Here’s where expectations are with the Bears now: Anything other than back-to-back victories against the Jets and Bills will be a major disappointment.
OK, it’s not the highest bar. It’s not as if we’re asking the Bears to solve poverty. But given all the bad football we’ve been forced to watch — I’m referring to four consecutive seasons of 10 friggin’ losses or more — it’s progress.
So two victories, please, against the beaten-up Jets and their up-and-down rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold, and the Bills and their struggling rookie quarterback, Josh Allen, if he even plays.
And, while we’re at it, two good games by Mitch Trubisky, who hasn’t been the picture of consistency, either.
Are we building the Bears up so we can knock them down if they lose? No. Consecutive victories and a 5-3 record is a reasonable expectation, and if, against reason, they should lose either game, they’ll rightly find themselves on the business end of a public beatdown by their fan base.
That’s a good thing, if you tilt your head a certain way. It means that coach Matt Nagy has gotten the Bears to a place where victory is starting to be demanded.
These aren’t cross-your-fingers games, the way it was for so long around here. These should be sure wins.
It’s why Nagy can (and should) hold outside linebacker Khalil Mack out of the Jets game Sunday at Soldier Field and not end up paying for it. Mack hasn’t been himself since injuring his right ankle against the Dolphins on Oct. 14. And the Bears have been a different team with a hobbled Mack, picking up only one sack since then in back-to-back losses.
Better that he rests and gets healthy than for his injury to linger and the defense to be a weaker version of itself in the second half of the season. Darnold is coming off a three-interception game against the Vikings, so there should be opportunities for the Bears’ defense even if Mack doesn’t play.
You might have noticed that all five of us who make weekly predictions for the Sun-Times picked the Bears to beat the Jets. That should have sent a shiver through Halas Hall and anywhere else that houses dreams of a victory. To some, that group confidence carried an unmistakable, unfortunate message: trap game!
Maybe it is. Maybe the Bears are about to be ambushed in their own building. But the real message in all those predictions — and in the Bears being seven-point favorites — is simple: Come on, this is what big-boy teams do. Time to send a lesser opponent packing. It’s what the Patriots did against the Bears last week. New England won by seven points, but despite that semi-close margin, there was never a sense that the Bears were the better team. It’s why the Patriots are the Patriots.
These next two games are for the Bears to be that big-boy team. For Trubisky to be consistently good as a passer. For Nagy to figure out a way to get more out of running back Jordan Howard, who has been underutilized. For somebody to sack the quarterback, especially against the Bills, who are tied for third in sacks allowed in the NFL. For the defense to remember how to tackle, which has nothing to do with whether Mack is healthy or not.
And for special teams to knock it off with the catastrophic engine failure.
The heavy lifting comes in the second half, with two games each against the Vikings and Lions, one against the Packers and a game Dec. 9 against the Rams, at this point the best team in the league.
Somewhere, the Bears are blanching at the very idea of this column. You can almost hear them insisting that anybody can beat anybody else in the NFL. They probably have “Any Given Sunday’’ on a continuous loop. Yeah, well, sorry. ESPN gives the Bears a 76.2 percent chance of beating the Jets and a 69.6 percent chance of beating the Bills in Buffalo a week from Sunday. All that with the Bears coming off a two-game losing streak.
“You’ve got to be prepared to [go through] peaks and valleys,’’ Nagy said last week. “We’re in a valley right now. So we’ve got to get out of the valley.”
It helps to have friends in low places.
This isn’t about strutting. The Bears aren’t there yet. Nobody should be planning another “Super Bowl Shuffle’’ video anytime soon. The next two games are about taking care of business.
If the Bears are the team they think they are, they’ll handle their next two opponents. If they aren’t, there’s a good chance they’re the team that lost in consecutive weeks to the Dolphins and Patriots, not the team that won three in a row before that. That won’t go over well in a city that has seen too much losing the last four years. Especially with the second half bearing down with malice.