When Bears president Ted Phillips was asked about his patience after the team finished 8-8 last season, it didn’t sound like he had that much of it — for a Bears executive, anyway. It almost sounded like he was drawing a line in the sand.
“I think we should be able to turn it around next year,” Phillips said two days after the regular season concluded. “We were 12-4 just a year ago. We had the coach of the year, the executive of the year. They haven’t lost their abilities, and we haven’t lost the talent level. We’ve just got to be able to maximize it better this coming season.”
Asked if that meant he expected contention, Phillips didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” he said.
The Bears, almost predictably, provided mixed results in 2020 that left all possibilities open a year later. The Bears were 8-8 again, which doesn’t fit the definition of turning it around. But they made the playoffs, which is technically, if not actually, contention.
The quarterback situation should be the tiebreaker, and the Bears did not solve that problem in 2020.
Despite an offensive resurgence against bottom-10 defenses in December that fooled a few but not many, Mitch Trubisky finished the season as the same quarterback he was at the beginning. Nick Foles drew a bad hand but didn’t make the most of it.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s strike three for general manager Ryan Pace — Mike Glennon, Trubisky and Foles. But at Halas Hall, they play by their own rules — it’s their team; it’s their right. So the breaking news Tuesday night that Pace and coach Matt Nagy will return for the 2021 season is not a big surprise.
But it is sure to enrage a passionate segment of their fan base that is tired of a broken operating procedure under McCaskey ownership — non-football people making football decisions, leaving in place a coach and GM who have failed to do what they should do best: develop an offense and find a quarterback, respectively.
At 8-8 with the 26th-ranked offense in the NFL and the 20th pick in the 2021 draft and a negative salary-cap ledger, the Bears are stuck in the middle.
And Bears fans — addicted to football and their beloved team — are just stuck.
2. Whiffing on Glennon, Trubisky and Foles has disqualified Pace from choosing yet another quarterback of the future in the eyes of many fans and critics.
But — for what it’s worth — the Bears are better equipped to evaluate the upcoming draft and free-agency classes.
When he chose Trubisky and Glennon, the Bears’ quarterback brain trust was offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone — both with limited NFL experience at the time.
This time, Pace presumably will have significantly more NFL quarterback experience at hand — Nagy (who was part of the coaching staff in Kansas City that chose Patrick Mahomes); offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, a longtime quarterback mentor; quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, a longtime quarterback mentor; and Ragone, who now has been in the NFL for 10 seasons.
3. Nagy being on the hot seat in 2021 figures to limit his options for a defensive coordinator to replace Chuck Pagano, who is expected to retire.
But as those scenarios go, the Bears’ situation still is a golden opportunity. This defense still has some life in it, with linebackers Khalil Mack (29 at the start of next season) and Roquan Smith (24), defensive linemen Akiem Hicks (31) and Bilal Nichols (25) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (29) still playing at a high level.
Safety Eddie Jackson (27) is coming off a down year but likely to rebound. And nose tackle Eddie Goldman (27) could return after opting out for coronavirus concerns in 2020. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson (22) showed difference-maker potential after an impressive rookie season. And there’s still hope that outside linebacker Robert Quinn (31) could regain his double-digit sack form under a new coordinator.
4. Why the McCaskeys should also be on the hot seat: Even with this season’s postseason berth, the Bears still have made the playoffs only seven times in 28 years since the firing of Mike Ditka after the 1992 season.
Only three teams that have been in the NFL throughout that span have fewer playoff appearances — Washington (six), the Raiders (five) and the Cardinals (five).
5. In retrospect, the Bears probably rue not promoting outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley to defensive coordinator when Vic Fangio left in 2018. Staley is now a hot head-coaching candidate after invigorating the Rams’ defense — first in the NFL in yards and points and second in sacks.
So it wouldn’t be a surprise if defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — as admired as a position coach now as Staley was then — receives consideration for the coordinator job.
6. Nagy has a lot of work to do. As it turned out, the Bears’ offensive identity is what we thought it was — good against bad defenses and bad against good defenses.
In a four-game stretch against four teams that finished the season ranked in the bottom 10 in total defense — the Lions (32nd), Texans (30th), Vikings (27th) and Jaguars (31st) — the Bears averaged 396.8 yards (10th in the NFL in that span), 6.1 yards per play (10th), 159.0 rushing yards (fourth) and 34.5 points per game (third).
But in the last two games against the Packers (ninth in total defense) and Saints (fourth), the Bears averaged 297.5 yards, 4.8 yards per play, 78.0 rushing yards and 12.5 points per game. And that includes the meaningless 99-yard touchdown drive in the last two minutes of the 21-9 loss to New Orleans in the wild-card game.
7. Nagy also has work to do in the culture department. Anthony Miller’s ejection for punching C.J. Gardner-Johnson in Sunday’s loss to the Saints was an egregious lack of discipline — especially after Javon Wims’ similar lapse against Gardner-Johnson at Soldier Field — that reflected poorly on the coaching staff.
But the Bears also had other issues in 2020. They were 21st in fewest penalties (97) after ranking eighth (103) in 2019 and fifth (100) in 2018. The Bears had nine penalties for 50 yards against the Saints on Sunday — tied with Seattle for the most last weekend.
8. Miller has had focus and attention-to-detail issues throughout his three-year career with the Bears — one reason why Darnell Mooney leapfrogged him so quickly this season. But the Bears need offensive weapons too much to let Miller go after he inexplicably lost his mind against the Saints. The Bears might need to sign Allen Robinson just to keep Miller in line and on point. But Miller’s potential in a better offense makes it worth the shot.
9a. Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week: Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had two more sacks of Russell Wilson in a 20-10 victory over the Seahawks on Saturday. Floyd, who had a career-high 10½ sacks in the regular season, sacked Wilson seven times this season. He sacked Aaron Rodgers seven times in seven games with the Bears.
9b. Special Mention: Browns kicker Cody Parkey outscored the Bears 12-9 Sunday. Parkey kicked field goals of 24 and 37 yards and was 6-for-6 on PATs in the Browns’ 48-37 upset of the Steelers.
10. Bear-ometer (from Week 1): 9-7 — at Lions (W); vs. Giants (W); at Falcons (L); vs. Colts (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Panthers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (L); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).