Bears focused on playoffs — but should it determine their future?
This year, should the playoffs be the marker for success? Does reaching the postseason absolve general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy of their mistakes? Can trading for Nick Foles and signing Robert Quinn be forgiven? What about a six-game losing streak?
The NFL watered down the playoffs when it added an extra team from each conference this year. The Bears might further diminish that accomplishment if they become the NFC’s seventh seed by beating three teams with losing records and a Packers squad that might have already clinched the top spot in the conference.
Don’t tell that to outside linebacker Khalil Mack. He has played 109 NFL games in his career but only one in the postseason. Or to receiver Allen Robinson, who has only one playoff appearance in 87 games.
“Anybody in the league, when you start to begin the season, you want to be able to say that you played meaningful football when it comes to December,” Robinson said. “Always. Getting to the playoffs, that’s the first step.”
The Bears will make the playoffs if they win their final two games, starting with Sunday’s game against the one-win Jaguars, who are incentivized to lose their final two games to earn the No. 1 spot in the draft. The Bears spent the week giving the same “any given Sunday” speech, trying not to downplay the Jaguars. But it’s clear what they had in mind.
“That’s everyone’s goal, to obviously get into the playoffs,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, whose lone playoff game ended with Cody Parkey’s double-doink kick. “To get into the dance and just go out there and compete.”
But should the playoffs be the marker for success this year? Does reaching the postseason absolve general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy of their mistakes? Can trading for Nick Foles and signing Robert Quinn be forgiven? What about a six-game losing streak?
Or would reaching the postseason give the McCaskeys the perfect excuse to keep both the coach and GM, whom they have an affinity for — and save money at the end of the worst financial year in NFL history?
Three days before the start of the season, chairman George McCaskey seemingly gave the answer when he asked himself the same question that Bears fans had.
“The goal every year is to win the Super Bowl,” he said. “Two years ago we made a great run, fell short. Last year we regressed. So we need to find out which team it is. Is it the team that took the NFL by storm two years ago, or is it the team that fell back last year?”
Making the playoffs after going on a four-game winning streak would put the Bears in the former category. When the Cardinals lost to the 49ers on Saturday, it cleared the way for the Bears to reach the postseason.
Firing a coach with a winning record has burned the Bears before. Phil Emery cannedLovie Smith after he went 10-6 — but missed the playoffs — in 2012. The Bears’ reward: two years of Marc Trestman.
Coaches rarely get fired after a winning season. Making the playoffs produces even better career stability. Only two coaches this century have been fired after winning a playoff game: the Titans’ Mike Mularkey three years ago and the 49ers’ Steve Mariucci in 2002.
Making the playoffs matters. Even if it’s a newly invented seed.
“We all do this for one reason and one reason only — that’s to win the Super Bowl,” said returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who won the title with the Patriots two years ago. “To win the Super Bowl, you’ve got to get to the playoffs. To get to the playoffs, you’ve got to win games. So that’s our main focus, is just keep winning these games.”
The Bears have two to go.
“All we can do is take care of one week at a time, trying to get one win at a time and see where the cards lay,” said tight end Jimmy Graham, who has played in eight postseason games. “Hopefully, it will be in our favor and we can continue to play — because I’m not used to going home in January.”