LAKE FOREST – Before writing the Bears off for the remainder of the 2019 season you really should ask yourself: Were they any worse in Games 5 and 6 this year than they were last year in Week 6 in Miami or Week 7 against the Patriots?
Are things the same otherwise this year heading into Game 7 against the Chargers than they were last year against the Jets?
The Bears faced the weak-sister Jets last season without Khalil Mack, and Sunday they will be without Akiem Hicks.
Against the Jets’ awful offense, the Bears’ defense reestablished its dominance, and they leaned on their running game for 34 carries for 179 yards to keep the offense running and get back in the win column.
After all of this week’s hand-wringing, self-reflection and player meetings, there is no reason to believe the Bears can’t turn things around Sunday against the 2-5 Chargers if they are able to acknowledge how far they’ve slipped on both sides of the ball since they were double-doinked out of the playoffs last season.
What has been lost in all the hysteria this past week is the one thing we haven’t been wrong about: that this year’s team is in fact more talented than last year’s group.
I think most of us who are around this team almost every day would agree that what has been different going all the way back to Bourbonnais has been the buzz or the vibe around who these guys are.
Matt Nagy didn’t reinvent his offense over the offseason, and Mitch Trubisky isn’t losing games by himself.
Last year’s Bears were learning how to win, and every new victory was a shot of adrenaline and a new sense of purpose that left them yearning for more.
The 2019 Bears came back to work expecting to win and have seemed surprised these past few weeks that suddenly things aren’t working out.
It is an awfully fine line the plethora of teams that have gone from worst to first in a season these past two decades have tried to walk. It is the main reason that of the 25 that turned the trick between 2001 and 2017, only seven have made it back to the playoffs the year after winning their division, and only three were able to equal their records.
As a note, it is interesting that the only one to get to the Super Bowl the year after going from worst to first was the 2005 and 2006 Bears, but I digress.
Or perhaps, I’m not?
Those Bears teams featured players such as Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris, Olin Kreutz, Thomas Jones, Ruben Brown and others – all Pro Bowl-caliber players whom if you ask any of them what their single strongest memory of being a Bear is will tell you to a man it was losing that Super Bowl.
They never at any time took winning for granted.
Who are those guys on this Bears team?
I think I can list Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller and Allen Robinson, but other than that, I’m not sure.
Clearly it is up to Ryan Pace to acquire players who know how to win, and as the head coach, it is up to Nagy to have them ready to not only play, but also to compete and win every Sunday.
Other than Bill Belichick, can you name a single coach who’s never faced what Nagy is dealing with right now?
Please, listen! There could be another two-dozen guys on this Bears team who fit the mold of those ’06 Bears, and I am not trying to indict them yet.
But judgment day is Sunday.
It is not a must-win for the Bears in the standings; 3-4 is not that deep of a hole.
However, if there ever has been a time for this team to figure out something has been missing from last year, it has to be after evaluating the embarrassment of Sunday against the Saints.
One thing we are all going to know is what these Bears see when they look in the mirror Sunday night.
Hopefully, it will be everything they want.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.