Despite heartbreak, Bears’ arrow pointing up heading into 2019
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Like many of his teammates, Bears receiver Allen Robinson still was feeling the pain Monday.
‘‘I woke up feeling the same way I went to sleep last night,’’ Robinson said in the Bears’ locker room. ‘‘To wake up and not have a game this week is pretty crazy. Even sitting here talking about it now, it’s pretty crazy. With this team, it was never a [time] where we didn’t think we could go all the way.’’
After a rejuvenating season in which the Bears went from team to watch to NFC North champions and legitimate playoff contenders, their Super Bowl dream was dashed in the rudest way Sunday. Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field-goal attempt with 10 seconds left hit the left upright and the crossbar in a 16-15 playoff loss to the Eagles at Soldier Field.
‘‘It sucks, man, because I knew we had the team to really get far in the playoffs, and losing last night really hurt,’’ linebacker Leonard Floyd said. ‘‘But I know what we’ve got now on defense and on offense, so I’m looking forward to us coming back next season even stronger.’’
But while the pain is real, so is the optimism for a Bears team that took a big step in coach Matt Nagy’s first season, going from 5-11 to 12-4. Despite the disappointing loss, the Bears enter the offseason with the arrow pointing up.
Of their 24 ostensible starters — a group that includes nickel back Bryce Callahan and running back Tarik Cohen — all are younger than 30 except Kyle Long, who turned 30 in December. All but Callahan, safety Adrian Amos and offensive tackle Bobby Massie are signed for next season. And both sides of the ball are looking forward to a continuity bump next season — particularly the offense, which went through growing pains but made significant strides in its first season under Nagy.
With only 12 starts under his belt, quarterback Mitch Trubisky entered 2018 learning a new offense and getting acclimated to a new set of receivers in Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller and tight end Trey Burton. And Long and Robinson, who were limited last offseason while recovering from injuries, expect to have full participation this year.
‘‘Man, we can be special,’’ Burton said. ‘‘Watching Mitch in the second half [against the Eagles], I was so excited for the future. It keeps replaying in my head. There’s so much positive to take from this year. It just makes us all that much more excited to come back.’’
The defense not only figures to return at least 10 of 12 starters, but linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith will go through an entire offseason/training camp/preseason after late starts in 2018. Mack wasn’t even acquired until Sept. 1, eight days before the season opener. Smith missed almost all of camp and the entire preseason
because of a contract dispute.
The defense will be in its fifth season under coordinator Vic Fangio. And if Fangio leaves to become a head coach, Nagy is likely to have an eye on continuity in hiring a replacement, whether it’s veteran secondary coach Ed Donatell — a former coordinator with the Packers and Falcons — or an outsider.
So the pain might ease quickly.
‘‘We weren’t looking forward to this day, and we didn’t want this day to come so soon,’’ cornerback Prince Amukamara said. ‘‘But I would say one thing: A lot of guys are optimistic, and we’re definitely excited and proud of ourselves for what we’ve built. And we’re looking forward to next year.’’