Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.
Final Thoughts on Week 7
J.J. Stankevitz: There’s no shame in losing to the New England Patriots, a franchise that’s lost on average about three games per season over the last nine years. The Bears, meanwhile, have nearly as many losses (26) in the last three years as the Patriots do in that span (28). But the more narrow view of Sunday’s game is more frustrating for this team that feels – and was – only a few plays short of not having to rely on a Hail Mary to Kevin White to even tie things up with time expiring. If Ben Braunecker doesn’t lose his footing on a blocked punt…or Mitch Trubisky leads Anthony Miller instead of underthrowing him in the fourth quarter…or if Prince Amukamara and/or Eddie Jackson tackle Josh Gordon for a 25-yard gain instead of 55…or Khalil Mack doesn’t get handled by Dwayne Allen on the last drive, etc. If the Bears miss the playoffs by a game, they’ll kick themselves more for the losses to Green Bay and Miami, but this one won’t be forgotten, either.
Paul Aspan: Mitchell Trubisky missed too many throws, the Patriots quick passing game neutralized a hobbled Khalil Mack and the Bears pass rush, and the best team in the NFL for the better part of the last two decades beat a potential up and coming team that showed early signs they might be a playoff contender while still figuring out how to win. If any of this surprised you, you were probably also shocked by the sub 30-degree October temperatures in Chicago. The only real surprise Sunday was that the Bears allowed 14 points off Special Teams plays – the first time a team had allowed that to happen since…you guessed it! The Bears allowed the Ravens to do it last October (the Rams also scored two special teams TD that same day against the Jags).
The Bears haven’t shown that they’re better than moral victories yet, so accept Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots for what it was. They held their own against a Super Bowl contender in a game they were never going to win whether you looked at it when the schedule first came out or tried to talk yourself into a W after a few too many Old Styles & Malort shots anywhere from the 3-1 Bye week to the 3-3 reality that was Sunday at 4pm.
Cam Ellis: In more optimistic news, how about Bilal Nichols! He's shown a knack for finding the ball and for making big plays in big moments, which is wild considering he shares a defensive front with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Roquan Smith. He's been an absolute menace in the run game and been one of the few on the Bears' defensive side that have continue to play well as the unit struggles as a whole. He was the best player on the field for long stretches of time against the Patriots, and has seen his snap count go over 30 twice in the last three games, after starting off the year with 11 and six, respectively. Once the Bears' defense gets their act together, the addition of Nichols as a real threat is going to be a game-planning nightmare for other coaches.
First Thoughts on Week 8
Stankevitz: The Bears *have* to win these next two games against the Jets and Bills – anything less than 5-3 will lead to an awfully uphill climb to legitimate playoff contention. The Jets had won two in a row before the Minnesota Vikings steamrolled them last weekend, but also haven’t played a road game in a month. A purportedly salty defense has allowed 30 or more points in three of its last four games, a stretch that began by allowing over 500 yards of offense to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sam Darnold has had some good moments, but perhaps what this Bears defense needs is to face a mistake-prone rookie quarterback. This week should provide the Bears an ideal opportunity for a bounce-back at home before going on the road to face an atrocious Bills team in Week 9.
Aspan: Now that I’ve made more than enough excuses for the Bears loss to the Patriots, make no mistake: they have to win the next two games against the Jets and at the Bills if we’re going to take them seriously. The best thing the Jets do is run the ball, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Bears won’t allow Isaiah Crowell and a banged up Bilal Powell to pull a Frank Gore (101 rush yds in week 5) on them (PS: How bout Bilal Nichols!). That leaves the D to feast on a rookie QB, Sam Darnold, who is coming off a 3 interception game and has thrown a pick in all but one of his games this season.
Speaking of a young QB throwing the ball to the other team….I’m not gonna do the Mitchell Trubisky - Patrick Mahomes comparison, who by the way, also missed enough throws against the Patriots to cost his own team a game, because what’s the point? How’s this for a fair bar to judge Trubisky: there are 10 games left in the 2018 season for the Bears. How many games in a row can he go without throwing a red zone pass that should be intercepted? I’ll set the over / under at 3.5 consecutive games (we’re currently at zero). If Trubisky is in fact learning from the last two weeks as we’re being told he is, then staying away from an awful decision in the red zone for four straight games is the least he can do.
But how many of you are actually taking the over on that bet? Yea, I’m not so sure either.
Ellis: And now, a Take:
Since the Bears technically lost by one score and got really close to maybe tying the game (and go ask Justin Tucker how automatic PATs are), there was a lot of talk about moral victories in the immediate aftermath. If you want to say it's a moral victory, fine; it's your life and it's just sports and none of it really matters. But moral victories are just actual losses. There may be a good loss in the preseason, when you care more the process than the actual results -- but when your regular season is 16 games long, there is no good loss. The Patriots are good, but they went into Detroit and got smacked around by a Lions team that the Bears will be expected to beat. Chicago didn't play well enough to beat a Pats team that looked extremely beatable on Sunday -- there's no moral victory there. There's also this:
(Edited) Fun fact: Only once this season have the Bears not led by 10+ at some point during a game — the Week 3 win in Arizona.
Week 1 at GB: 20
Week 2 vs. SEA: 14
Week 3 at ARZ: 2
Week 4 vs. TB: 42
Week 6 at MIA: 11
Week 7 vs. NE: 10— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) October 22, 2018
The Bears are 3-3 and have lead by at least two scores in FIVE OF THEIR SIX GAMES. It's not a moral victory -- or a "new standard" -- when you're blowing three games in which you were up two scores. You're still just losing games. The Bears have the talent to win a division and have played well enough to at times. But there's no victory to be squeezed out of blowing a two-score lead, and there certainly isn't a silver lining to doing it three times in six games. Learn how to finish games.