Take it from someone who has been there: The Bears’ defense will survive with or without coordinator Vic Fangio in 2019, but his departure would still leave a hole that can’t quite be filled.
“I’m proud of him,’’ Bears Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton said. ‘‘I’m glad for what he was able to accomplish here in Chicago. But whoever comes in behind him, I wouldn’t want to be you. It would be like being in a movie and John Wayne leaves, and you get Glenn Ford or Audie Murphy. They’re movie stars. But it ain’t the same.”
After taking the Bears’ defense to new heights this season, Fangio could finally get a long-awaited head-coaching job. He reportedly is one of two finalists for the job with the Broncos along with former Titans coach Mike Munchak.
The Bears return the bulk of their defense, with only safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan unsigned among the starters. But Fangio was a guru for this group, the “evil genius,” as outside linebacker Khalil Mack called him. Even with the same players, the dynamic would be different.
Hampton, of course, remembers being in that situation in 1986, when Buddy Ryan left the Bears to become the Eagles’ coach.
“It was very similar to what this group here would feel if Vic was gone,” Hampton said. “You can tell they all pledged their allegiance to him. They bought in. They loved playing for him. If he does go on, it’s not going to change Mack’s ability to rush the passer. It’s not going to change Kyle Fuller’s ability to break on the ball. But what will change is the chemistry that they had.”
When Vince Tobin replaced Ryan, the Bears’ defense set an NFL record for fewest points allowed. Their sack and takeaway numbers were close to 1985. But by the eye test, the defense lost some of the bite it had with Ryan.
“Even though the ’86 team had fewer points allowed, the defense was nowhere near the same,” Hampton said. “It’s almost like a human body that you do a lobotomy on — they look the same and they’re the same size and talk the same, but they’re different.”
In 1986, the players took it upon themselves to meet Ryan’s standard without him. That would be the challenge for this defense without Fangio.
“I don’t know,’’ Hampton said. ‘‘Will this defense be able to suck it up and have the character to do that? We had [Steve] McMichael and [Mike] Singletary and Richard Dent and [Gary] Fencik. This team’s got a lot of very good players, but they’re going to have their character and their soul tested if Vic is gone because we all know what he was. He was the savant. And you only get those once in a great while. And when they move on, the magic will never be the same.”
2 General manager Ryan Pace has been pretty quick to acknowledge mistakes. But kicker Cody Parkey is a much tougher call than it looks. The cap hit is workable but not insignificant. His career is still salvageable. And after signing Connor Barth, Cairo Santos, Mike Nugent and Parkey, there’s no certainty Pace will find the right guy just by throwing more money at the problem.
The issue is whether Parkey is so scarred in Chicago that his chance to succeed has been irreparably damaged. Maybe. Maybe not. But letting Parkey win a battle in training camp — which could be just what he needs — and giving Parkey a chance to rebuild some faith with a solid preseason might be Pace’s best bet at this point.
3 Fun Fact: When Parkey made the Pro Bowl with the Eagles in 2014, the game at University of Phoenix Stadium was played with goalposts that were narrowed from 18½ feet between the uprights to 14 feet, with PATs snapped from the 15-yard line. Parkey did not attempt a field goal in that game but was 2-for-2 on the 33-yard extra points. The Colts’ Adam Vinatieri missed a 38-yard field goal and two PATs in that game.
4 Did you know? The Patriots have had two regular kickers in the last 23 seasons — Vinatieri (1996-2005) and Stephen Gostkowski (2006-18). Shayne Graham kicked in eight games for Gostkowski in 2010 — and went 12-for-12 on field goals. The Bears have used 14 kickers in the same span.
5 The Bears’ loss to the Eagles might have been the most heartbreaking sudden-death (or virtual sudden-death), season-ending finish to a playoff game in Chicago history.
The Blackhawks’ Game 7 overtime loss to the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Final — when Alec Martinez’s shot deflected off Nick Leddy’s shoulder past Corey Crawford — is pretty tough to top. The Hawks likely would’ve won the Stanley Cup if they had won that game. But on a per-capita fan basis, the Parkey miss inflicted more pain.
6 Trey Burton’s groin injury was as mystifying as Parkey’s miss was stunning — and ironic. A team that was remarkably healthy all season — even getting guard Kyle Long back after a serious ankle injury in Week 8 — loses its best tight end to an injury that even Burton doesn’t know the cause of? Burton said he didn’t think the injury was related to anxiety issues he has had in the past. If not, it was the worst timing in the world for a team that had a lot of things go its way in 2018.
7 Whatever happened to the lowering-the-helmet rule? As it turned out, only 18 infractions were called in 256 regular-season games — with few fines and no suspensions that would have allowed teams to nullify guaranteed-money provisions in contracts.
So regardless of which side you blame in the Roquan Smith-Bears standoff in training camp, the holdout was a detriment to each. Had Smith been in camp on time and played more than eight snaps in the opener, maybe the Bears beat the Packers, finish 13-3 and get the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
8 In the Lovie Smith era, it’s very likely someone would have almost reflexively retrieved the loose ball on Anthony Miller’s catch that was broken up — actually, stripped — by former Bears nickel back Cre’Von LeBlanc inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line late in the first half. But it’s hard to blame the Bears for not doing it on that play because the official immediately and decisively ruled the play incomplete.
It did not compare to the gaffe by the Bears’ defense against the Packers in Week 17 in 2013, when Julius Peppers stripped Aaron Rodgers, no call was made as the ball was on the ground — and Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin picked up the ball and scored a touchdown in the Bears’ 33-28 loss.
9 Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week Award: LeBlanc had three tackles and the breakup of the pass to Miller in 52 snaps in the Eagles’ 16-15 wild-card victory against the Bears.
10 Bear-ometer (2019): 10-6 — vs. Chiefs (L); at Packers (W); vs. Giants (W); vs. Saints (L); at Lions (W); at Redskins (W); vs. Chargers (L); at Broncos (W); vs. Vikings (W); at Eagles (L); at Raiders (W); vs. Lions (W); vs. Packers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Cowboys (W); at Vikings (L).
(Actual order of the schedule to be determined)