Exactly one year ago, the Bears and Lions met at Soldier Field.
It was a story of a young plucky team vs. a team stuck in its losing ways.
It’s hard to believe, but the Bears were perceived to be the team on the rise. And the Lions, drowning in another rebuild.
Life comes at you fast in the NFL.
In October 2022, the Lions lost to the Patriots 29-0.
Two weeks later, the Bears beat the Pats 33-14, and Ryan Poles’ roster reconstruction looked to be on the fast track, while Dan Campbell was just a meathead kneecap biter who was on the hot seat.
On that frigid November day, the Bears held a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.
ESPN analytics gave Matt Eberflus’ team a 95.2% chance to win. It would’ve given the Bears a respectable 4-6 record and a 3-2 mark at home.
Unfortunately, you know the rest. The Bears lost 31-30. And the two teams have gone in opposite directions since.
From Nov. 13, 2022, until now, the Bears are 3-15. The Lions are an incredible 14-4.
This isn’t another crap-all-over-the-Bears column. We’ve had plenty of those this season, and I’m sure we’ll have a few more when it’s deserved.
This is to illustrate the point that things can turn at any time in the NFL. Even for the Lions, one of the losingest teams in American sports.
Also one year ago, the Texans at one point were 1-12-1. Their coach was Lovie Smith, and their QB was Davis Mills.
Enter DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud. Hello, 5-4 in 2023.
All it takes is a spark.
Before the Bears can make wholesale changes to create that spark like Houston, they can find solutions from within. Here are five things inside Halas Hall that can change the fortunes in the final seven games and right this sinking ship:
- Justin Fields: This season’s biggest mission was to find out if Fields was the Bears’ franchise quarterback. Starting with the Lions game, Fields must reduce his sack numbers and get rid of the football sooner, keep his turnovers down and find a way to improve his fourth-quarter performance. Most of all, Fields must lead the Bears to wins. Can Fields go 4-3 the rest of the way? If so, he’ll make a great case for Poles to pass on drafting a QB yet again.
- Offensive line: Darnell Wright looks to be exactly what the Bears needed at right tackle. Teven Jenkins is a stud when he’s healthy. Can Braxton Jones prove to everyone that he can be the left tackle of the future? Last week against Carolina was a big step. Next to Fields, Jones is the biggest question mark on the team. If he doesn’t succeed, Poles will have to draft a left tackle early. The jury is still out on the money spent on Nate Davis, and we know the Bears don’t have a competent center. How much work will be required on the O-line this offseason?
- Jaylon Johnson: Speaking of free agents, Johnson wants to get paid. And the Bears are better with Johnson than without him. You just can’t wave goodbye to 24-year-old players in the middle of a rebuild. That said, if you’re Johnson, you can’t act disinterested in making a tackle on Bryce Young when asking to be one of the highest paid corners in the NFL. Johnson must show Poles he’s worth the cash as a terrific cover corner while forcing more turnovers down the stretch. The Bears are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to takeaways. If Johnson can pick his opponent’s pocket, he can put more money in his own pocket.
- Montez Sweat: Last week was a terrific start. After getting his feet wet against the Saints, Sweat was all over the field against the Panthers. After much debate regarding what Poles gave to the Commanders and then paid Sweat, that debate ends if he continues to play like he did against Carolina. And if that happens, Sweat will make the rest of his teammates on defense better.
- Kevin Warren: I always barked that the Bears’ success, and mostly failure, started at the top. With a new team president, brought from the outside, things would be different going forward. Mediocrity would not be embraced. The circle of suck would end. Now it’s time to prove it. He cannot allow the status quo when it comes to football. Warren must challenge Poles that this season isn’t good enough and staying the course won’t be accepted. Hopefully behind the scenes, hard conversations already are happening.
I could go on. Seven games. Seven chances to change the narrative. It could all change with another Bears vs. Lions game. Last year Detroit went from sheep to Lions. Now when will these Bears become the Monsters of the Midway once again? Sunday would be a great start.
• Marc Silverman shares his opinions on the Bears weekly for Shaw Local. Tune in and listen to the “Waddle & Silvy” show weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m. on ESPN 1000.