What if someone had told you back in the summer that the final play of the Chicago Bears’ season would be a Mitch Trubisky touchdown pass — in the playoffs? The city of Chicago would’ve signed up in a heartbeat, racing to the idea of improvement and accomplishment and postseason success.

Now what if you also were forced to read the fine print, the notification that the final touchdown would cut the Bears’ deficit against the New Orleans Saints from 18 points to 12, that it would be the final play of a maddening season that included more losses than wins and as many quarterback changes as signature victories.

Far less appealing, right?

No wonder tight end Jimmy Graham made that final grab in the end zone at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — a ridiculous one-handed catch, by the way — then bounced back up and darted into the tunnel as fast as possible. Why linger in this taxing, dizzying, unimpressive season for one second longer than necessary?

So off Graham went, at a brisk jog and out of sight, leading the Bears into an offseason that once again brings the leaders of the organization face to face with sobering questions.

Start here. What exactly was accomplished this season? What were the Bears’ meaningful achievements?

If obvious answers to those questions don’t pop up instantly, what does that tell you?

Chairman George McCaskey should have been thinking long and hard about those questions Sunday night and deep into Monday as he considered his options for what to do next in the repair process of a franchise that has gone 10 seasons since its last playoff victory.

Even coach Matt Nagy acknowledged Sunday night that there was little to be satisfied with at the end of another empty chase.

“What we need to do in the next couple weeks is really start figuring out, OK, where are we?” Nagy said. “How do we get better? We know this isn’t good enough. We need to do everything we can to be able to win a Super Bowl. That’s the goal. The goal’s not to make the playoffs. We’ve got to sit down and evaluate all that stuff. And we obviously know there are a lot of big decisions (ahead).”

The biggest ones belong to McCaskey, who must evaluate Nagy, general manager Ryan Pace and team President Ted Phillips to determine whether their performances — individually and collectively — instill confidence that they can put this franchise back on a championship track. And soon.

If McCaskey has doubts about that, he will have to lean on trusted confidantes to further gain direction. But the big-picture questions are straightforward.

------

What exactly was accomplished this season? What were the meaningful achievements?

The Bears snared a wild-card berth, sure. But only because the NFL decided to add two teams to the playoffs, thus rewarding the Bears with a 17th game even though their 8-8 record during the regular season was identical to the previous season and still five games back of the NFC North champion Green Bay Packers.

The Bears’ three-game winning streak late in the season seemed to calm some of the outside anger that erupted during a six-game skid that preceded it. But when the Bears tested the improvements they thought they had made in December against quality opponents in the Packers and Saints, they were reminded they are nowhere near as good as either team. The Bears lost the final two games to the best two teams in the NFC by a combined 56-25.

The Packers will welcome the Los Angeles Rams to Lambeau Field next weekend, making their ninth appearance in the NFC divisional round over the last 15 seasons. The Saints, back in the NFC semifinals for the seventh time in 15 years, will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady.

The Bears, meanwhile, have been left to determine just how broken things really are. As one league source noted last week, “They have to first make a big decision: Do they want to try the screwdriver or use the sledgehammer?”

As of Monday night, McCaskey’s intentions weren’t clear, his evaluations of the big picture still kept private in Lake Forest. McCaskey was quick to pull the trigger after the 2014 season when the Bears fired general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman together the day after the season ended.

Three years later, McCaskey empowered Pace to quickly dismiss John Fox after a 5-11 campaign.

Monday’s lack of immediate developments left an anxious fan base wondering where McCaskey’s head might be at. Especially because the Bears have had plenty of time to anticipate where this season’s ending likely would leave them.

For many, the hope is McCaskey has found a powerful microscope to study the slide of this season to zoom in on what so many on the outside saw. The inconsistency. The instability at quarterback. The recurring offensive meltdowns. The regression of a once-superb and intimidating defense. The piles of game-losing mistakes.

At another pivotal moment in franchise history, the Bears have no clear solution to fix the quarterback position. Their top receiver, Allen Robinson, seems to have a desire to explore his options elsewhere. The Bears’ newfound offensive identity allowed them to feel good against bottom-tier defenses but produced only two touchdowns in their final two measuring-stick games. (One of those touchdowns was that meaningless, garbage-time score from Graham.)

Meanwhile, after McCaskey lamented the inability of the 2019 Bears defense to produce game-changing sacks and takeaways and touchdowns more frequently, the 2020 unit experienced similar and worrisome struggles.

So …

------

What exactly was accomplished this season? What were the meaningful achievements?

Any temptation the Bears might feel to celebrate Trubisky’s professional maturity and his ability to bounce back from a two-month benching with solid performances in wins over the Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars should be supplemented by film review of the quarterback’s struggles against better and more sophisticated defenses.

Any urges to praise this team for rallying together and remaining solution-oriented rather than resorting to finger-pointing and infighting should be accompanied by reminders that the Bears never quite found the right solutions to play winning football regularly either.

They finished with a 1-7 record against playoff teams.

McCaskey should have had plenty of time to be working through his Plan A, his Plan B, his Plan C, D and E. Since Thanksgiving weekend, when the Bears headed north to Green Bay at 5-5, then returned home after a brutal 41-25 beat-down, it was clear to many throughout the league that the organization once again was off course.

That was the Bears’ fifth loss in their six-game losing streak. The next week they blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes to the last-place Detroit Lions.

At that point, many around the league felt confident there would be significant offseason changes for the Bears. But just how drastic those changes will be is up to McCaskey. And to this point, there have been no indicators from within Halas Hall that there will be any major changes at all.

Soon McCaskey and the Bears will have to detail their vision and plans, addressing yet another season of mediocrity and explaining what they’re searching for in the tool shed.

Screwdriver? Or sledgehammer?

©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

0
0
0
0
0

Recommended for you