Something is seriously missing from the 2016 Bears, and something is seriously wrong when the most emotional member of the Bears was even not in uniform Sunday night during the Bears’ 29-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Linebacker Pernell McPhee, voted by teammates as one of the defensive co-captains despite being on the physically unable to perform list due to offseason knee surgery, went over to and bumped Jay Cutler after the latter had thrown a devastating third-quarter interception, a sloppy throw off his back foot that was turned into a Philadelphia Eagles touchdown. McPhee, the emotional leader of the defense last year even when he was slowed with his worsening knee, appeared incensed with Cutler as the game slipped away from the Bears.
“He’s a passionate guy,” Cutler said. “Everyone’s got a lot invested into this and he does as well. No one likes to lose in that type of fashion. He’s upset, I’m upset and everyone in that locker room is upset.”
Passion in the locker room actually isn’t the problem right now. There’s plenty of that.
“We got a lot of passionate guys,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman. “I walk in the locker room and I can just feel it.”
Feeling it or seeing it on the field is something else altogether, as the Bears dissolved into a defeat that is their sixth in the last seven under coach John Fox extending back to early last December. This was beyond simply a defeat that ran their home record to 1-8 under Fox.
That record of non-performance at home was talked about internally by the Bears last week. But talk is also not a problem.
“It’s tough,” Fox conceded. “We have a lot of improving to do.”
Which was not supposed to be the case for a team that brought in free agents accustomed to winning. Indeed, this kind of repeat performance is concerning on a franchise level.
The fact is that for all of the “building for the future” talk, the importance of the draft picks and whatever else, the Bears do not see themselves on a three-year or x-years plan. The Bears were building to win now, not in two or three years, something that was evident way back when they signed a veteran backup quarterback – Hoyer – rather than draft a young arm and put him in the pipeline. They signed a 30-year-old Pro Bowl guard – Josh Sitton – rather than go with a youth movement, even when center Hroniss Grasu went down for the year. They signed veteran linebackers and a lineman for the core of their defense and extended the contract of a veteran edge pass rusher (Willie Young).
Those additions were for now, not three years from now.
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The Bears (0-2) were outplayed in every phase by a middling Eagles team led by a rookie quarterback (Carson Wentz). The Bears were led by a quarterback of their own (Cutler) whose future becomes increasingly cloudy for a team that has not shown indications under three head coaches that it can win with him. Cutler was hampered by a thumb injury that was banged up early and eventually forced him out of the game in favor of Brian Hoyer.
Assessing effort is never an exact science but the Bears never appeared to be playing with any fire, evidenced by another poor performance in the run game and by poor tackling against the Eagles – two elements of the game that begin with want-to, which the Bears suddenly don’t.
Turning the football over on three of their first four possessions of the second half – a strip-sack fumble by Cutler, the interception and a fumble by running back Jeremy Langford – bespoke a sloppiness that is typically emblematic of a losing team, which the Bears played like for the second straight week.
The Eagles for their part appeared to have less than zero regard for the Bears as the game went on. With the Bears’ tackling degenerating into lackadaisical, Wentz and the Eagles opted to try a fourth-and-goal conversion from the Chicago 2 when a field goal was a comfortable option for a three-score lead. The Bears initially made a stop but were offside, and the Eagles easily converted the second chance.
Adding to the misery of the night, the Bears were riddled with injuries, lowlighted by Jay leaving with a hand injury suffered on a tackle attempt following an interception. Cutler lost the final six games of a promising 2011 season to a broken thumb while trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception to the San Diego Chargers.
More serious initially appeared to be a knee injury to linebacker Lamarr Houston in the second quarter. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Running back Ka’Deem Carey went out with a hamstring strain, and defensive backs Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan suffered concussions.
Fox has successfully turned around the fortunes of teams in Carolina and Denver. His message after Monday, in a year looking like anything but a turnaround:
“’Stay together,’” recounted tight end Zach Miller. “We understand that when you start 0-2 and put that product on the football field, we understand what’s going to be said, what’s going to come of it.”
What’s going to come of this defeat may not be so easy to understand.