ABears-Browns game is where people have to go when they’ve been bad. It’s the cage for those of us who have failed morally. That’s the only explanation for why anyone would show up for a meeting between these two teams, between bad and worse, on Christmas Eve, with snow coming down.
Either out of compulsion or professional responsibility, we found ourselves at Soldier Field on Sunday. Here were your tired, your poorly insulated, your huddled masses. We could have been home sipping a warm drink instead of checking the GPS to see which level of hell we had been dropped off at. But, no.
There were 17,539 no-shows, people with tickets who had somehow received a pardon, a Christmas miracle. An announced crowd of 41,257 saw the home team win 20-3. It meant that the Bears’ brand of awful was better than the Browns’ brand of awful. Yay.
At least the Browns were going somewhere — back to Cleveland and to the first pick in next year’s draft. The Bears? We’re stuck with them, like a tongue on a frozen flagpole. And nobody triple-dog dared us. That’s the worst part. Too many people keep coming back, perhaps in lesser numbers than before, but nobody ever really makes the McCaskeys pay.
The stadium looked half-filled by the second half, a bad look, but I’m sure ownership will say that the weather, the holiday and the winless Browns had more to do with it than fan disgruntlement over the franchise’s crater of a rut.
“The fans have stuck with us through thick and thin,’’ Bears linebacker Sam Acho gushed. “We wanted to come out and make a statement, a lasting memory. To get the win was awesome, and then to hear the fans cheering and throwing snowballs, it was a blast. So God is just good.’’
This is when I had a brief moment of doubt. Maybe I had this all wrong. Maybe this was indeed a big victory. Maybe this was the start of something bigger for the Bears.
“Cleveland’s had a lot of games that have been in overtime or come down to the wire, so we know that they’re a good team,’’ Acho said.
The Browns? A good team? That’s when I knew that the hellscape I thought I had just laid eyes on for three hours was, indeed, a hellscape.
The 0-15 Browns haven’t won since Prohibition. And nothing the 5-10 Bears said after the game could change that.
There was a report Sunday that team president Ted Phillips was researching possible replacements for coach John Fox, who is likely to be fired 30 seconds after the last game of the season next week. That scared a lot of people because Phillips is an accountant by trade and not a football guy by any stretch. But Phillips’ PR operatives were quick to quash the report. We’ll assume that general manager Ryan Pace is in charge until the day Phillips tells us at a news conference announcing Pace’s firing that he’s not.
But here’s an October 2016 quote from Phillips to keep you warm on a 2017 winter day: “There is nothing more valuable to us than the loyalty of our fans, and they have been great through good times, through bad times. I think most of the fans recognize that we are a younger team now. Might take a little time.’’
And I might be a little close to starring in a Gucci cologne ad campaign.
The Browns could have won this game. Defensive lineman Myles Garrett ran back a Mitch Trubisky interception to the Bears’ 5-yard line to start the second half, only to see it called back because of an offside penalty on teammate Carl Nassib. Four plays later, Jordan Howard was in the end zone for the Bears.
Even when something goes right for the Browns, it goes terrible wrong.
We don’t know if Trubisky improved as a quarterback. The Browns’ badness skews everything, making it impossible to see if real steps were taken. We were reminded that he can run, which is at least something. He rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and probably could have run for 50 more yards. His offensive line was a patchwork mess because of injuries, and that explained the five sacks.
The Bears didn’t crash Sunday as some of us thought they might. There was no need to look for a black box to find out what happened. And in some ways, the day was unfair, a no-win proposition for the home team. Lose to Cleveland, and the city would have killed the Bears for their wretchedness. Beat the Browns, and so what?
The best thing you can say about this game is that it’s over.
Can we go home now?
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.