More than 10,000 fans who bought tickets for the Bears’ season finale decided to stay away from Soldier Field on Sunday, skipping a 24-20 loss to the Lions that cemented last place and a 6-10 record.
The irony wasn’t lost on coach John Fox, either, that the Bears’ franchise-record seventh home loss came on Fan Appreciation Day.
“It didn’t work out very well, did it?” he said.
Saying he was proud of his team but not its record, Fox promised the Bears would improve.
“Hang with us,” he said. “We’re going to get there. There will be way better days to come.”
Words are all the Bears can offer.
Fox’s first season with the Bears ended Sunday in a surprisingly optimistic locker room. Guard Matt Slauson, who shifted to center Sunday for the injured Hroniss Grasu, said players have claimed ownership of the atmosphere. Defensive lineman Greg Scruggs, signed this week after four years in Seattle, compared the Bears’ passion to that of the Seahawks.
“We’ve got a great foundation to build on,” Slauson said. “The feeling in here is obvious disappointment with a loss, but it’s also excitement for what’s ahead.”
Free-agent-to-be Marc Mariani, who led the Bears with six catches for 80 yards with the team’s top three receivers and two tight ends out, wants to return for that reason.
“Please have faith in us,” he said. “We’re going to be playing longer. We’re going to turn it around quick.”
Fox painted Sunday as a microcosm of the season, with the deciding moment coming late — Jay Cutler’s third interception, down four, with 1:51 left.
Six of their seven home losses came by one score or less, and by a combined 26 points.
“There’s good, bad and really bad,” tackle Kyle Long said of the home record. “That falls under the ‘really bad’ category.”
Cutler entered Sunday as the only regular NFL starter to not throw two interceptions in a game; he had two by halftime, with one picked in the end zone by James Ihedigbo. His final touchdown pass of the season had a worthy recipient: running back Matt Forte, who caught a 23-yard swing pass in the fourth quarter in what might be his final game with the team.
“The improvement we had from last year, the record’s not that much improved, but you can feel the guys’ spirits around here,” said inside linebacker Shea McClellin, who might have done the same.
That hope was missing after last year’s finale, hours before the housecleaning that eventually brought Fox to Chicago.
“My experience has been that people live up or down to expectations,” Fox said. “If you expect a lot, you get a lot. If you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. That will not change.”
Changes will come, though, with offensive coordinator Adam Gase a hot head coaching candidate and the new regime eager to bring in players that fit.
“It’s a meat-grinder,” Long said. “They bring meat in. They grind it up.
“If it can’t be eaten, they bring new meat in that tastes good.”
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