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What matters most in the Bears’ last 3 games is the P-word — progress, not playoffs

The postseason is a faint dream. Building on the team’s recent success is more realistic.

Both Bears coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitch Trubisky need big games in the last three weeks of the season.
Both Bears coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitch Trubisky need big games in the last three weeks of the season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Sun-Times’ world-famous, award-winning, Good Housekeeping-approved “Halas Intrigue’’ podcast in the lead-up to Sunday’s Bears-Packers game.

You’ll learn a lot of fascinating things if you listen to the show, including that Mark Potash, my colleague and one of the podcast’s hosts, kept Chicago sports scrapbooks throughout high school and that he didn’t have a date during that time span, which I’m sure is a massive coincidence. But those scrapbooks, put together with a medieval monk’s devotion to detail, now fuel Potash’s excellent “Bears Scrapbook’’ in the Sun-Times’ Sports Saturday.

Anyway (and before this devolves completely into an infomercial), Bears beat writer Patrick Finley innocently mentioned on the podcast that it was nice the team was playing relevant games late in the schedule after such a disappointing first two months to the season.

That caused me to slam on the brakes, partly because I brake for anything that hints at galloping enthusiasm and partly because … was he out of his mind? Relevant, meaningful games? At 7-6, the Bears have a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs, based on 141,000 computer simulations by the New York Times. That means they have to win their last three games, against heavyweights Green Bay (on the road), Kansas City (home) and Minnesota (road); get help from several other teams; and wait for a lunar eclipse that will come as a complete surprise to astronomers.

In that regard, if these Bears games are meaningful, then so are the Kardashians.

I think I succeeded in downgrading “relevant’’ to “interesting’’ on the podcast, but Finley still had the unmistakable gleam of the zealot in his eye.

Sunday’s game between the Bears and the Packers will be interesting for reasons other than a Bears-Packers rivalry game is always interesting. It should give us a much better idea of whether what we’ve been seeing from the Bears the past five weeks has been real. It should give us a better idea of whether victories over the Lions (two), the Giants and the Cowboys during that stretch count for real progress.

Bears fans have particularly hung their 10-gallon hats on the Dallas victory — and for good reason. Mitch Trubisky played, by far, his best game of the season. He threw for three touchdowns and, more importantly, rushed for another. He ran 10 times for 63 yards in the game, making life miserable for the Cowboys and opening up a new world for the Bears’ offense.

To be able to buy into the idea of a resurrected Mitch, I need to see three more weeks of the Dallas performance. That’s why Sunday will be interesting. At this point, the tiny postseason piece of the story is neither interesting nor relevant. It feels like a carnival barker’s sales job. It feels like the breathless coverage of last year’s mediocre Blackhawks battling for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Don’t fall for it.

But if the Bears win the next two games … ah, I see what you did there. You roped me in, however briefly.

What matters in these last three weeks is the P word — progress, not playoffs. The way to salvage this season is to build hope for next season. A postseason berth isn’t necessary for that to happen.

Seeing Trubisky play well against good teams down the stretch counts for Items 1-9 on the Top 10 list of Things We Want to See the Rest of the Season. If he doesn’t run against the Packers on Sunday, I will lose my mind, possibly for good. Why he didn’t use his legs most of the season won’t matter so much if he uses them in the next three games. Well, OK, it’ll still matter. Did injuries prevent him from running or did coach Matt Nagy stubbornly try to make Trubisky into a stay-at-home passer?

The Dallas game was the prototype of what the Bears should want from their quarterback. If Trubisky can be successful as a pass/run threat against three good teams, it would bode well for next year. If he can’t, then the recent success he has had will look like grade inflation against weak teams.

These last games are also an opportunity to see if rookie running back David Montgomery can continue to grow, to see if Akiem Hicks’ return to the defensive line can turn linebacker Khalil Mack back into a quarterback-eating monster and to see if Nagy can rebound from a rough season.

All of that will be interesting, even relevant, and it won’t require the carrot of the playoffs to make it so. As a bonus, it will be suitable for clipping.