It was at about this time two years ago that the Marc Trestman Bears nosed over into a death spiral of five straight losses, turning a 5-6 record (where the John Fox Bears were last season when missed field goals triggered a collapse) into a quagmire that involved players, coaches and ultimately the general manager. The result cost jobs, from the locker room on up.
That meltdown came in spite of a reasonably healthy team that had blown apart in New England and Green Bay but appeared to be coming back together with wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay. As much as any on-field specific, the total tearing of the team fabric led ownership to the conclusion that a complete re-start was mandated.
The Bears lived the cliché’: Losing doesn’t build character; it reveals it.
The 2016 Bears have done worse in terms of record. But week after week, where past teams had Brandon Marshall or Martellus Bennett or Jeremiah Ratliff moments that fractured the whole, players who were there then cite one major difference.
“It’s a bond, a bond that you build from Day 1,” said defensive end Willie Young, who arrived from Detroit as a free agent before the 2014 season and witnessed the internal carnage that year. “From day one of camp, day one of OTAs, the bond that you build is the kind you don’t even have to talk about. When you’ve got a decent group of guys, you don’t allow anything to break you up.”
Indeed, the internal situation, something that carries heavy weight with ownership, compared to the situation two years ago is like comparing apples and lugnuts. Top players (Jerrell Freeman, Alshon Jeffery) have been suspended, the daily injury litany has become an episode of M*A*S*H, and the supposedly easier second half of the 2016 season has degenerated into an exercise in hypotheticals, as in, hypothetically, which if any of these last six games even COULD be a Bears win?
But Fox, who recalled his 2-14 season as Carolina Panthers coach in which a similarly destitute team held together, has managed to find things that have gone right amid the losses.
“Our guys understand that everything is being evaluated,” Fox said. “We’re all performance-based. Obviously the record is not something that you’d deem encouraging. So I think you’ve got to try to find the positives as far as our approach and how we look at it. Our team sees some of the growth. They see some of the positives, the record not being one of them.”
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That may be the key. A sizeable core of this team – Young, Freeman, Eddie Goldman, Tracy Porter, Pernell McPhee, Kyle Long, Danny Trevathan, others plus draft picks the past two years – are signed beyond this season and are the de facto future of the team.
“Rright now, we’ve got a lot of new pieces in place, struggling here and there,” Young said. “But in the end it’s a bond that you build. It’s a brotherhood, a brotherhood that you build in the process. Because this doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just show up on Sunday and win games. You don’t do that.”
And Fox is signed for two more seasons.
“There are other indicators that we’re making progress,” Fox said. “So whether it’s finishing a game or finishing the season, I think the bulk of that locker room right now would be the core of what we are moving forward, I think. So they see the positives, not just the record…
“It’s a character builder for sure. You find out a lot about people when things aren’t going well. It’s how you respond, whether it’s adversity or success, I think that’s something that our guys understand and that’s why they continue to compete.”
And the winner is…
The Bears will shake up the world if they can defeat the once-lowly Titans, whose last two wins have been by double-digits over Jacksonville and Green Bay, two teams that took care of the Bears. They would have to do it with a down-the-depth-chart quarterback in Matt Barkley, who has never started an NFL game and has six career interceptions vs. zero touchdown passes.
The Bears project to run the football (although they’ve been projected to do that most of this season and are running less than 37 percent of the time). But while Barkley is a likely limiting factor to a pass plan, the absence of three starting offensive linemen may be something that Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey will be unlikely to be able to overcome.
“View from the Moon” projected this game as a “W” before the season and all the injuries and other issues unfolded. No way to stay with that call at this point. The defense has played respectably but unless the offense can surprise with more than its 27 minutes average time of possession, the defense will crack eventually in the second half.
Moon's prediction: Titans 20, Bears 10
View from the Moon ’16 record: 5-5