The Bears have won three of their last four games to reach the .500 mark at 6-6. But in the context of what this season was expected to be, they haven’t really done anything.
All three victories have come against poor teams: the Lions (3-8-1) twice and the Giants (2-9). Two were at Soldier Field. The three quarterbacks they beat were Jeff Driskel, Daniel Jones and David Blough. And even the best overall performance among them — their 24-20 victory Thursday at Ford Field — came with an asterisk: The Lions were without quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
Now the Bears have a chance to do something.
They close the regular season with a challenging gauntlet to run: the Cowboys (6-6) on Thursday at Soldier Field; the Packers (8-3) on Dec. 15 at Lambeau Field; the Chiefs (7-4) on Dec. 22 at Soldier Field; and the Vikings (8-3) on Dec. 29 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It’s a last chance for the Bears to make the most of a disappointing season. The recent 3-1 stretch was the result of a quirk in their schedule. To go 3-1 or 4-0 in the final quarter of the season to finish 9-7 or 10-6, the Bears will have to be a good team. That would give them a chance at least to establish a foundation for a do-over in 2020.
At the end of a difficult season, the final month is a litmus test of sorts that will indicate whom the Bears are and where they’re headed. Even with his focus entirely on the Cowboys, coach Matt Nagy agreed with that big-picture assessment.
‘‘Absolutely it is,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We just feel like it’s been such a unique year to us, with where we’ve been losing four in a row and now winning three out of the last four. That’s been a challenge.
‘‘We know what’s ahead of us, but we can only control what goes on Thursday night. And we understand that Dallas is in a very similar situation. So both of us being 6-6, having an opportunity to play at home is going to be fun.’’
For what it’s worth, a strong finish would come with a bonus: The Bears still are in playoff contention. They’re long shots and would need a lot of help, but a 10-6 finish — or even 9-7 — might get them the second wild-card berth in the NFC if things break just right.
That the Bears enter the final month with a long-shot chance at the playoffs is an accomplishment — albeit a modest one — after a four-game losing streak dropped them to 3-5 at midseason.
‘‘If you end up getting officially eliminated, that’s a big challenge for a coach to make sure that, ‘Hey, we’re still going here with ‘‘X’’ amount of games left,’ ’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I think it’s a credit to our players for battling through what we’ve gone through because of what we’ve done.
‘‘It’s putting ourselves in this position. But to keep fighting, that’s what I like most about it. That’s why [Thursday] night felt so good in that locker room — because we understand that we’re continuing to fight.
‘‘Is it perfect? No. Can we get better? Yes. We know we have our hands full in the next [four] games. But as long as we just home in on the Dallas Cowboys at home . . . who knows? We need help. But none of that matters if we don’t handle our business.’’
The key to getting into the postseason would be a last-month fade by the Vikings, who currently hold the second wild-card berth. The Vikings close with the Seahawks on the road Monday, the Lions at home, the Chargers on the road and the Packers and Bears at home.
It’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened in the NFL. Here’s one scenario that would get the Bears in:
Bears (6-6): vs. Cowboys (W); at Packers (W); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (W). Record: 9-7.
Vikings (8-3): at Seahawks (L); vs. Lions (W); at Chargers (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Bears (L). Record: 9-7.
Rams (6-5): at Cardinals (W); vs. Seahawks (L); at Cowboys (L); at 49ers (L); vs. Cardinals (W). Record: 8-8.
Cowboys (6-6): at Bears (L); vs. Rams (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Redskins (W). Record: 8-8.
Eagles (5-6): at Dolphins (W); vs. Giants (W); at Redskins (W); vs. Cowboys (W); at Giants (W). Record: 10-6 (wins NFC East).
Panthers (5-6): vs. Redskins (W); at Falcons (W); vs. Seahawks (L); at Colts (W); vs. Saints (W). Record: 9-7.
As is often the case in these pie-in-the-sky scenarios, the biggest challenge is the Bears doing their part. While a sweep of the final four games is unlikely, they aren’t expected to be big underdogs in any of them:
• The Cowboys are loaded with dangerous offensive weapons and have a top-10 defense, but they have yet to beat a team that has a winning record and have lost three of their last four games.
• The Packers are always tough at Lambeau, but they’ve lost two of their last three games, including a 37-8 loss Sunday to the 49ers in which Aaron Rodgers threw for only 104 yards and was sacked five times.
• The Chiefs have the reigning MVP in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but he has been slowed by injuries. Plus, the Chiefs are 3-4 after a 4-0 start.
• The Vikings are 6-1 since losing to the Bears, and Kirk Cousins is on a roll, leading the NFL in passer rating (114.8). But Nagy is 3-0 against Mike Zimmer in his two seasons as the Bears’ coach.
Regardless of the playoff scenario, the onus is on the Bears to finish strong and to re-establish themselves as a team on the rise. The difficult final-month schedule gives them one last chance to do just that.