After all that had transpired – a six-game losing streak, revamping the offense at seemingly the last possible moment, somehow making the playoffs – the Bears fell back into the same old trap.
The offense was nowhere to be found in Sunday’s 21-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Wild Card playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The run game that emerged over the previous month all but dissipated. The Bears were without one key receiver, while another was ejected.
This puzzling Saints team, which can look great in a blowout win over Tampa Bay or terrible in a baffling loss to Philadelphia, left the door open for the Bears.
Coach Matt Nagy’s team trailed 7-3 at halftime, and received the second-half kickoff. They had every chance to make a play. They did make a play, calling a perfect trick play but dropping a surefire touchdown in the end zone.
It was a microcosm of the Bears’ 2020 season: The opportunity was there, but they simply couldn’t grab it.
“Today wasn’t good enough,” Nagy said. “And you look at a team like the Saints that has been there, done that on the coaching side, player-wise, I think that that’s a start for us to realize, you want to go ahead and do damage in the playoffs.”
When the Bears hired general manager Ryan Pace in January of 2015, they brought him to Chicago to build what the New Orleans Saints had built. Pace was then a 37-year-old director of player personnel in New Orleans.
Two years later, when he traded up in the draft to select quarterback Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 overall, he was betting Trubisky would be his Drew Brees. If Trubisky proved to be even half the quarterback Brees was, the Bears would be in good shape.
Brees, at age 41, showed again Sunday that Trubisky is a long way off. Brees’ recipe right now in 2020 at his age is the same as Trubisky’s: Throw it short, let the playmakers make plays. Brees simply does it better.
“When we get into third and longs, to see them convert those, it’s just disheartening,” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said.
The Saints converted 11 third downs on 17 tries. Trubisky and the Bears, meanwhile, were 1-for-10 on third down. The Saints did it on third-and-short, as well as on third-and-long.
The Bears, not so much.
“When you’re not efficient on first and second down and they’re putting you in passing situations, you’ve also got to pass the ball and convert on third down that way,” Trubisky said. “We didn’t tonight.”
The Bears have countless questions to answer this offseason. Potentially everything could be in flux – quarterback, head coach, general manager. The Allen Robinson saga will draw to some sort of conclusion.
Quarterback is going to be a big one, whether it’s Pace making that decision or somebody else.
Trubisky wants to stay in Chicago. He said Sunday that the city “feels like home.”
“I can definitely see myself back here next year,” Trubisky said. “Obviously a lot of that is out of my control.”
Trubisky said he felt like he improved after his benching in Week 3. The numbers bear that out, but the Bears also played some poor defenses during his best stretch of the season.
Change is going to come in some form over the next few months. Sunday proved that it has to. The Bears went 8-8 in 2019 and ran back essentially the same team in 2020 with the same result. The Nick Foles experiment failed spectacularly.
Yes, fighting out of a six-game losing streak was noteworthy and making the postseason was something to celebrate, albeit briefly. But Sunday, if anything, showed the Bears how much further they still have to go.