If the Bears wanted a reason to keep the core of their team intact by bringing back coach Matt Nagy, general manager Ryan Pace and quarterback Mitch Trubisky, they can talk themselves into their newly claimed playoff berth as the justification.
The Bears are on a road to nowhere, and hanging with the Packers into the fourth quarter before losing 35-16 is hardly a counterpoint to that assessment. They’re in the playoffs because the Cardinals fell apart, and that’s barely cause for celebration.
Even Nagy wasn’t especially bubbly.
“I would probably be a little bit upset if our locker room was just, like, going crazy and celebrating,” he said while repeatedly mentioning his ambivalence about losing but having a chance to keep playing. “I’d be a little bit concerned. Our guys weren’t.”
Regardless of what happens Sunday against the Saints, the playoff berth all but assures Pace and Nagy of keeping their jobs despite how disheveled this team looked on paper (Pace) and on the field (Nagy) throughout the season. If those two are back, bet on Trubisky joining them.
Stumbling into the postseason because of a lucky break in a game 2,000 miles away — and even then, only because the NFL added a seventh spot in each conference this season — doesn’t magically make this 8-8 more impressive than meandering to 8-8 last season.
Going 8-8 seems to be acceptable for the Bears. It’s the second-best record they’ve had in Pace’s seven seasons. They’re now 42-54 and have scored the fourth-fewest points in the league under his watch.
For every great draft pick like Eddie Jackson in the fourth round, there’s a wasted first- or second-rounder.
For every Darnell Mooney revelation, there’s an Anthony Miller sliding toward obscurity.
For every rising Roquan Smith, there’s a declining Danny Trevathan with two years left on his contract.
For every brilliant pickup like Cairo Santos, there’s a $70 million contract for Robert Quinn while Leonard Floyd puts up a career year for the Rams.
For all the hope behind Trubisky’s supposed late-season resurgence, there’s the dead weight of Nick Foles being signed through 2022.
Every plus has a corresponding minus, which is exactly how a team balances out to 8-8.
How much credit do the Bears want, by the way, for climbing out of a hole they dug with their six-game losing streak? Nagy described it as “what we went through this year” as though it was an existential malady that beset the Bears rather than a result of their own errors.
“I think we just got rewarded for the work we put in the last couple weeks,” said Trubisky, who actually does deserve some credit for salvaging the season when he returned. “We’re in the playoffs, and that’s really all that matters.”
That’s all that matters for a week, not in the big picture.
But the Bears, because of a winning streak against some of the NFL’s worst teams and the Cardinals’ collapse, likely will sign up for more mediocrity. Rather than do the difficult work of a rebuild, they’ll hope a couple tweaks can vault them into being a contender next season.
After watching them finish five games behind the Packers in the NFC North for the second consecutive season, that’s delusional.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ defense drove that point home Sunday in a victory almost as convincing as the 41-25 thumping they gave the Bears in November. This was incrementally better, but if progress continues crawling at this pace it’ll take another 50 years to catch the Packers.
“Closing the gap, obviously we haven’t when you lose two games like we did,” Nagy said. “The only thing that we can do is re-shift our focus to New Orleans.
“Green Bay is playing really well right now. You guys see that.”
The fact that the Bears are forced to accept that the Packers are indisputably superior speaks louder than stamping this as a playoff season.
Making the playoffs is admirable solely from the perspective that the Bears didn’t fold when they sat 5-7, but every organization’s standard should be competing for a championship or clearly headed toward it.
It was a fun ride watching the Bears claw into the race and nervously checking scores on the final day to see if they made it, but elite teams fly at a higher altitude. The Bears should aspire to more, and clinging to a team that’s gone 16-16 over the last two seasons isn’t the way to get there.