1st-and-10: Clock still starts for Ryan Poles in 2023

If you’re expecting this current core to develop some kind of killer instinct, you’re likely in for a disappointment. The Bears should improve in the final seven games under Matt Eberflus. But upgrades and reinforcements will make the biggest difference.

SHARE 1st-and-10: Clock still starts for Ryan Poles in 2023
Bears quarterback Justin Fields has a 99.6 passer rating in his last five games (10 touchdowns, three interceptions). He had a 58.7 passer rating in his first five games (two touchdowns, four interceptions).

Bears quarterback Justin Fields has a 99.6 passer rating in his last five games (10 touchdowns, three interceptions). He had a 58.7 passer rating in his first five games (two touchdowns, four interceptions).

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Former Blackhawks star Marian Hossa was a fitting presence on the sideline Sunday at Soldier Field as the rebuilding Bears were blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 31-30 loss to the Lions. It was a reminder of a universal truth in sports: Great players teach you how to win.

Hossa was the final piece to the Hawks’ rebuild, a player who came here in search of a tantalizingly elusive championship ring and ended up being the critical addition that put them over the top in 2009-10 to start a run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons.

Even with quarterback Justin Fields literally breaking franchise records every week and developing into the real deal before our eyes, the Bears still are a few Hossas away from Super Bowl contention.

After failing to close against a 2-6 Lions team at home, the Bears obviously still need to learn how to win. But while the game was a ‘‘bad loss,’’ it wasn’t a defining one that casts doubt on the direction of the rebuild. It’ll take a few more of those to do that.

If you’re expecting this core to develop some kind of killer instinct, you’re likely in for a disappointment. The Bears should improve in their last seven games of the season, with a playmaking quarterback getting more familiar with his weapons and coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense and four rookies presumably developing on defense.

But reinforcements will make the biggest difference. They always do. Jon Lester taught the Cubs how to win. Tom Brady taught the Buccaneers how to win. Patrick Mahomes taught the Chiefs how to win — and by throwing to Tyreek Hill more than Byron Pringle.

Let the record show that the Bears have earned the skepticism. At some point, they will have to finish. But in a clear and clean — and refreshing — rebuild, the clock doesn’t really start on general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus until 2023. Eventually, Poles’ biggest challenge will be finding his Hossa.

2. The Bears should be trying to win every game, but you can’t ignore the reality that every loss for a team that isn’t playoff-bound is a benefit in draft position.

At 3-7, the Bears currently have the No. 6 pick in the 2023 draft. At 5-5 — had they won close games against the Dolphins and Lions — they would have the No. 17 pick. That’s a big difference. Two years ago, the No. 6 pick was receiver Jaylen Waddle; the No. 17 pick was offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood.

It’s not like that every year, and you can find gems outside the top 10. In general, however, the higher the pick, the better the chance to get a difference-maker. In 2014, GM Phil Emery was one pick from getting Aaron Donald instead of Kyle Fuller. In 2015, GM Ryan Pace was three picks from getting Amari Cooper instead of Kevin White.

(In 1997, the 4-12 Bears were two losses from having a chance to draft Peyton Manning. They beat the 6-7 Bills and 4-10 Rams in the last three weeks of the season to fall to No. 5 and took running back Curtis Enis.)

3. Speaking of Emery and Pace, it will be old home week for some Bears personnel this week in Atlanta.

Emery and Pace are senior personnel executives with the Falcons. Four former Bears assistants are on the Falcons’ staff, too: offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, quarterbacks coach Charles London, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino and running backs coach Michael Pitre.

The Falcons also have seven former Bears on their roster: running back Cordarrelle Patterson, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, receiver Damiere Byrd, offensive tackle Germain Ifedi, defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson, running back Damien Williams and offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson.

4. Poles’ housecleaning was a rebuke of Pace’s roster: Only 19 of the 77 players he inherited from Pace are still with the Bears. And Pace’s seven-year tenure was marked by big misses — not only the disastrous trade-up to draft Mitch Trubisky in 2017, but also selecting White at No. 7 in 2015 and tight end Adam Shaheen at No. 45 in 2017.

But Pace deserves credit for several key pieces — not only Fields, but receiver Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet, running backs Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery, guard Cody Whitehair, safety Eddie Jackson and kicker Cairo Santos.

5. Eberflus is a big believer in letting rookies and inexperienced players learn on the job — the Bears are starting four rookies on defense — so receiver Velus Jones being inactive the last two games is even more notable.

At No. 71 overall, Jones looked like an odd reach for Poles, who was otherwise prudent in his first draft. Most mock drafts had Jones being drafted from 128th (SI.com) to 209th (The Sporting News).

It’s too early to consider Jones a lost cause. A project such as Shaheen never showed the skills he was purported to have when he was taken at No. 45 in 2017. But Jones’ speed not only is evident, but it’s a skill that gives him a chance to make it under better circumstances.

6. The Bears’ offense has a long way to go in the passing game. The Bears not only are 32nd — last — in the NFL in passing yards at 128.1 per game, but their 1,281 passing yards are the fewest through 10 games since the 2009 Raiders (1,250).

But Getsy has earned at least a little bit of trust. Six weeks ago, Fields’ production was so poor after four games that he was drawing legitimate comparisons to Trubisky. Getsy pushed back on that (‘‘I don’t think he’s had a rough month’’) and saw progress where others did not.

Since then, Fields still is averaging only 169.7 passing yards per game (31st in the NFL in that span), but his completion percentage is up from 50.8 to 62.9 and his passer rating has improved from 58.7 (two touchdowns, four interceptions) to 99.6 (10 touchdowns, three interceptions). The passer rating is eighth in the NFL in that span.

At no point in the Matt Nagy era was there even that level of evidence of quarterback development, so the final seven games — as long as Fields is upright — will be interesting to watch.

7. Sign-of-progress department: In the last five games, the Bears have converted 35 of 53 third-down situations of nine or fewer yards (66.0%), the highest percentage in the NFL in that span. Fields has run for 18 of those conversions.

That’s a big improvement from the first five games, when the Bears converted 41.5% of their third-down plays of nine or fewer yards (25th in the NFL).

Overall, the Bears are seventh in the NFL in third-down conversions (59-for-133, 44.4%) this season. They were 28th after five games.

8. Quentin Johnston watch: The 6-4, 215-pound TCU junior has jumped to the top of the receiver class and to ninth overall on Pro Football Focus’ draft board, for whatever that’s worth.

Johnston played through an ankle injury in a huge game against Texas and had three receptions for 66 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown that made the difference for the Horned Frogs in a 17-10 victory.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Players of the Week: Commanders offensive tackles Charles Leno and Cornelius Lucas, linebacker Jon Bostic and punter/holder Tress Way all had a hand in a 32-21 upset of the previously unbeaten Eagles on ‘‘Monday Night Football.’’

10. Bear-ometer: 5-12 — at Falcons (W); at Jets (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (W); vs. Vikings (L).

The Latest
About 20 elected officials and community organizers discussed ways the city can combat antisemitism, though attendees said it was just the start of the conversation. Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) said the gesture was ‘hollow.’
In a draft class touted as the one that will change the trajectory of the WNBA, arguably only one franchise procured more star power than the Sky, and it had the No. 1 overall pick.
The veteran defenseman isn’t sure why, but his play and production improved significantly after Jan. 13 the last two seasons.