About this time 11 months ago, a 2015 season that had begun with three decisive losses was within a short field goal of reaching the .500 mark on a growing wave of confidence arising out of what looked to be a season-turning win over the leading team in the NFC North, then the Green Bay Packers.
But Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal try from 36 yards missed as time expired in the San Francisco game and the Bears fell into a spiral of 10 losses in the next 12 games.
That spiral stopped, at least temporarily, when the Bears took the measure of the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. But now the greater question looms, whether the Bears can build on what they delivered against the Vikings and stack wins.
Because if they cannot, the Minnesota win was next to meaningless in the grander scheme.
“This league's all about putting together wins,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “If you go win-loss throughout the whole year, you're not going to be where you want to be. So being able to stack 2, 3, 4, 5 wins, not have back-to-back losses, that's how you make the playoffs and that's how you're successful in this league. Those guys in the locker room know that.”
Pointing toward a second consecutive strong performance is the fact that John Fox teams are 10-4 following the off-weeks. One of those losses came last year when a succession of fourth-quarter breakdowns led to a post-break loss to the Vikings but the Bears then won three of their next four.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Before the disaster against San Francisco, which came after a big win and some time off (10 days). Fox teams have not disintegrated in the face of some losses but neither have they shown the ability to sustain momentum in the right direction.
“I think it is a good measuring stick,” Fox said. “I think it’s hard to compare seasons just like it’s hard to compare players. Each year these things take on a different personality. Even our whole football team is a completely different team. I think the timing is a little different [this year]… .
“But I think the thing that’s going to help us hopefully, moving forward – that’s the idea – is that we’ve become a little bit more whole. I mean, we were a young football team to start the season. And then you get banged up pretty good, then you drop off pretty fast. Hopefully we just get to be: the roster is stronger, some of the guys we’re putting out there are a little more experienced, a little more capable. So hopefully that buoys us a little bit better than maybe a season ago.”
And the winner is….
In the preseason analysis of the Bears’ schedule, “View from the Moon” predicted that the Bears would begin a surge in the second half of the season, and that surge would start with beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That prediction is staying in place. Because:
In defeating the Bucs last season, the Bears rushed for 174 yards on the Bucs and controlled the football for more than 37 minutes, leaving Tampa with a win that contributed to the Bucs ultimately firing coach Lovie Smith despite a significant improvement in record.
Then-rookie quarterback Jameis Winston showed flashes of why he had been the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. But this year Winston has failed to take a next step in his development despite throwing to one of the NFL leaders in receptions (Mike Evans, 55 catches, eight touchdowns).
The Bears are running the football with purpose and with effect now, and are getting their Pro Bowl guards back from injuries. They also are rushing quarterbacks (14 sacks over the past four games), and Winston has been sacked no fewer than twice in any of his last seven games.
The Bears are feeling a strong confidence because of players returning from injury (Bryce Callahan, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long, Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, others). At full or near-full strength, the Bears are simply a better team.
Moon's prediction: Bears 21, Bucs 17
View from the Moon ’16 record: 4-4