MORRISSEY: For the first time in eons, pressure is on the Bears
Well, this certainly is new. The Bears and pressure, that is.
They’re supposed to win Sunday. It’s not just the bookmakers saying so. It’s Bears fans. It’s the local media. I’m sure I could find someone who thinks God is predicting a victory, too.
And it’s not just any team the Bears are supposed to beat. It’s the hated Packers, who won’t be able to use injured Aaron Rodgers. They are using a quarterback named Brett, however. Brett Hundley.
Not only that, some observers have started stacking anticipated victories for the Bears in the second half of the season, which we’re told is full of opponents not quite up to the abilities of our local 3-5 team.
Did I mention the Bears are coming off a bye week and the Packers off a Monday night game?
The pressure is on. Oh, the Bears are saying that there’s always pressure, that nobody puts more pressure on them than themselves, blah, blah, blah. But the truth is that the outside expectations for the past 2½ seasons have been about as high as a kicker’s tee. Nobody expected them to win, and they lived up to those expectations.
How high are expectations now? On Wednesday, a reporter asked coach John Fox if he had to guard against overconfidence heading into the Packers game. The last time the Bears were overconfident was heading into an intrasquad game.
As a student of all things Bears, I’ve always been intrigued by the way their fans’ hopes skyrocket at the merest suggestion of good news. It’s more an attribute of Bears fans than it is of other Chicago teams’ fans. The defense has been good, and rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be good someday. That’s the reason for the raging optimism. And that’s the reason the Bears find themselves in the unusual position of being favored, both in the betting line and in the hearts of the faithful.
Soldier Field figures to be a raucous place Sunday, with fans seeing green and gold, and smelling blood. They won’t care a bit that Rodgers is out with a broken collarbone. The presumption in all the enthusiasm is that Trubisky is better right now than Hundley is, because who the hell is Hundley? He’s a 2015 fifth-round pick who has thrown one touchdown pass and four interceptions since taking over for Rodgers. He did complete 26 of 38 passes for 245 yards in a loss to the Lions on Monday night.
Never mind that, so far, Trubisky’s stats are similarly unremarkable.
Is this a turning point for the Bears as an organization? Is this where, years later, we’ll point to Sunday and say, “There, that’s where it happened”? Or is this another head fake that we’re falling for?
The game is being presented as a given, not by the Bears, but by many outside Halas Hall. If it doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to, if the Bears lose, will the converse be true — that it will be seen as a devastating loss? Will we look back and say, “There, that’s where they reverted back to what they always are”?
I can’t say with any certainty which direction the Bears will go Sunday. I just know that whichever way it is, it will be with the weight of large expectations on their backs. In case you haven’t heard, they’re favored by 5½ points over the Packers.
“None of these [games] are easy,’’ Fox said. “We’ve won a few games where we weren’t the favorites.’’
Let’s see how the Bears deal with the role of favorite. Will they be comfortable with it or will it feel like a hair shirt?
“Before you win, you’ve got to find ways not to lose,’’ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
It’s a waste of time to tell people that the Bears are still rebuilding and that the most important thing this season — maybe the only thing — is that Trubisky gains experience, both good and bad. The Packers are coming to town, and apparently the only thing riding on it is everything. The rivalry goes back to 1921, and somewhere along the (state) line, it became very personal.
I can inform you that this game is just another building block toward molding Trubisky into a star quarterback, but you won’t listen. You won’t listen because it’s the Packers and because this isn’t another game.
“I’m starting to figure out it’s a big deal,’’ Trubisky said.
If the favored Bears lose, he’ll find out exactly how big a deal.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.