In the wake of the 20-12 loss last Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, a game that finished off the first half of the Bears’ 2017 season, coach John Fox succinctly summarized the Bears’ lot in NFL life to this point:
“I think we’ve kind of been a tale of two seasons,” Fox said, adding in a bit of colossal understatement, “the first four, then the second four.”
“View from the Moon” posited post-New Orleans that the Bears certainly were like every other team: exactly what their record says they are, which was 3-5. But exactly what was happening within that 3-5 wasn’t a simple story.
Indeed, to look at the two halves of the first 2017 half-season as an eight-game lump is to ignore the obvious. It is also to miss some of the exact details that point to a Bears team dramatically different starting the second half of the season against the Green Bay Packers from the one that faced the Atlanta Falcons to start the first half.
The overarching obvious difference has been Mitch Trubisky, with his rookie’ness and all the rest. He is far, very far from what he and the Bears anticipate him becoming, yet the seismic impact of the Bears’ quarterback change is very much what the organization had in mind when they traded up to ensure they’d secure him in the April draft.
To his credit, Trubisky was appropriately restrained in his self- and team first-half critique, befitting a quarterback completing less than half his passes and with a total QBR keeping company with those of Glennon, DeShone Kizer, Trevor Siemian and C.J. Beathard: “I thought [the season’s first half] was alright. A lot to learn from and a lot to improve on.”
Improvement by the numbers
Trubisky has moved the Bears at least in the right direction on the improvement continuum.
The Glennon Bears were outscored 61-104, an average of nearly 11 points per game with the team committing 10 turnovers. Trubisky Bears have stanched the bleeding, turning the football over just five times in the last four games. Even with Trubisky’s limitations, the Bears outscored their last four opponents 73-67, not including the aberrant ruling that erased the Zach Miller touchdown.
The points differential becomes more noteworthy when measured against strength of schedule. The first four games – Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Green Bay – were billed as a crucible from which the Bears would be lucky to escape with one win, which they did.
But the first four opponents have a combined record of 16-13 to this point. The four that the Bears faced under Trubisky are a combined 20-11.
Of the four defenses the Bears faced under Glennon, only one (Pittsburgh) was ranked higher than 15th in points allowed. The Bears under Trubisky have faced no defense worse than New Orleans (12th), preceded by Carolina (No. 5), Baltimore (No. 6) and Minnesota (No. 4).
Overall the Bears have played exactly one opponent – Tampa Bay – that is less than a .500 team through the first half of this season. Curiously perhaps, the Buccaneers handed the Bears their worst loss of the season, by 22 points in week two.
The Vikings, leading the NFC North at 6-2, have played three sub-.500’s, not including the Bears.
Playoff goal still in place
The Bears have never been a .500 team at any time during the Fox tenure. Three times they had chances to square the record deep into the season – twice in 2015, standing 4-5 and 5-6 but losing at home to Denver and San Francisco, and last week at 3-4 against New Orleans. They failed on each occasion.
They’ve also missed the playoffs nine of the last 10 years, which makes any discussion of postseason possibilities fanciful at best, laughable at least. Even the 0-8 Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers aren’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason, so the bar for playoff talk is pretty low.
But here’s the thing: The rest of the NFL and in particular the NFC North has done anything but run away from the Bears even through those struggling years under three different head coaches.
In each of the last nine years, a team from the NFC North has reached the postseason, as division winner or wild card, with at least five losses. Twice over that stretch the division was won with six losses, once with seven (Green Bay at 8-7-1 in 2013 after Chris Conte had his coverage issue with Randall Cobb). Four times an NFC North runner-up went in as a wild card with six losses, plus last year when the Lions went wild-card’ing with seven losses.
“I think we're kind of where we are, but to start the season and to start every season that I've been here, [the goal] is to win our division,” Fox said. “One thing…when you do that, you're guaranteed a spot in the tournament. So that's still the goal.
“Right now we're kind of a one game at a time, one-break-at-a-time type of mentality so, as these guys go away and refresh and regroup a little bit, kind of like a halftime break, you know they'll start thinking about the Green Bay Packers.”