A week ago at this time, Robbie Gould ruled. It was as if by making five field goals in a victory for the 49ers at Soldier Field, the former Bears kicker had boomed balls through the glass house known as Halas Hall.
Everyone – from players to coaches to management to the Bears’ season-ticket representatives – was seemingly left ducking for cover because everything looked so bad for the team after losing to the then one-win 49ers.
But as coach John Fox would say, the carnival has replaced the crisis again after the Bears’ dominant 33-7 win against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
But who should feel better about that carnival — Fox or general manager Ryan Pace?
If coaches are only as good as their players, then it’s apparent where the credit goes.
Beating the Bengals looked good for Fox and his staff because the players haven’t quit on them; they look prepared and produced. But it looked even better for Pace because it was a victory delivered by his own draft picks. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, tight end Adam Shaheen, center Cody Whitehair and safety Eddie Jackson were the Bears’ best players.
It’s important to not overvalue the victory. The Bengals were without five defensive starters and have their own coaching questions to answer. But the Bears’ young core played a role in the Bears’ other victories, too.
Steelers? Howard scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime, while Shaheen caught his first career touchdown.
Ravens? The Bears don’t win without Trubisky’s 18-yard completion to receiver Kendall Wright on third-and-11 in overtime or Cohen’s 21-yard touchdown pass.
Panthers? Jackson returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns.
While scarce, the Bears’ victories do have meaning because of who is producing them. They didn’t come behind quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley.
If the Bears beat the Lions, Browns or Vikings over the next three weeks, it will be because of Trubisky and his young teammates.
Pace certainly deserves to be criticized. Fox’s 13-32 record also is Pace’s. Pace has filled out his rosters with a number of free-agents signings who have flamed out. It starts with his decision to sign quarterback Mike Glennon and anoint him the starter, though paying him $18.5 million was more complicated than many contend.
Pace’s decision to stick with Cutler for two years and to put off drafting his own franchise quarterback until this year also is worthy of criticism.
That said, Pace is most guilty of selling hope when there was none when he arrived. He should have said that his Bears are rebuilding. He should have used that “R” word, too. He should have said that his overhaul would require years and also Bears fans’ patience.
Chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips are guilty, too. They’re on the record expressing their belief in Fox’s history of quick turnarounds when they should have recognized and admitted what was truly afoot for their team.
Rebuilds might be a hard sell to a disappointed fanbase, especially in the NFL, but that was — and still is — the Bears’ reality.
When Pace and Fox arrived, the Bears’ best players also were some of their worst. Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall, tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and others had runs at Halas Hall that needed to end.
In the five drafts that proceeded Pace and Fox’s arrival, only four of the 30 players the Bears drafted – cornerback Kyle Fuller, guard Kyle Long, left Charles Leno and punter Pat O’Donnell – have played for the Bears this season. Long is the only one from 2013.
As far as building his roster, Pace didn’t start from scratch; he literally had to create the scratch itself. It took three years, but his rebuild is finally providing hope.