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The Bears have two paths to the playoffs
One doesn't require them winning on Sunday. They'll probably go for that one.
There are a lot of conflicted Bears fans out there right now. On one hand, the smart ones know that the team would benefit from a new president, new GM—or whatever Ryan Pace is—, a new coach and a new quarterback.
On the other hand, a rare Bears playoff appearance could be had on Sunday. The franchise that we choose to root for has only gone of playoffs, incredibly, four times in the last 20 seasons.
The Bears pasted the Jacksonville Jaguars—who were being sabotaged by the owner and front office by not having “injured” running back James Robinson, and having former Bears dud QB (there are no other kinds) Mike Glennon foisted upon them. The Jags put up a fight, but they are overmatched on their best day, and that was not their best day. The loss “earned” Jacksonville the first overall pick in next spring’s draft, which means they lost their way into first crack at an actual franchise quarterback, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
The 41-17 win, coupled with an incredible loss on Saturday by the Arizona Cardinals to the injury ravaged San Francisco 49ers, means that if the Bears win on Sunday against Green Bay, or the Cardinals lose to the Rams, the Bears are going to the playoffs.
The conflict stems from Bears fans knowing that this is not a franchise run with anything close to savvy. A smart front office would not let a late season flurry of competence against terrible competition erase everything that has gone on with this team for nearly two full seasons now. They’d accept the playoff spot, but not let it change the well earned opinion the players and coaches have helped them form.
This is a mediocre team, with a few good players on defense but no real depth anymore, a few decent players on offense, no quarterback, and a pretty good punter, kicker and kick returner. Whoo.
But we live in a reality that we know all too well. One in which the incompetent family that owns the team will take a playoff appearance as justification to keep most of those duds we just singled out who need to be sent away.
A playoff berth makes Matt Nagy completely safe (he’s pretty safe now), gets Ryan Pace a completely undeserved one year extension to his contract and it might just earn Mitch Trubisky another run as the QB. I think that’s less likely, because next year becomes a prove it or else season for Pace and Nagy, and we know that Nagy has no confidence in Mitch. It would probably behoove Pace to keep Mitch since he drafted him second overall and traded actual assets for that privilege, but I don’t think Pace has any confidence in Mitch either.
After a frustrating first half where the Bears offense kept stalling out in the red zone thanks in part to a mind-numbingly terrible first and goal inside the one yard line tight end end around (which you never see because it’s so dumb), and the single worst interception of Mitch’s career, which admittedly is really saying something.
The Bears defense wasn’t pressuring Glennon, who Bears fans remember folding like origami whenever a defensive lineman got within six feet of him during his one inglorious season with the team. It was such an obvious move that injured Bears’ running back Tarik Cohen tried to change his team’s strategy via Tweet.
At halftime, with the Bears up just 13-10, either the Jaguars got the message from the c-suite that it was time to turtle up, or the Bears really got their shit together, because the team who has not been able to score third quarter points at all this season suddenly scored three touchdowns in the quarter.
Roquan Smith intercepted two Glennon passes (and fumbled on both returns, though he also recovered both fumbles), David Montgomery’s 95 rushing yards put him over 1,000 for the season (and yes, 1,000 yards in 15 games is a whopping 67 yards per game, but still…), Allen Robinson caught 10 passes in his return to Jacksonville and now has 100 for the season, and the Bears’ best player, kicker Frodo Santos has now made 24 straight field goal attempts, which ties the Bears’ season record held by Robbie Gould from 2006. Robbie, coincidentally, spent Saturday shanking kicks for the Niners in a blatant attempt to keep the Bears out of the playoffs.
A lot is being made of the Bears recent offensive explosion. They are averaging 35 points per game over their last four, after averaging fewer than 20 points per game in the first eleven games of the season. That’s great.
It also helps that the four teams they’ve played average giving up 31 points per game.
So, on one hand the Bears should be credited for doing something they seemed incapable of, putting it on bad defenses, but on the other hand, we still have no reason to be super confident they can do it against any team that’s actually worth a shit.
They’ll find out on Sunday against the Packers, who need to win to earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs and the only first round bye. The hopes of dodging Aaron Rodgers evaporated when Seattke beat the Rams requiring a week 17 win by Green Bay to lock up that spot.
The stuff that worked against Jacksonville simply won’t work against Green Bay. The Bears really need to get rookie corner Jaylon Johnson back, because Kindle Vildor is a turnstile at that spot, and, I can’t believe I’m typing this, but they also probably need Buster Skrine back. I guess we know why he plays over Duke Shelley.
On offense, Mitch’s recent production is nice, but it’s all been empty calories. Sunday showed some perfect examples. His interception was completely stupefying. He rolled right and did his weird spin back to the middle of the field move and then went farther to the right and there was nothing and it was second down and instead of throwing it out of bounds or running for a few yards he forced a throw to…we honestly don’t know who, there were three Jaguars closer to the pass than any of his actual teammates.
But it was more than that. Even on plays he made he stole yards from his team. On one sequence he completed back to back throws to Robinson. The first was an out that was thrown behind Robinson. Had it been in front of Allen he gains five or ten more yards. Instead he had to slow down and reach back and was immediately tackled. On the next play Robinson got separation on a post and it would have been a big play but Mitch threw it behind him again and Robinson was tackled right at the point of the catch. In the third quarter Mitch had a wide open Jimmy Graham in the end zone and overthrew him for an incompletion. A quarter earlier he threw a wide open Darnell Mooney past the end line and into where the cheerleaders would have been.
Is it nit picky to emphasize these when a guy has thrown seven TDs to two interceptions in his last four games? No. It’s not. Of course you can make those throws against the Lions, Vikings, Texans and Jaguars. Against a playoff team you don’t get many open guys like Graham and Mooney were and you can’t afford to miss them, and if you throw the ball to Robinson on the wrong shoulder those passes aren’t complete with no yards after catch, they’re knocked away or worse.
You know what a playoff team without a playoff quarterback is? Every Bears playoff team since 1985. We’ve seen it and it just doesn’t work. It’s nice that Mitch has played better, but the fact that his recent play has been so noticeably better than before is a testament to how poor he has played before. He went from a D to a C+ and we’re supposed to act like he’s getting all A’s. He’ll take a real test on Sunday and if he doesn’t go up to another level (one I don’t think he has) it’ll be pretty apparent, pretty fast that the Bears have no shot.
One way this might work for those of us who want real change is the Bears getting their ass handed to them by the Packers again like they did a month ago, but backing into the playoffs with a Cardinals loss, only to get smoked again in the Wild Card round. Maybe that’s what would take. Imagine how miserable that would be. Wait. Don’t do that to yourself.
The Bears dazzled Rich Gannon (a former Delaware Blue Hen quarterback, just like The Visor) with all of their pre-snap motion. Gannon acted like it’s something the Bears always do, but they clearly have added more of it, and honestly, if they have to roll Mitch out to make the offense work, they need to do that. If teams are only going to have defend half the field, you need to give them something else to be confused by.
Gannon was like every other former NFL QB who has done a Mitch game, confounded by some of Mitch’s throws and decisions. Troy Aikman always sounds like he wants to kill himself when he does games that Mitch is playing in, and lucky Troy, he’ll be on the call Sunday. One comment by Gannon stood out—especially since so much of his bland analysis is lame Mad Libs clichés and pseudoprofundities. The play clock had run down inside five seconds in the second quarter and Nagy called timeout, and just as he called it, Mitch took the snap. Gannon said that only coaches who don’t trust their quarterbacks worry that they are unaware of the play clock. (I get the feeling Dennis Green did that to Rich in Minnesota a lot.)
The biggest danger for Sunday is Matt Nagy reading the Packers defensive stat sheet. The Packers win with offense, and while their defense is sixth overall in total yardage it is just 25th against the pass. Their 10th overall rank in rush defense is fueled by having leads and teams giving up on the run, as their 4.5 yards per carry allowed is 25th in the league. No way Nagy pays attention to that. He’ll just see it as throwing is the only way to attack them, because that’s what he wants to do anyway.
It’s tempting to root against the Bears on Sunday because we know that this assortment of stooges is not the long-term answer. But just the illusion of playoff contention has already cemented the returns of Pace and Nagy, especially since we know Vags and George didn’t really want to fire them in the first place.
So do what I’m doing. Steer right into the skid. They are, for better or worse, our team, and we’re stuck with them, and we’re stuck with Pace and Nagy. So they might as well win Sunday.
Besides, dreading another ignominious Packers loss just means you have to live it twice when it happens.
Why do we root for this team? Oh, never mind.
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