It looked like a normal Tuesday inside Halas Hall, with a half-dozen or so players scattered around a quiet locker room, stopping only to check their phones or grab a snack before heading into treatment. It felt like anything but a normal Tuesday inside Halas Hall, though, when they chatted with media for the first time since the immediate aftermath of the 21-13 loss to Green Bay that ended the Bears’ playoff hopes.
“We want to continue to show that we’re a better team than what we put out there this year,” center Cody Whitehair said. “Obviously we haven’t played up to the expectations this year, so just to come out here and end the year on a positive note.”
In a way, Tuesday was the last day they’d have to field questions almost exclusively focused on missing the playoffs. Wednesdays are the de facto start of the NFL week, and by then the conversation typically moves toward the upcoming game. That’s not to say the Bears’ playoff failure is going away any time soon, because you absolutely know it’s not, but with Matt Nagy’s mentor and Mitch Trubisky’s comparison in town, Wednesday might allow players the chance to refocus on football. Tuesday, though, was focused on failure.
“You know, I think it just came down to execution,” Whitehair added. “There were certain plays we wish we could have had back obviously. I think it was just about execution.”
Like Nagy said on Monday, the Bears are now on precarious ground for the next two weeks; it’ll be the first time in his tenure that this group has played regular-season football with nothing on the line. The Bears have to manufacture their own motivation now, which in itself can actually be a pretty valuable lesson.
“What type of respect do [players] have for themselves? How do they see themselves? What are they willing to put on the line for their dreams?” Akiem Hicks said. “It’s really just a self-check. Things haven’t gone the way you wanted, you hit a wall in some situations, so how are you gonna respond to it? That’s the age-old question for an athlete or a person in general: How do they respond to adversity?”
The Bears have done their due diligence hitting all the lines about playing hard every week, but they’re also a team that’s never given anyone a reason to believe otherwise. They’ve lost by more than one score only once in the Nagy era, and there are still plenty of performance-based incentives to keep players motivated. Some may not get the chance due to injury. Hicks returned last week from an elbow injury and gutted his way through the Packer game in obvious pain. “It’s my body, but the Bears have a lease on it,” he said.
If he’s given the choice, the defensive tackle will be lining up against Pat Mahomes come Sunday night. “It’s about the boys, man. It’s about being out there with your guys,” Hicks said. “I love competition. I love competition. I love riding with my guys.”
As for what went wrong this season, neither Whitehair nor Hicks had much interest in relitigating it. Whitehair, who’s typically reserved with media, deferred to the one-game-at-a-time response. Hicks, who’s decidedly not, found an equally fitting response.
“You always say, ‘Man, I wish I could have contributed, I wish I could have done better, I wish I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.' … if a wish was a fifth, we’d all be drunk.”