At this point of a dismal and degenerating 2016 season, who the Bears face on any given week has gradually become less and less relevant. Matchups are noteworthy in every game, but the one matchup that the Bears have not been able to win with even remote consistency has been the one with themselves.
As the famous quotation from vintage comic strip Pogo goes, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The Bears did not lose a week ago because of how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played; they lost because the offense and Jay Cutler lost the football five times, and because the defense could not make a play at the outset of the second half.
They did not lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars because of an ascendant quarterback Blake Bortles; they lost because their defense couldn’t protect a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead and allowed 17 points in the fourth quarter, 10 in the final 2:10. The Bears outgained Philadelphia and Indianapolis and lost to both.
Intriguing matchups are present every week. But at 2-7, of greater interest is how the Bears respond to their situation rather than how they scheme for Odell Beckham Jr., or Eli Manning, or whether Cutler can manage a modicum of ball security against a Giants defense among the NFL’s worst in takeaways (minus-8 turnover ratio).
The Bears have become the story unto themselves, having established what they were capable of in the defeat of the Minnesota Vikings, and establishing what they were capable of in the debacle in Florida.
“It’s all about you handle adversity,” said linebacker Willie Young.
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The degree to which that adversity is self-inflicted as perhaps the true story of 2016, because it was left in doubt last season, with the Bears losing four of their last five after being within an easy field goal of .500, whether the John Fox Bears were any better at handling adversity than were the Marc Trestman Bears.
The level of adversity coming out of Tampa last Sunday is dramatically heightened because the Bears went into that game with expectations — the previous week off, a relatively healthy roster, a third-tier opponent. They came out of it demoralized, at least football-wise.
That the locker room has remained close and not fractured is something of a statement. But it is more a commentary on the kind of character individuals comprising the team than their football character.
The Bears continue to point the thumb rather than fingers.
“They see what I’m telling you; it’s not one guy that takes the sole responsibility for a game,” Fox said. “Everybody’s signature is on it ... Our guys understand that [Tampa Bay is] one game.”
Of course, it isn’t just “one game” or the Bears wouldn’t be 2-7. But the Bears came into 2016 privately believing that they had pieces in place to be a good team. Now those pieces are in pieces and as replacement receivers, offensive linemen, defensive backs and other position subs work for their futures, something of what the Bears’ identity will be going forward is really what is at stake.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio set something of a course when players noticed him already game-planning for the Giants during their return flight from Tampa.
“You have to respect that from your leadership, knowing that we may be in a situation that we don’t want to be in,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “We’d love to be in a different position than this season so far. But we’re not going to back down from our next opponent just because we’re having some tough bumps in the road.”
And the winner is...
The Giants have won four straight, going for five for the first time since 2010. The Bears have put up nothing short of miserable performances in three of their last four outings (Jacksonville, Green Bay, Tampa Bay). The Bears quarterback is having statistically the worst season of his career and is tasked with working behind an offensive line missing its starters at right guard and tackle. The only question this week is how bad.
Giants 27, Bears 13