And with that, the Chicago Bears 2016-2017 season is over, as the team completed its worst 16-game campaign in franchise history (3-13) with a 38-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The fact that we had to watch the Bears play all 16 games was unfortunate, but, like 2016, that’s now all in the past. Here’s what I saw:
1. Bears finish the season with a truly losing effort
To be fair, there were actually some players, like Jordan Howard and Cameron Meredith, that did show up to play today. For the most part, though, it seemed like the Bears mostly took their cues from Tracy Porter as far as their attitude toward the game:
Tracy Porter overslept today. That's why he didn't start.
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) January 1, 2017
Where to begin?
The Bears came into today’s game at -10 in the turnover margin over the last three weeks, featuring nine interceptions and a fumble.
So, for continuity’s sake, it only made sense that the Bears had to give a few away in this one.
Former darling Matt Barkley threw two more INTs. Jeremy Langford, playing extended snaps because of Jordan Howard feeling ill throughout the game, coughed up a fumble. And Bralon Addison, a recent addition, muffed a punt.
Then, of course, there was the normal concoction of holding penalties, false starts, missed tackles, and missed blocks that are just endemic to what the Bears have slowly become as their team has been whittled down to the nub by injuries/generally succumbed to their poor talent and coaching to begin with.
But maybe the saddest thing for me was seeing the majority of the Bears offense listlessly watch the ball bouncing away from Barkley on his sack-fumble, only to then watch as Everson Griffen picked it up and scored a touchdown on the play.
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) January 1, 2017
I get that it’s difficult to keep fighting your hardest when you know that the outcome doesn’t matter for any reason other than pride, but really…if the Bears were going to play this uninspired, I’m not sure why they bothered showing up.
2. Cameron Meredith keeps on outplaying expectations
The biggest issue for Meredith after having a few breakout-type games midseason was staying consistent and overcoming the ups-and-downs of being a young football player.
After a couple tough games, he’s showing more and more each game that he could be better than we anticipated.
While he’s consistently proven he can run smooth routes and get open against NFL competition, nothing tantalized me more regarding his potential than his spectacular leaping snag at the end of the first half, showing off his enormous catch radius and improving ability to utilize it.
To boot, he even alertly called timeout to save the Bears enough time to kick a field goal before the half ended (were you watching that, Coach Fox?), showing off his apparently underrated savvy and recognition of situational football for a young guy.
AND HE CAN PASS!
WR Cameron Meredith throws a TD pass to QB Matt Barkley! https://t.co/VZ5FFJfQXp
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 1, 2017
Long story short, the Bears have clearly found something in Meredith, which gives them some security at the receiver position going into next season.
I’m not of the belief that Meredith gives them much leverage with Alshon Jeffery’s contract situation, given that we have no clue about Kevin White or Marquess Wilson’s ability to stay healthy (the latter is likely not coming back), but a Jeffery/White/Meredith trio could be a brilliant one for the Bears if they can manage to play significant snaps together.
No matter what, Meredith deserves all the praise in the world for how far he’s come as a player. If he works as hard as I saw him working in his 2016 training camp next year, we could see next year be a big one for him.
3. Jordan Howard sets record, sets example for team
With all that has gone on in this football season don't lose sight of the fact that Jordan Howard is having a record year
— Kyle (@Ky1eLong) January 1, 2017
He might have been sick today, but as we’ve seen from him all year, Howard was not going to let anything stand in his way.
Coming into the game needing 61 yards to break Matt Forte’s rookie rushing record of 1,238 yards, the Bears breakout star of the year posted 135 yards on his 20 carries, fighting off illness and tacklers all day long.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) January 1, 2017
He finishes the year with 1,313 yards, which gives him the best total for rookie running back in franchise history.
In a season where nothing seeme to go right for the Bears, watching Howard emerge as not just a difference maker but as the heartbeat of this offense has been a treat.
I can’t wait to see what he gives us next year.
4. Defense is a bigger problem than we want to admit
I am a big fan of Vic Fangio, but there are problems with this defense that we can’t ignore.
One can point to the final score of this game as being a result of the Bears offense not being able to stay on the field, but it didn’t take until the end of the game for the defense to show how far they really have to go.
I’m talking about safeties borderline refusing to make plays on the ball, like when Harold Jones-Quartey fell down and failed to catch a deep ball literally thrown right to him.
And I’m talking about watching putrid efforts from tacklers in the open field, such as on Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown catch in the second quarter and on basically any play where a Minnesota running back came near a Bear DB.
Seriously, Jerick McKinnon is hobbit-sized compared to Adrian Peterson and even Matt Asiata. Why is he taking multiple defenders for a ride down the field as they feebly try to strip the ball from him instead of wrapping him up?
Also, while it’s easy to fall in love with the Bears sack totals on the season, they don’t fully explain how dormant this pass rush could be at times, even against terrible, injury-riddled offensive lines like those of the Vikings.
True, Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee didn’t play today, which does hurt, but come on: when the closest you get to sacking Sam Bradford behind that line is a lone knock to the head by Akiem Hicks (who was flagged for that), that borders on sad.
While the offense was bad enough for the most part to merit its own discussion if one were so inclined, the defense shouldn’t get a pass. I still don’t want to see Fangio let go, but if he does return, he has to step up his game in making sure his team is more fundamentally sound and can dominate the line of scrimmage more consistently.
5. Do not assume that John Fox is safe
Yes, I know that the consensus seems to be that he will return next year, as will his staff (except for Fangio…?), but dismissing any notion that he could be fired tomorrow/sometime this week would be foolish.
Why? Because, among other things: (1) The Bears just finished their worst season in franchise history at 3-13; (2) the progress and fundamentals that were supposed to be instilled by this coaching staff (which are not dependent on injuries) have simply been nonexistent; and (3) the effort the Bears showed last week and today can fairly be described as quitting.
And if Fox can’t keep teams motivated—the only thing that seems to be a redeeming quality of his—then there is no reason for him to be here. Plain and simple.
To me, it does not matter that the Bears just fired a coach in his second season and probably don’t want to do so again. You don’t need to be patient with Fox. You know what he is and how he operates, and I think it’s clear that his style is not going to turn this franchise around.