye is way too late in the season for any team to endure. For the second-straight year, the Bears have been a victim of some weird scheduling quirks. The Bears have been marred by injuries over the past few weeks. Despite being one of the healthier teams in the league for the first 10 (or so) weeks of the season, their luck appears to have run out. They've placed several key players on season-ending injured reserve over the past two games. We'll have to see if any more emerge from Sunday's game.
The bad news? Their schedule does not ease up heading into Week 15. In fact, it's the hardest remaining schedule of any team in the league and is all but guaranteed to lock the Bears into the toughest strength of schedule for the entire 2022 NFL regular season. So much for that "easy" schedule most of us had assumed back in August, huh?
Starting in Week 15, here are their four remaining games:
Week 15: Vs Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
Week 16: Vs Buffalo Bills (9-3)
Week 17: At Detroit Lions (5-7)
Week 18: Vs Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
For those hoping they "tank" the rest of the season, it might happen regardless of how hard they try. Their only saving grace might end up being the Vikings resting their starters on the final week of the season if they have nothing to play for. The Lions are winners of three of their last four and gave the Bills all they could handle on Thanksgiving. In other words, good luck to the Bears.
For those who have been closely following along with the Bears' current draft positioning, this was both a good and bad week in that regard.
The good news? Multiple four-win teams won. The bad news? The two other remaining three-win teams both blew leads in the final 40 seconds of their respective games. That leads us to an interesting discussion over the final five weeks of the season.
First, I'd like to prepare everybody now. There's a very strong chance that both the Rams (Vs the red-hot Las Vegas Raiders) and the Broncos (Vs the Kansas City Chiefs) will jump the Bears in the draft "rankings" due to a lesser strength of schedule and the same records. It is worth noting that the Rams and Broncos will indeed play each other in Week 16, which means good things for the Bears.
Here's a quick breakdown of where things stand heading into the season's final five games.
3-win teams (remaining schedule): *Due to the head-to-head matchup between the Rams and Broncos, the Bears would finish no worse than No. 3 overall if they lose out*
Broncos: Vs Chiefs (9-3), Vs Arizona Cardinals (4-8), At Rams (3-9), At Chiefs (9-3), Vs Chargers (6-6)
True 4-win teams (remaining schedule): *This would only come into play if the Bears win one of their final four games down the stretch*
Cardinals: Vs Patriots (6-6), At Broncos (3-9), Vs Buccaneers (5-6), At Falcons (5-8), At San Francisco 49ers (8-4)
As you can see with the four-win teams, there's a high chance that even if the Bears win another game this season, they'll still end up with a Top 5 pick (either No. 4 or No. 5) due to each 4-win team's remaining schedule.
So, while I would not classify the Bears winning another game as a "disaster," it does appear to be in their best long-term interest to keep their win total as low as possible heading into the off-season. The difference between No. 2 or No. 3 overall and No. 5 overall could be massive—especially when factoring in possible trade-down scenarios to grab more current and future draft capital.
9. NFC North check-in: The Minnesota Vikings continue to win and don't look now, but it appears that the Detroit Lions have turned the corner under Dan Campbell.
Despite the Vikings having the worst team DVOA of any (10-2) team in the history of the league, they are firmly in the mix for the first seed in the NFC heading into the final five weeks of the season. They took a big lead against the Jets but almost gave it up at the end (twice!).
The biggest story right now? The charging Campbells... I mean, the Lions. Winners of three of their last four, all of the sudden, the (5-7) Lions are back in the mix for a playoff spot. Granted, they are on the outside looking in, but they are there, and that's a big story considering how bad they've been as of late.
The Packers are barely hanging on, but at this point, it would take multiple collapses and an all-out miracle for them to find their way into the playoffs this season. More than anything, it'll be interesting to see if they shut down Rodgers once they are mathematically eliminated from the playoff race.
The entire identity of the NFC North appears to be changing, and all we can hope is that the Bears are back in the mix for the 2023 regular season.
10. Week 14 look ahead: Enjoy the bye week.
For the first time this season, Bears fans finally get to enjoy a week without Bears football. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of bye weeks, but I think I speak for most when I say that it's time for a short break. We'll all miss football when it's gone, but this has not been easy on the eyes over the past few weeks. Low expectations or not, this year has gone from entertaining with a dash of fun to "is it the off-season yet?" in a hurry.