LAKE FOREST – Eleven months ago, the Los Angeles Rams came to town on top of the NFC West and looking like the ultimate test for an upstart Bears team that had rattled off a five-game win streak to climb to 8-3 before losing the previous Sunday in a game they gave away to the struggling Giants.
The Rams had a similar start a year earlier under rookie head coach Sean McVay going 11-5 to claim an NFC West title after a 4-12 2016 campaign, and arrived in Chicago at 11-1 and the class of the NFC.
Of course, the Bears smoked the Rams, went on to a 12-4 finish, McVay passed the mantle of Coach of the Year to Matt Nagy, and the Rams went on to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Patriots.
Fast forward now back to this coming Sunday, with the Bears losers of four of their past five and the Rams losers of four of six.
How have these two mighty clubs fallen so far so fast?
Both will take the field Sunday with struggling young quarterbacks and offenses, and defenses that are good but no longer feared.
Nagy spoke Wednesday about the difficulty of staying on top in the NFL.
“I think it’s a great example that as you go through the history of this sport, especially at the quarterback position, and you’re talking about a team in the Rams that was in the Super Bowl and had two really good back-to-back years. Iit’s hard to win in this league.
“For right now, both of those quarterbacks are kind of in that valley.”
If you think the Bears are under pressure, consider the plight of Rams GM Les Snead, McVay and Goff.
Drafted only a year ahead of Trubisky with the No. 1 pick, the Rams on Sept. 3 gave Goff a four-year contract extension worth $134 million with $110 million guaranteed.
In the 10 weeks since, he is the NFL’s 28th ranked passer at 82.7, looking up three spots at Trubisky at 85.2 and struggling with an 11-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, compared with Trubisky’s 8-to-3.
This isn’t a test between the two QBs and neither team can afford to be anywhere near giving up on its most valuable assets other than Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.
It is a cautionary tale of how hard it is to be good and stay good in the NFL, and how quickly things can turn in either direction.
I asked Nagy on Wednesday if there is an attitude or fine edge players have to achieve to succeed as the Bears and Rams did last year that is hard to define and impossible to just turn on and off.
“There are some golfers that go on and win a lot of championships and then suddenly they’re out of it for a few years, and then they find their groove again.
"But in this sport, with having
16 games, you don't want it to happen too often, but I think that what you'll see in the end is coaches, players and teams that, because of really to the core of who you are, you'll end up seeing it rise to the top, I think.
“That’s what I hope, at least with us.”
Ties between these two run still deeper.
The Bears have been hamstrung trying to improve lately because of a lack of draft capital spent on the Trubisky and Mack trades.
For the Rams it’s worse, as they don’t have a first-round pick since Goff in ’16 and with none coming until 2022 because of the Goff, Brandin Cooks and Jalen Ramsey trades.
To the winner Sunday will go new life in this year’s playoff chase and another shot at the incredibly fragile momentum that comes with winning big in the NFL.
The loser will be left to think about next year and the jigsaw puzzle that is winning often and winning big in the NFL.
As for Trubisky and Goff, primetime Sunday night will be the weight of the world on their shoulders again and a search for the holy grail of professional sports’ most important position, something that so few ever find.