As the Bears’ scene shifts to Lambeau Field for tomorrow night’s game with the hated Green Bay Packers, I’m not so much reminded of last year’s stunning Thanksgiving defeat of Aaron Rodgers and Co., which kept the then 5-6 try-hard Bears in a playoff hunt they weren’t quite good enough to be in.
As fun a memory as that is, it’s the 2014 version of the Bears’ trip to Green Bay that’s been on my mind when I think of tomorrow’s impending contest.
The time when, just after being utterly humiliated by Tom Brady and the Patriots at home 51-23, the Marc Trestman-led Bears took a ride north to be destroyed in an equally, perhaps even more, devastating fashion by the Packers.
The time when Aaron Rodgers threw for six touchdowns in the first half and sat out most of the second, leading most of us to wonder if Mel Tucker would make it into the 3rd quarter as the Bears’ defensive coordinator.
The time the Bears kicked off a 2-6 post-bye-week season on their way to going 5-11, firing their general manager and coaching staff, and officially going into rebuilding mode.
Fast-forward to today, and the Bears are coming into this year’s Wisconsin trip 1-5 with much of their team injured—including Jay Cutler, Pernell McPhee (probably won’t play), and half their cornerback group—and having lost their last two games to teams with a combined record of 4-7 (Colts: 2-4; Jaguars: 2-3).
— British Bear London (@BritBearLondon) October 18, 2016
In particular, this last loss to the Jaguars was one in which the Bears led 13-0 heading into the 4th quarter and slowly, methodically allowed the abominable Blake Bortles to lead Jacksonville to 17 unanswered points. It was a loss that has people thinking the Bears have already hit rock bottom, and we’re not even halfway through the season. And now we’re going on the road to Green Bay.
See what I’m getting at here?
Sure, I know the Packers aren’t world-beaters right now. Rodgers especially has not looked anything like what we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the last decade or so, currently ranking 26th in passing accuracy this season (60.2%) and leading the 25th-ranked passing offense in the league.
In fact, to illustrate how pedestrian Rodgers has been, this became a thing:
Reading through our research team's TNF notes like come onnnnnn……… pic.twitter.com/IBaMTVkl9l
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) October 18, 2016
Yeah…don’t read into that too much.
But as I’m looking at a 3-2 Packers team right now and picking apart their puzzling insecurities on offense and starting to feel like this game could be a spring board into a season turnaround, reality, along with a cold sense of foreboding, strikes.
We’ve seen this movie before. At least last year, the Bears were starting to play some better football on their way into Lambeau, having won two of their previous three games prior to that Thanksgiving contest.
But the year before, leading into the game that for all intentions and purposes ended the Bears’ season? The Bears had lost four of their last five, including the New England rout, and were 3-5 coming out of the bye.
Now, as then, this arrow is not pointing up, and while the Packers aren’t what they usually are, it’s hard to think that Rodgers won’t feast on the likes of Cre’Von LeBlanc, Jacoby Glenn, and DeVante Bausby or that Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers won’t take turns roasting Bobby Massie on a spit.
And despite giving up 157 yards to Ezekiel Elliott this weekend, the Packers’ rush defense is still best in the league at 72.4 yards a game, which could to make pounding the ball on the ground easier said than done. Good thing we brought in Josh Sit—oh, damn.
Josh Sitton is going to miss some time with an ankle injury. #Bears
— Chicago Sports (@ChicagoSports99) October 18, 2016
Well, next man up, I guess…
Oh, but hey, Hoyer and his 300-yard passing streak will totally light this defense up right?
Maybe the Bears surprise us tomorrow, but given their uneven performances against their latest slate of mediocre teams, I seriously doubt it. And that will put the Bears in grave danger of going into the bye week 1-7 if the Vikings strangle them like they’ve done to everyone else. None of us saw that coming…
And if that happens—truthfully even now, it’s not unreasonable to think so—the Bears could be faced with the reality that not only have the Bears regressed under Ryan Pace and John Fox in the post-Trestman aftermath, but that this rebuilding process itself may be fatally flawed and might need to be re-done.
Yes, that sounds alarming, but think about what the Bears are dealing with.
Talent deficiencies on defense, particularly in the secondary (though the Bears also really need to find a better option than Mitch Unrein at defensive end).
Lack of certainty going forward at quarterback, both offensive tackle spots, and possibly receiver after this year (hard to think Alshon Jeffery sticks around for this…).
Recurring injury issues with their last two first-round draft picks (one on IR), whom the team was counting on from Day 1 to impact their fortunes this season. That’s not even mentioning the fact that both Kevin White and Leonard Floyd, despite flashes, haven’t lived up to the billing when they have played, though (barring injuries…) they still have plenty of time to develop.
An offensive coordinator that has achieved the unholy combination of not understanding offensive play-calling balance and also hasn’t been creative enough to scheme ways to get his best weapons (Jeffery, Jordan Howard) the football.
Alshon Jeffery on red-zone struggles "We've gotta score f***ing touchdowns. Period. Touchdowns win games. You see what three points get us."
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) October 16, 2016
And a head coach that doesn’t seem to mind that coaching not to lose (especially when you don’t have a great defense) makes your margin for error reallyyyy small, thinks that being as mysterious as possible gives his team a competitive edge when there’s no proof that it does, and, for all the “second-year-turnaround” talk, leads a team that looks even more unorganized and poorly prepared than they did last year when they weren’t as talented.
#Bears coach John Fox: "We don’t have a large margin for error and it’s been kind of the same song for too many weeks.”
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) December 14, 2015
We were supposed to be in for something different with this new regime, but it looks like instead we’ve somehow managed to ensure that we’ll see more of the same.
Ultimately, Pace (5-yr contract) and Fox (4-yr contract) aren’t likely to go anywhere in the immediate future. Truth is, the Bears probably viewed this as a long-haul project, given the history of drafting failure, and it’s also worth noting that Pace hasn’t had a chance to draft his own quarterback yet (that said, do you want to see Fox trying to “develop” a young quarterback? I don’t…).
At the same time, it’s not easy to be optimistic and patient with a team that, despite having the tools to take advantage of a weak schedule and make an early run, has not only largely played its way out of the playoff picture but also looked pathetically inept when they were supposed to be improving on the year before. Seeing progress one year and regression the next will not get the Bears closer to contention.
Again, doesn’t that sound familiar? Like going from a Chris Conte blown coverage away from the playoffs to 5-11 and a total rebuild?
As we get ready to see what’s likely to be another awful Thursday night football game—both teams have ridiculous injury reports—I can’t help but think that, particularly if whoever’s impersonating Aaron Rodgers gives up and sets the real one free from captivity, the 2016 Bears’ true rock bottom might only be 24 hours or so away. Then again, maybe Brian Hoyer will just go ahead and outplay Rodgers like he has all season, right?
Brian Hoyer and the Bears must test the Packers' cornerbacks, with their two starters ruled out for Thursday's game. Throw the ball deep.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 19, 2016
Bears QB Brian Hoyer: "I’m not about taking chances, risking the football. The No. 1 priority is taking care of the football."
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 18, 2016
Yeah…sure. We’ll see about that.
I’m not saying that the Bears are doomed yet. I’m not even 100% that the Bears will lose tomorrow (though at this point, I wouldn’t be sad about it. Higher draft pick…). But I think we can all agree that we didn’t expect the Bears to be quite this bad, and we have to be prepared for the notion that this is highly likely to get worse before it gets better.
If tomorrow night does happen to be a disaster, followed by a beatdown by Minnesota at home, the shouts for change outside of Halas Hall will become deafening. And depending on how deep the rabbit hole goes, it’s not impossible that we could find ourselves in 2014 all over again by the end of the season.
Except that this time, we could be looking at rebuilding a failed rebuild, which is starting to inch toward Cleveland Browns territory. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is not somewhere we want to be.