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10 Bears Takes: Another black eye on the tenure of Matt Eberflus, rookie class recap, and more

Despite dominating for 56 minutes on Sunday against the NFC North leading Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears once again found a way to lose a football game in the most crushing way possible. What’s left to “learn” about this team over the final six games that is worth not making a change?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears might have reached a new low on Sunday afternoon. We’ve seen this team lose many games since this new regime took over. We’ve watched them blow all sorts of leads, including a 21-point third-quarter lead to a (then) winless Denver Broncos team. Yet, somehow, blowing a 12-point lead with under four minutes left to go in a game they had thoroughly dominated for 56 minutes seems to take the cake.

For all but four minutes, the Bears looked like the better team. They came out and took the lead on the opening drive of the game. They forced four turnovers and were shutting down one of the league’s best offenses with relative ease. There were many bright spots, including getting their starting quarterback back after a four-game absence. In the end, none of it mattered, though. The Bears did what they knew how to do, and that was to find the most painful ways to lose a football game. So, what now? We’ll dive into all of that and more in Week Eleven’s 10 Bears Takes.

1. In four minutes, Week 11 went from being this regime’s most impressive win to their most disastrous loss.

I can’t be the only one who couldn’t believe what I was watching over the first 56 minutes of football, right? Things started off with a bang. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy scripted a great drive that led to seven points, and things appeared to be headed in the right direction. They did lose the lead going into halftime, but they quickly grabbed it back once they were finally able to capitalize on a turnover midway through the third quarter.

For the most part, the defense did an excellent job against a high-octane offense. They kept quarterback Jared Goff honest and forced three interceptions. Offensively, things weren’t always pretty, but the creativity showed, and they were successful enough.

Yet, this coaching staff’s tendency to make self-inflicted mistakes returned to bite them. What could have been this regime’s most impressive win, quickly became the worst loss they’ve taken in 28 games, all due to execution and a conservative philosophy. There’s never a singular moment that will get a coaching staff fired, but there are moments to point back to when all is said and done. Losing one game in historically bad fashion is one thing; losing two in the same season is a trend. With only six games remaining, time is running out on this group, but this is one of those games that fans will not soon forget. What should have been quickly became what never was.

2. When you coach not to lose, you only have yourself to blame. What more needs to be seen from this coaching staff to know that they should not return in 2024?

Conservative-minded head coaches are becoming more uncommon by the year, and for good reason. Unlike in the 90s and early 2000s, there’s a bevy of information available via analytics to give coaching staffs information that they did not use to have. From what I’ve noticed, defensive-minded head coaches still have a tendency to play it safe, especially in winning situations. That’s exactly what we’ve continued to see from Eberflus and company despite the results not being favorable.

Sure, the defense needs to execute better. Sure, there are a few plays in each game, and if they go the right way, a team will win the game. Yet, Eberflus’ tendencies are the issues that seem to shine the brightest when looking at many of these close losses. Here are a few decisions that stood out to me that ended up factoring into the final score.

  1. The choice to kick a field goal on fourth and one from the Detroit 23-yard line.
  2. The decision to run the ball with Roschon Johnson on third and eight from Detroit’s 23-yard line.
  3. Running the ball up the gut on second and 10 from their own 25-yard line, after Herbert was swallowed up for no gain on first down. One first down would have ended the game.

Sure, the Bears went for it on fourth down twice on Sunday. Both of those decisions did not come in critical spots, though. Settling for field goals with an athletic quarterback and multiple speedy receivers doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. Mailing in a drive (up nine points) with a third down and long run is another decision that doesn’t scream “winning football” to me. None of this even begins to address how many tough spots they’ve put their young quarterback in by taking him completely out of rhythm due to the conservative playcalling.

The Bears were (3-7) going into that game. Eberflus and this coaching staff had won a combined six games through their first 27 tries. This group has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yet, when things really mattered, Eberflus proved yet again that they were not willing to go for the kill. Regardless of how many wins they have, that’s an issue in the modern-day NFL.

At this point, I’m not sure what else general manager Ryan Poles needs to see. They can preach how “close” they believe that they are, but the results through 28 games have told a different story. Coming close to winning games is not a moral victory. It’s still a loss. Those losses are adding up, and things aren’t improving in the most important aspect of the game: The win column. This is the second double-digit lead the Bears have blown in the fourth quarter this year. They had a few last year as well.

Exiting Week 5, the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, and Bears all had the same record at (1-4). Heading into Week 12, the Vikings are (6-5) with a backup quarterback and without their best receiver, the Broncos at (5-5) riding a five-game winning streak, and the Bears are sitting at (3-8). Coaching matters, and one of these three has failed to turn things around despite a more favorable schedule.

My question (with six games remaining) is this: How can a team “learn to win” if their head coach is actively putting them further away from that goal? I’ve preached patience with Poles because of the situation he came into. They tore this thing down to the studs and have slowly built it back up. The results of 2022 should be taken with the proper context. How 2023 has played out through 11 games should not be remotely acceptable for anyone at Halas Hall, though. If Poles’ support remains as strong as his words to the media after the trade deadline, it might be time to re-evaluate whether or not he’s the right general manager for the job.

While I don’t expect a move to be made in-season, if the McCaskey family cared as much about winning as they claimed, Eberflus would be out the door no later than the team’s Week 13 bye week. We’ve seen more than enough to know that this isn’t working, and they don’t need to play out the string of these final six games to arrive at the only conclusion that should be reached in January.

Changes are needed at Halas Hall, and frankly, the best place to start would be by breaking their franchise-long tradition of not firing a head coach in-season. The ball is in your court, George. It’s time to keep making changes until this organization can figure out how to get back to being the successful charter franchise they should pride themselves on being.

3. Quarterback Justin Fields’ return was almost storybook-worthy, but a late fumble will tarnish a rather good day for the third-year quarterback.

Considering Fields had missed the last four games due to a dislocated thumb, I thought he played well against one of the best teams in the league. Sure, he had a few misses throughout the game and took a bad sack earlier in the second half, but he played confidently and gave this offense a needed spark.

Yet, the primary thing that most will remember from his performance was the game-sealing fumble on the final offensive play of the game. Aidan Hutchinson had been relatively quiet for most of the game but beat rookie right tackle Darnell Wright off the edge for a strip sack. It was an unfortunate end to an overall good performance in which Fields was 16-of-23 for 169 passing yards and a touchdown. He also added 104 yards on the ground and had the offense playing with some pop in his first game back.

Fields will have a chance to change the narrative over the final six games. While the coaching staff’s future should have already been decided, the third-year quarterback once again showed why the decision to “give up” on him this off-season would be a tough decision. I still believe that the deck is stacked against him, though. Assuming there’s a new coaching staff in place for 2024, that would be Fields’ fourth offense in five years. It’s also looking increasingly likely that the Bears will hold a Top 2 pick, which could lead to a selection of one of the two top quarterbacks (Caleb Williams or Drake Maye). There’s a lot out of Fields’ control, but playing well over this final stretch of games can only lead to the best-case scenario for his career, even if that means being traded to an organization that can actually develop a quarterback by putting him in consistent positions to succeed.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Chargers Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

4. The rookie class had a good day at the office on Sunday. Through all the bad, there’s been enough good to feel optimistic about the future of this roster.

There were plenty of flashes from the Bears’ young core of players on Sunday, including a few from this year’s draft class.

Darnell Wright had a good game, outside of a holding penalty, and the game-ending sack. Tyrique Stevenson forced a pair of turnovers, including a first-half interception. Gervon Dexter Sr. continues to get pressure on the quarterback and flash in a growing role. Kyler Gordon had some issues against Amon-Ra St. Brown but has had a strong season when healthy. Braxton Jones continues to surprise as a fifth-round left tackle. Jack Sanborn had a sack and continues to flourish as a role player.

All in all, the Bears have plenty of young players to be excited about. That’s not even counting guys like T.J. Edwards, Montez Sweat, Cole Kmet, and Jaylon Johnson who are just hitting their athletic primes. A better coaching staff should be able to maximize the current talent much better next season.

5. The “Extend Cairo Santos” campaign should be in full effect after another impressive performance on Sunday.

What more is there to say about the Bears’ kicker? He’s been excellent in his second stint with the team. His new-found leg strength has only added to his already immense value. We don’t have to range back too far in history to remember what it’s like to have an unreliable kicker.

On the season, Santos is 19-of-20. He’s a perfect 5-of-5 from 50-plus and has only missed one extra point on the year. His 95% field goal percentage currently ranks sixth in the league. He was a perfect 4-of-4 on Sunday while draining another 53-yarder.

Considering his $1 million in voided salary that would already count against the team in 2024, an extension at market value (five years, $20 (or so) million), his cap hit wouldn’t really impact the team moving forward. Kickers rarely get extended in-season, but outside of Johnson, this should be one of Poles’ top priorities before the Bears hit free agency in March.

6. The rash of injuries at the quarterback position has been alarming. Ultimately, it’s not good for the league but will provide for many new teams in the playoffs come January.

The running list of starting quarterbacks that have been lost to season-ending injuries has not been great. It started with Aaron Rodgers tearing his Achilles on the first drive of the game and has not stopped there.

Kirk Cousins also tore his Achilles. Fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson had season-ending shoulder surgery. Daniel Jones missed a few games before coming back to tear his ACL. Deshaun Watson was in and out this year and then had season-ending shoulder surgery. The latest casualty was Joe Burrow, who was lost for the year due to a wrist injury.

For those counting at home, that’s six starting quarterbacks lost, and we aren’t even out of Week 11. Because of that, the playoff picture has drastically changed. With teams like the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals on the outside looking in, it has opened up opportunities for teams like the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and Denver Broncos.

The NFC playoff picture appears to be a little more clear. The six teams with winning records hold commanding leads, while the NFC South features a trio of teams that are all within a game of each other. Barring a complete collapse from a team like the Minnesota Vikings, the NFC Wild Card picture looks all but set with seven weeks remaining. Now we just have to hope that the season-ending injuries to starting quarterbacks are over for the year.

7. Week 11’s draft order update: The Carolina Panthers continue to lose, while the New York Giants pull off an impressive win at FedEx Field.

Data courtesy of www.tankathon.com

The race for the Top two picks continues to shape up after Week 11. The Panthers took one off the chin against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, keeping them firmly in the No. 1 overall slot. The Arizona Cardinals had a hard-fought game against the streaking Houston Texans but came up short on the final drive of the game. New England had their bye week, but the New York Giants pulled out a surprising win on the road against the Washington Commanders. The Patriots and Giants will face off in a pivotal Week 12 game in New York.

The Panthers will face a struggling Tennessee Titans team, who all of a sudden look like a minor threat for one of the Top 2 picks. Washington has been a mixed bag, but they have a pair of winnable games remaining against the Los Angeles Rams and New York Jets. Speaking of the Rams, they pulled off a late-game upset over the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll face the Cardinals in Week 12.

All in all, it was a strong week for the Bears’ prospects of landing the No. 1 overall pick. Your rooting guide for Week 12 is as follows: Titans (over Panthers), Patriots (over Giants), and Cardinals (over Rams). That would give the Panthers a two-game lead going into the final six weeks of the season for the top pick. That would all but take the Titans out of the race for a top pick and would get them closer to being out of the mix for a Top 5 pick, too.

8. NFC North Lookaround: A mixed bag of results.

Week 11 was a good one for two of the teams in the NFC North. The Lions knocked off the Bears to improve to (8-2) after their 31-26 victory. The Green Bay Packers remain alive (but barely breathing) in the NFC Wild Card race after an impressive 23-20 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers. Quarterback Jordan Love out-dueled Justin Herbert and came away with his first-ever 300-yard passing effort at the NFL level.

The Minnesota Vikings’ five game win streak is over after falling 21-20 to the Denver Broncos at Mile High on Sunday Night Football. It’d still be quite an impressive turnaround from their (1-4) start. That turnaround started against the Bears in Week 6, despite losing star receiver Justin Jefferson for six games and Cousins for the year.

The Lions and Packers will square off on Thanksgiving, and the Bears will head to Minnesota to face the Vikings on Monday night football (more on that, next). The Lions appear to be in firm control of the division, but the Vikings aren’t going away quite yet.

9. Week 12 look ahead: The (7-4) Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.

Despite losing Cousins for the season, quarterback Joshua Dobbs has the Vikings playing good football. They’ll host the Bears on Monday night in what should be the Bears’ final Prime Time game of the 2023 season.

Jefferson could return after missing the last six games due to a hamstring injury. If so, that’ll give the Vikings a nice one-two punch with Jefferson and rookie Jordan Addison at receiver. More than anything, the Bears must find a way to keep Fields protected. Danielle Hunter has been a thorn in the Bears’ side during the majority of his time in Minnesota. Defensive coordinator (and top head coaching candidate) Brian Flores has this defense playing at a very high level.

Both teams will have bye weeks following this game. While I don’t expect it to happen, I do wonder if a coaching change could follow with the Bears having 13 days in between games. Either way, Chicago is running out of race track to turn this season around, and Minnesota won’t be an easy test to pass.

10. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Hope you get to enjoy some quality time with family and a mental break away from this football team.

It seems like each year the holidays come and go faster and faster. I’ve learned to enjoy the time spent with family, as well as the time off of work. I hope that all of you are able to spend some quality time with loved ones and enjoy some extended time off of work. For those who have recently lost a loved one, my thoughts are with you. While the holidays can be a great time for most, it can also be an increasingly tough time for those who are missing those who are no longer around. If you have the time and the means to do so, please try and invite some friends who might not have anyone to spend the holiday with. As always, I hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend.

I’m extremely thankful for all of your viewership and support over the years. Enjoy the last full week of college football and an extended slate for the NFL!