Loss to the Patriots shows the Bears aren’t in the big leagues yet
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There was nothing about the way the Bears played Sunday that suggested they ever were going to win the game.
What’s that? You beg to differ?
Take away the two special-teams touchdowns they gave up, and they would have beaten the Patriots, you say.
I say Tom Brady would have found a way to make up those points.
If Kevin White could have gotten one more yard on Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary pass as time expired, the Bears would have been an extra point away from tying the score, you say.
I say Brady would have found a way to win in overtime against an underwhelming Bears defense.
It’s all conjecture, of course. But now that the dust has settled after the Patriots’ 38-31 victory at Soldier Field, the Bears are forced to face the truth: They’re not in the big leagues yet.
Big-time teams do what the Patriots did. Everybody else does what the Bears did.
A healthy Khalil Mack would have made a huge difference on defense, but his gimpy ankle was uncooperative. You know what we call that? Football. The Patriots played without tight end Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s favorite receiver, and won.
The Bears aren’t there yet. You can chalk up the loss to all sorts of anomalies, including a blocked punt in which Ben Braunecker did a convincing portrayal of a man being run over by a flatbed truck. You even can attempt to show that a seven-point loss to the big, bad Patriots is a sign of how close they are, as Bears coach Matt Nagy tried to do after the game. But it’s hard to believe many fans walked out of Soldier Field thinking their team was ready to take on the world.
Nagy was wrong after the game about Trubisky, who he said was ‘‘really good’’ Sunday. But he was right when he said his team had a lot of work to do in a lot of areas.
The Bears haven’t abandoned the running game, but it’s clear it’s an afterthought, like the item you meant to buy at the grocery store but forgot. The running game is there for those times when Nagy is done having Trubisky throw in the end zone to backup tackle Bradley Sowell, whomever he is.
Nagy came from Kansas City, where Chiefs coach Andy Reid had a Beautiful Mind board on which his staff was free to dream up plays, no matter how crazy. That’s great. Now hand off to Jordan Howard, block well and at least give opponents the idea that running the ball is a threat.
Instead, Howard’s number was called 12 times for 39 yards Sunday. Take away Trubisky’s 81 rushing yards, and the Bears had 53 yards on 19 carries. Please don’t blame that on the circumstances of this particular game. Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for 13 carries in the first half, when the game was tight. Trubisky threw 20 times in the first half and ran five times on plays that were supposed to be passes.
The Patriots entered the game ranked in the bottom third of the league in run defense.
It’s important to remember Nagy is six games into his head-coaching career. He’s learning, too. If he isn’t, then Chicago will have a lopsided offense on its hands. If that’s the case, Trubisky had better be everything the Bears thought he was when they chose him second overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
After the game, Nagy predicted he would watch tape of Trubisky’s performance and see good things that we, the media, wouldn’t be able to see. Sorry, no. That’s like watching ‘‘Jack and Jill’’ a second time and declaring that Adam Sandler’s performance was more nuanced than you thought. We saw the game, Coach.
Part of Trubisky’s growing process is learning to live with reality. The reality is that he struggled throwing the ball against the Patriots. If stating the obvious is detrimental to the kid’s confidence, I see a franchise that’s in big trouble.
The Bears are better off now than at any time in the previous five seasons. It doesn’t mean that what happened Sunday is OK. It means that they have a chance to be very good this season if Mack can get healthy, Trubisky can be consistently productive and the coaching staff can be honest with itself.
The goal is to move into the upper echelon of the NFL. Anything less than that is a disappointment. After Nagy reminded media members that the Bears had come within a yard of tying the Patriots, Trubisky said, ‘‘Close doesn’t cut it.’’
Good to see that someone understands the goal.