The specific questions swirling around and through the Bears are the simple ones: Jay Cutler’s effectiveness after five missed weeks? Pernell McPhee’s knee? Running-back carries distribution.? That sort of thing.
The broader one is less simple if only because it’s not quantifiable, although it most definitely is performance-based. That concerns the collective state of mind within a team that had very high expectations, even if outsiders did not, and has seen those crumble in a prolonged slide that started when the Bears stood 5-6 and Robbie Gould was lining up a 36-yard field goal to get the Bears to .500.
Since then the Bears have gone 2-10, a two-year span worse than the worst stretch under Marc Trestman (2-8 over final 10 in 2014). The comparison isn’t the point; the risk of a return to the negative culture that John Fox was hired to eradicate.
“They’re pros,” Fox has said. “I think you remind yourself that it’s a long season. We’re not even halfway through. You bring up examples. You know, a team a year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs, started 1-5 and they made the playoffs. So all of those things are possible but if you lay down your sword not so much.”
But at some point human nature can creep in and believing gets more difficult. That is when team leaders earn that designation, except that this year, the co-captains elected on offense – Cutler, Alshon Jeffery – have uncertain Chicago futures. Not that it compromises effort but energy ebbs and flows, and right now it is ebbing, if only based on performance.
The solution does lie within reach, at least in players’ minds.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
“I think that the key for us is to put those 60 minutes together,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “ I think that we’ve had a great 30 minutes of football, 35 minutes of football, shoot, even 40 minutes of football. The Jaguars game where we’re shutting them out the entire first half, we come out and we’re making plays at the beginning.
“But we let it go at the end. And I think that’s something that we acknowledge and need to get better at.”
That football-character flaw is deadly and not new. Indeed, it may trace its origins to the first Minnesota Vikings game last year, also in Soldier Field, like next Monday’s.
The Bears allowed the Vikings 10 points in the final 1:49 of play to lose in the final seconds while themselves failing to hold onto the football for more than 49 seconds in their last possession, allowing the Vikings one more possession for the win.
The Bears won three of their next four after that game, the kind of resilience they are desperately in search of now.
“You just got to keep fighting through it,” Cutler said. “Nothing lasts forever. And I think everyone in the locker room knows that. There’s some talent in the locker room. There’s a lot of guys banged up that hopefully we get back soon. You just got to keep playing football. That’s all we can do.”
And the winner is...
“View from the Moon” posited early this offseason that the Bears would lose both games to the Vikings this year. That was before the Bears’ struggles with significant injuries to key players, which they have not been able to overcome, and before the Vikings’ struggles with significant injuries to key plays, which they have been able to overcome.
The offense may ramp up ever so slightly with Jay Cutler making it more of a threat to the end zone than it was under Brian Hoyer. But Cutler had just one TD pass on 46 attempts, less than half his career rate, and his interceptions were creeping up. The Vikings have shown the kind of pass rush that has unhinged Cutler too often through his career.
Vikings 24, Bears 14
View from the Moon ’16 record: 4-3