After their 34-17 loss to the Lions on Thursday at Ford Field, the Bears are 5-7 and almost certain to miss the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons since playing in the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
It remains to be seen if that cumulative disappointment resonates at Halas Hall. The Bears are one of 24 NFL teams to play in the Super Bowl since the 1985 Bears won it all. Of those 24 teams, all but three have made the playoffs at least twice in the following eight seasons — the 2002 Raiders (0), the 1994 Chargers (1) and the 1988 Bengals (1).
The Bears are almost certain to become the fourth. And while Marc Trestman has only partially contributed to the Bears’ post-Super Bowl XLI demise, the Bears’ second-year head coach has to hustle to avoid a dubious distinction: Only five of the 170 coaching hires in the NFL since 1990 have taken a step backward in each of his first two seasons without making the playoffs — winning fewer games than his predecessor the first year and even fewer than that the second year.
Trestman inherited a 10-6 team from Lovie Smith, went 8-8 last year and is 5-7 this season. Four of the five coaches already in that group were fired after two seasons of futility — the Giants’ Ray Handley, the Raiders’ Mike White, the Redskins’ Steve Spurrier and the 49ers’ Dennis Erickson. (The common thread: Handley, White and Spurrier were, like Trestman, first-time NFL coaches; Erickson, a successful college coach, had coached four non-winning seasons with the Seahawks).
The exception is Dick Vermeil, who took over the 6-10 Rams from Rich Brooks and went 5-11 in 1997 and 4-12 in 1998. With a successful run with the Eagles — including a Super Bowl appearance — on his resume, Vermeil survived, fired his offensive coordinator and struck gold in 1999 with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Mike Martz and won the Super Bowl.
Whether Trestman is the next Mike White or the next Dick Vermeil, the Bears have to do something to improve their fortunes in 2015. Here are some of their options:
- The McCaskey family sells the Bears after 95 years of ownership of one of the NFL’s founding franchises. (All in favor, say aye.) Odds: 1,000,000-1.
- Chairman of the Board George McCaskey cleans house, ousting everybody from team president Ted Phillips on down and hires a Bill Polian/Ron Wolf type of president of football operations. Odds: 1,000-1.
- General manager Phil Emery fires Trestman after two seasons. It’s a move less likely than you might think — the Bears never have fired a head coach after fewer than three seasons. And a coaching change would force Jay Cutler to learn yet another offense. Odds: 25-1.
- Emery fires Trestman and trades Cutler to a team desperate for an upgrade at quarterback. Salary cap implications make this particularly problematic. Odds: 100-1.
- Trestman fires defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who hasn’t done enough with a defense fortified with Emery’s upgrades in free agency and the draft. Odds: 1-1.
- Emery keeps Tucker as defensive coordinator, releases Shea McClellin, doesn’t re-sign Lance Briggs or Charles Tillman and hopes Cutler will finally get the hang of it in his third season in Trestman’s offense. A position coach is the only change in the staff. Odds: 4-1.
2. Besides the disappointment of underperforming this season, the Bears prospects for 2015 appear daunting: How are they going to get better? Cutler was no more effective in the second year of Trestman’s offense than he was the first. Brandon Marshall remains a mystery. Jared Allen isn’t getting any younger. The upgraded defensive line hasn’t made a star out of anybody behind them. Even rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, who looked like a future star in Weeks 2-3, has regressed as a playmaker — maybe because of injuries, but maybe not. The Bears haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt.
3. The Bears are one of two teams to win a game this season with 17 or fewer rushing attempts — they had 17 carries for 46 yards in their 28-20 victory over the 49ers in Week 2.
But eight carries for an entire game — the fewest in franchise history — is going a little too far. The fewest rushes in a victory in the NFL this season is 15 — by the Patriots against the Jets. But the Patriots can get away with that. Last week they had six rushes for five yards in the first half against the Lions, but were up 24-6 at halftime.
The Bears? They’re doing a great job of disproving the notion that in spread/passing offenses, a swing pass or a screen pass is as good as a run.
4. The Bears lead the NFL in awkward sack celebrations. Willie Young’s celebration of a sack while — unbeknownst to him — a penalty flag was being thrown for roughing the passer typified the kind of season the Bears have had.
Previously, Lamarr Houston suffered a torn ACL celebrating a sack of Patriots backup Jimmy Garopollo in a game the Bears were trailing 48-23. And Jared Allen did a sack dance after tackling Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for a one-yard gain.
5. You know you’re having a tough year when Phil Simms is on your case. Simms, the analyst for CBS’ broadcast of the game, was right on, though, in his indirect criticism of the Bears’ defense for failing to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He mentioned it at least three times during Thursday’s game.
“Nobody’s really re-directing these receivers,” Simms said. “So they’ve got free run. They can get wherever they want and they’ve got an excellent quarterback throwing them the football.”
5a. The Bears’ soft defense has been a source of frustration all season and especially from the start of games. Matthew Stafford was the latest quarterback to torch the Bears in the first half — 22-of-26 for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Believe it or not, Stafford’s 136.4 first-half passer rating is only the fifth best against the Bears this season — behind Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field (156.2), Ryan Tannehill (155.1), Rodgers at Soldier Field (150.1) and Tom Brady (146.5).
In eight of the Bears’ 12 games this season, Rodgers, Brady, Stafford, Tannehill, EJ Manuel, Teddy Bridgewater and even the Jets’ Geno Smith have combined for a 145.3 rating in the first half against the Bears (79.6 completion percentage, 19 touchdowns and one interceptions). Against the rest of the league they have a combined 88.4 rating in the first half. It’s not just a matter of facing Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
5b. It should be no surprise that while the Bears pass defense has allowed the third-worst passer rating in the NFL this season (101.1), the Bears are dead last in first-half passer rating (123.0) and it’s not even close. The next worst teams are the Redskins (112.4), Jets (110.8), Buccaneers (104.5) and Jaguars (104.0). Those four teams are a combined 8-36 (.182) this season.
6. Veteran Jermon Bushrod, expected to be an anchor at left tackle, has been struggling in the second half of the season, if you believe rankings by Pro Football Focus.
According to PFF, Bushrod was the lowest-rated Bears linemen against the Lions (-4.3). It’s the fourth consecutive negative rating for Bushrod, whose -14.3 rating by PFF for the last four weeks ranks 66th among 67 NFL tackles in that span.
7. Mathematically, the Bears aren’t dead yet. If they win their four remaining games and finish 9-7, they can make the playoffs as a wild-card team with a little help. How much help? If any three of these four scenarios ensue, the Bears would make the playoffs at 9-7, courtesy of ESPN.com’s playoff calculator:
Seahawks (8-4): at Eagles (L), 49ers (L), at Cardinals (L), Rams (Win).
Cowboys (8-4): at Bears (L), at Eagles (L), Colts (L), at Redskins (Win).
49ers (7-5): at Raiders (Win), at Seahawks (Win), Chargers (L), Cardinals (L).
Lions (8-4): Buccaneers (Win), Vikings (L), at Bears (L), at Packers (L).
The least likely event in that scenario, of course, is the Bears sweeping their remaining four games.
8. The Bears are in a no-win situation now. If the finish strong, the question will be why they couldn’t have played that well when it mattered. If they falter in the final four games, it’ll look like they’ve given up.
“It’s all about putting it together and keeping it together,” defensive end Willie Young said. “We’ve got a lot of guys from all over the place. I think we’re actually figuring out how to play with each other all around — full-speed, four quarters and finish the game. I think that’s going to be crucial for us to continue to work at.”
8a. Isn’t Week 13 a little late for guys “from all over the place” to be figuring it out?
“It is what it is,” Young said. “There are some guys out there with worse records than ours [12 of them, in fact]. We’re not the only ones having a losing deal right now.
“It’s going to be important for us to stay together as a team and not be distracted by all the outside noise, which I know we’re going to get. It is what it is. We’re fighting to stick together as a team and fight our behinds off for four quarters regardless of the outcome. You see guys flying around. We’re going to continue to fly around and hitting people and giving it our all.”
9. Will the absence/departure of Lance Briggs finally open things up for Jon Bostic? The 2013 second-round draft pick from Florida seems best suited for the weak side linebacker position. But circumstances have prevented Bostic from playing there with any consistency.
The presence of Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, was one obvious factor. But even last year when Briggs was injured, Khaseem Greene replaced him at the weak side because Bostic was playing middle linebacker for injured starter D.J. Williams.
The Bears’ philosophy of teaching players multiple positions makes sense, but it almost seems counter-productive when the player — like Bostic and Shea McClellin — hasn’t shown he can master one of them first. Perhaps that’s why Bostic has overall been a disappointment so far. The Bears haven’t found a place for him.
Now he should have a dedicated position as Briggs’ replacement. He had 11 tackles in place of Briggs against the Lions.
10. The Bears won’t have a lot of “must-keep” players in free agency this offseason. Defensive tackle Stephen Paea is having a breakout season and might be difficult to keep with all the money the Bears have invested in their defensive line. But the Bears like the progress of rookies Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, who are likely to get a lot of playing time in the final four games.
Paea is one of six starters who will be free agents. The others are center Roberto Garza, linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams, cornerback Charles Tillman and safety Chris Conte. Plus cornerback Sherrick McManis, a “starter” on special teams.
Other free agents include defensive ends David Bass and Trevor Scott; center Brian de la Puente, tight end Dante Rosario, safety Danny McCray, wide receiver Josh Morgan, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and quarterback Jimmy Clausen.