At 3-12, Bears have plenty to play for in last two games

A year ago at this time, a dreadful Bears season couldn’t end soon enough. But the emergence of quarterback Justin Fields spurs hope that a strong finish this season can lead to bigger things in 2023.

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Bears running back David Montgomery (32) celebrates with wide receiver Velus Jones (12), tight end Cole Kmet (85) and others after a a touchdown in a 25-20 loss to the Eagles on Dec. 18 at Soldier Field.

Quinn Harris, Getty

The Bears are 3-12. They’ve lost eight games in a row. They’ve been at this since July. Sunday is New Year’s Day, and they still have two games to go.

Ugh? Not quite.

‘‘I’m excited to go,’’ quarterback Justin Fields said. ‘‘I’m blessed. I have the best job in the world, just getting to do what I love every day and getting to play a sport.’’

At this time last year, the Bears’ season couldn’t end soon enough. They were 5-10, and not even an exciting 25-24 victory against the Seahawks and Russell Wilson could pump any joy into a dreadful death march.

Nick Foles, who engineered that upset victory, was not part of the future. And coach Matt Nagy was certain to be gone, as well. As it turned out, general manager Ryan Pace was let go, too.

Fast-forward to this week, and the Bears have a worse record but a brighter outlook. Perhaps only in Chicago could a quarterback of the worst passing attack in the NFL elicit fervent hope for the future. But here we are, emotionally tethered to Fields as the player who gives everyone something to play for.

‘‘I just think there’s so much to look forward to; you can see where this thing’s going,’’ tight end Cole Kmet said. ‘‘Just the steps we’ve taken from Week 1 to now — and I mean from Day 1 of [organized team activities] to this point. You’ve seen . . . us grow as a team.

‘‘I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to add pieces here, obviously, and continue moving forward with this thing. But I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about.’’

Truth be told, it’s not all that much different in the Bears’ locker room in the final two weeks. While the final month of last season was a slog for Bears fans, media and probably a lot of Halas Hall personnel, players are wired to ignore the dread and do their jobs. This season, even optimism isn’t the motivation.

‘‘Not really,’’ center Sam Mustipher said. ‘‘I don’t want to speak for everybody else, but I want to win football games. I want to put good film out there. I want to help the Bears win a football game. I want to be a part of the best unit in football, speaking of our O-line and our offense. Every week I go into a game, I try to approach it with a winning mindset.’’

But what about the bright future?

‘‘I guess in terms of Justin Fields being who he is, [and] from a fan perspective, you’ve got all this cap space,’’ Mustipher said. ‘‘Guys in here don’t really worry about that. We’ve got a bunch of guys on one-year, prove-it deals, so we’re really focused on doing our job and helping the Bears win a football game.

‘‘I guess for people outside the building it’s a different feeling, something to look forward to. You like the feeling that you have a franchise quarterback, so you look forward to that. But this is our livelihood. This is what we take pride in doing. So it’s never a good feeling for us to be 3-12 with two games left. But it’s two opportunities to put your best foot forward.’’

Regardless of the motivation, the Bears aren’t dragging to the finish line this season.

‘‘I feel there’s always something to play for, no matter if we’re 0-15 or 3-12 or 12-3,’’ Fields said Wednesday. ‘‘My outlook on [the] game [Sunday] and today’s practice is just getting better, growing and learning.

‘‘It’s always good when we get to go up against a division opponent. That atmosphere this weekend should be a pretty good atmosphere, so I know the guys are excited for that.’’

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