From the day of his arrival as Bears coach, John Fox has been about the business of reshaping the culture, beginning with minicamps, OTAs, training camp and even into added emphasis on winning in the preseason. The changed mindset was apparent through the early regular season, with the Bears shaking off even a shutout loss at Seattle to rebound with two comeback wins to start the climb in the right direction.
But now a Bears team that had just won three out of four (all three on the road) has lost three out of four (all three at home) in gut-twisting fashion, all with missed efforts to tie or win within the final seconds. The nature and number of the losses could conceivably undo some of the positive culture change sought by Fox and his staff.
“All of us are ultimately trying to get better every week,” Fox said. “That, in turn, will at some point flow into next season.”
Unless the Bears are different than most of the NFL — or mankind, for that matter — the result of repeated defeats and the missed opportunities will leave scar tissue.
“We just have to get back to work, put it behind us,” defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins insisted. “It’s that simple.”
But is it?
Contrary to the claim that every season is its own entity and momentum does not carry over, the reality is that there can be scar tissue that carries over into the offseason. That, like it or not, in fact adds urgency to the Bears’ final three games. Confidence can be built or shaken, and people have memories.
“Last year we finished good, and I think that gave us, maybe, a push into the offseason and kind of go from there,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Guys felt good about being here.”
Zimmer has had to deal with a slump in team confidence, surprising perhaps in a Vikings team standing 8-5 and in possession of the sixth playoff spot.
After the Bears were shut out in Week 3 by the Seahawks, they rebounded. The Vikings won five in a row to reach 7-2, but after they were crushed by the Seahawks, 38-7, two weeks ago, they suffered a crisis of confidence that might have leaked over into last weekend in a loss to Arizona.
“We just got our butts kicked pretty bad against Seattle,” Zimmer said. “It was a game we just didn’t do anything well — special teams, offense or defense. I just think sometimes that causes you a little bit of doubt maybe, but we have a pretty resilient group.”
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The Bears have been resilient. So far.
After losing the first three, they rallied for two wins. They failed to win a third (OT loss in Detroit) and reach .500 and lost two straight. Then they again rallied, with road wins over San Diego and St. Louis six days apart. The loss to Denver, then the Thanksgiving win at Green Bay.
Then the San Francisco and Washington losses, the third two-loss brace this season.
Fox hasn’t had to coach back from two straight losses since early in the 2012 season with the Denver Broncos, who then ripped off 12 wins in the next 13 games. But this is not then, and the Bears are not a team with Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas in Pro Bowl seasons.
Fox is in fact coaching for the present as prelude for the future.
“Our goals are no different right now than they were five weeks ago, four weeks ago, two weeks ago, last week,” Fox said. “We’re trying to get better, improve, evaluate our team and do everything we can to get better as a team.”
This year. And next.