First-and-10: Pace of Bears rebuild takes a hit after loss to 49ers

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The Bears 3-9 season has come to this. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

Tarik Cohen’s incredible 61-yard punt return for a touchdown was a near-perfect metaphor for the way the Bears do business — desperately, haphazardly, almost mindlessly retreating after an immediate breakdown of a best-laid plan they spent weeks preparing to execute; almost certainly doomed to an embarrassing failure; and hoping for a 100-1 shot to escape the predicament.

That Cohen somehow turned garbage into gold is where the metaphor likely will break down. The rookie running back beat the odds with an athletic move so fortuitous and so unlikely, even Cohen knows he should never try it again. “They won’t coach me ever to retreat like that ever,” he said. “Sometimes it happens.”

After Sunday’s 15-14 loss to the 1-10 49ers, the Bears’ chances of pulling a Tarik Cohen seem lower than ever since general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox were hired in 2015. Duplicating the Rams’ template still lives, but confidence is not very high after a loss that exposed the Bears on so many levels — player evaluation, player development and basic strategy.


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Who knows when we’ll hear from Pace again, but the loss to the 49ers surely settled the matter of a coaching change after this season, if not before. Fox, whose reputation as a winner was built on players playing for him, just doesn’t elicit the over-achieving performances from his players that he once did. And the 49ers showed Pace just how poorly offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has played a bad hand. With no better talent than the Bears, the 49ers’ 21st-ranked offense gained 388 yards against the Bears’ 12th-ranked defense with a quarterback who had been in their offense for four weeks and was making his third NFL start — mostly by getting average NFL receivers open. What a concept.

The pressure is on Pace — whose biggest mark with the Bears is in making bold, resolute moves — to right this still-listing ship. The biggest Bears critics are right: firing the coach won’t be enough to do it. Pace needs to not only hire the right guy, but improve his batting average and slugging percentage to stay out of the line of fire. At this point, it might take a Cohen-like move to do it.

2.How bad was the Bears’ offense Sunday? Let’s put it this way: The Bears gained just 147 yards (4.1 yards per play) against the 28th-ranked defense in the NFL. That’s the fewest yards against a bottom-five defense in more than 15 years — since Dec. 1, 2002, when the Cardinals gained just 122 yards (with Jake Plummer and Josh McCown at quarterback) against the 32nd-ranked Chiefs defense in a 49-0 loss at Arrowhead Stadium.

3.Though Pace has rebuilt and upgraded the roster, the Bears still are falling behind the pack. Of the 10 teams with the worst records in Pace’s first two seasons (2015-16), seven are either currently in the playoffs or in position to make it: the Jaguars (8-4), Rams (9-3), Titans (8-4), Ravens (7-5), Eagles (10-2) and Saints (9-3) are in. The Chargers (6-6) are tied for first place in the AFC West.

Only the Bears, Browns and 49ers are out of the playoff hunt. And the 49ers, even at 2-10, look a lot further along than the Bears with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.

4.Even worse, the Bears are losing ground in the NFC North. The biggest indictment: The Vikings, who had all sorts of offensive line issues last season, revamped their line on the fly — a new starter at every position — and have jumped from 23rd in sacks allowed last season to second; and from 28th in total offense to fifth with Case Keenum at quarterback.

The Bears, meanwhile, are spinning their wheels with an offensive line that has little continuity and no consistency.

5.Fun Fact: With Georgia and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker winning the SEC championship, the Bears’ hierarchy that helped create this mess has won 12 titles since Tucker was fired by the Bears:

GM Phil Emery — NFC championship, NFC South (scout with the Falcons)

Coach Marc Trestman — Grey Cup, CFL East (coach of the Argonauts)

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker — NCAA title, SEC, SEC West (secondary coach at Alabama); SEC, SEC East (defensive coordinator at Georgia)

Special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis — Super Bowl 50, AFC championship, AFC West (special-teams coordinator with the Broncos).

And offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer is the offensive line coach with the surging Rams, who lead the NFC West and are the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

6.The 49ers did not score a touchdown against the Bears, but Garoppolo looked pretty impressive in his debut. The 49ers came in ranked last in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage on the road (20-of-77, 26.0 percent). But they were 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) against the Bears.

Even Garoppolo’s incompletions were impressive. On two occasions, he nearly had completions in throw-away situations — including a Joe Montana-to-Dwight Clark throw to tight end George Kittle in the end zone in the second quarter. Even his interception was an accurate throw to Louis Murphy that cornerback Kyle Fuller took out of Murphy’s hands.

7.You know things are bad when the best thing about Chicago in December is the weather. With the Bulls’ loss to the Cavaliers on Monday night, Chicago’s professional teams went a full week without a victory. Since last Tuesday, the Bulls (0-4), Hawks (0-2-2) and Bears (0-1) are a combined 0-9, with six consecutive losses by one point/goal prior to the Hawks’ 3-1 loss to the Kings on Sunday night.

8.The List — Fewest playoff appearances since the end of the Mike Ditka era in 1992 (among teams that have been in the league since then): Bears 5, Redskins 5, Raiders 5, Rams 5, Cardinals 5.

9.Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week Award: Robbie Gould kicked five field goals — basically five extra points, the longest was 35 yards — to beat the Bears 15-14. Gould is 26-for-28 (92.9 percent) on field goals this season and 36-for-38 (94.7 percent) since being cut by the Bears.

10.Bear-ometer: 4-12 — at Bengals (L); at Lions (L); vs. Browns (W); at Vikings (L).

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.


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