The Bears overcame much to win the NFC North and earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs: new head coach, new offensive system and staff, quarterback in just his second season and playing with an entirely new group of receivers.
The problem, for a franchise that has had consecutive seasons with double-digit wins only once (2005-2006) in the past quarter-century, is that doing it again in 2019 will be more difficult. A lot more.
It’s not the exponentially more difficult first-place schedule that includes six playoff teams (and the Minnesota Vikings), double the three of this season. It’s the simple and time-honored axiom that it is historically more difficult to stay on top than it was getting there.
And they know it.
“Just like any other year, you’ve got to put in the work to get in that position,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said Monday in the aftermath of the Bears’ 16-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. “I know we’ve got the guys in this room [that will].”
Winning the NFC North, which the Bears did by a comfortable margin (3-1/2 games), will be a challenge. The Packers will have a new coach and drafting two No. 1’s and a No. 2 (the Bears have neither). The Vikings will have a new offensive coordinator and picks in rounds 1-2. The Lions will have new offensive and special-teams coordinators. And Matt Patricia presumably has nowhere to go but up in his second year as head coach.
The Bears had 2018 expectations beyond what outsiders saw for them. Setting and reaching those in 2019 will be considerably more problematic.
“I think it was a great learning experience for us,” said guard Kyle Long, for whom Nagy was his third head coach and Harry Hiestand his fifth O-line coach in six NFL seasons. “We got a chance to see the tip of the iceberg with what we have to offer in regard to talent and knowledge of the game. Our youth is such that we're gonna continue to develop and you've only seen the tip of the iceberg.”
The 2018 season was a virtual fawn fest with coach Matt Nagy, in myriad ways the antithesis of a John Fox era that was marked by thinly disguised warfare with the media, head coach at odds with a popular defensive coordinator and assorted forms of dysfunction, starting with but not limited to quarterback issues.
Combined with the two bizarre years of Phil Emery/Marc Trestman, the enthusiastic buy-in with Matt Nagy was hardly surprising, both inside and outside the organization for reasons beyond just his offensive scheme.
“With this team it was a never a thought where we didn’t think we could go all the way,” Robinson said. “That’s the biggest thing. When you set out for Super Bowl goals and Super Bowl expectations, to come up short is tough. It wasn’t like we were a team going into Week 17 knowing it was our last game. We thought we had four more weeks left. So it’s tough.”
Said linebacker Leonard Floyd: “Losing last night really hurt. But I know what we got now on defense and our offense. So I’m looking forward to us coming back next season even stronger.”
Just for kicks….
Every missed Bears 2018 kick reopened the wound that was the forced exit from Chicago of Robbie Gould, exacerbated by the level of excellence Gould has delivered (82-for-85 on FG’s) for the Giants and 49ers since his departures. The question of what the Bears do in the matter of Cody Parkey after his missed 43-yard’er in the wild-card loss specifically, and after his abysmal 2018 in general, is on more than a few minds after that latest miss ended the playoff run before it really got started.
First thought (and there is no secret insight working here) is that, barring an outright release of Parkey, the Bears run a legitimate competitor at Parkey this offseason and into training camp/preseason. Typically a challenger must dramatically outperform the incumbent to win the job. That may be inverted with Parkey; if the new guy matches Parkey, that may be enough.
Even a perfect preseason obviously won’t completely get out the stain of Parkey’s 2018. But general manager Ryan Pace invested guaranteed money in Parkey for a reason, and the Bears have paid dearly over the past three seasons for giving up on a kicker (Gould) on the basis of one bad stretch.
In the interest of accurate second-guessing, it’s worth remembering that Gould began to lose the confidence of John Fox at a critical point in the 2015 season, when Gould missed critical field goals in consecutive losses to San Francisco and Washington after the Bears had reached 5-6 with a road win over the Packers.
Gould then sealed his fate with a missed a field goal in the 2016 preseason game three, followed by two failed PAT’s in game four. Fox, Pace and the organization dumped Gould and moved into the ongoing fruitless search process for Gould’s replacement.
None of that matters now. But what the Bears do next at a one-time, long-time position of strength does.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.