By Robert Zeglinski
When the Vikings’ Anthony Barr drove Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers into the ground this past Sunday, he did more than break his collarbone and effectively end his season.
In one routine pressure, he changed the entire landscape of the NFC and more importantly, the NFC North. He sent a ripple effect across the NFL.
Above all, he cracked open the door for the previously hapless but intriguing 2-4 Bears.
Who could’ve thought that after a 1-3 start littered with 8 turnovers from an ineffective Mike Glennon, that these circus-like Bears would ever have a shot at the postseason? Yet, here they stand, with the division’s behemoth in Green Bay hobbled without the face of the NFL in Rodgers, and two other vulnerable rivals in the Lions and Vikings meekly sitting in their way.
Yes, after a long six-year drought, thoughts of an actual genuine football game in mid-January for these Bears feels like a realistic possibility.
These Bears aren’t a good team, per say.
They might not even be average. They’re closer to mediocre with a touch of bold given a recent string of successful trick play scores. In a league where no undefeated team is left standing after six weeks of the season, parity reigns. And fortune, in that respect, favors the mediocrely bold. Your move, Bears.
Though, there’s still much work to be done if the Bears are to be considered a serious playoff contender. That can’t be understated.
That’s because playoff odds for 2-4 teams aren’t kind. It’s incredibly rare for any team two games or more under .500 by the time October reaches its conclusion to make the second season. With two division losses to the Packers and Vikings already, it’s also likely the Bears will have to go 4-0 in their remaining divisional contests. Any misstep could be spell doom in a nail-biting race to the end.
In overall recent history, most NFL playoff teams finish around a record of 9-7 or 10-6 at minimum. That means anything less than a 7-3 or 8-2 finishing stretch closes the door on a promising season for a young Bears team. The question of whether this inexperienced team is prepared for that kind of consistency will be answered very soon.
To maximize newfound consistency not seen around these parts for quite awhile, resilience will have to be prominent.
Good thing resilience might be the best descriptor of a Bears team with it’s back against the wall with a fresh opportunity. Fox said as much of how his team was able to salvage a wild 27-24 overtime victory over the Ravens on Sunday after blowing a late 11-point lead — the first win for Chicago in Baltimore since 1965.
“It’s all about the hearts of the players. The players, the coaches, and everybody, we’re in it together. You tell them what we have to do to win the game, and it was evident that they did,” said Fox.
Players who best exemplify that resilience are Jordan Howard, who no hyperbole intended, put the Bears on his back with a transcendent Walter Payton-esque 53-yard run to set the Bears up in overtime. It seems like every time the Bears are down and out with a chance at victory, here comes Howard ready to lead by his best bruising, will-breaking example.
Luckily enough, you can start to count rising rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in this factor, who made two special plays off-platform on a touchdown to Dion Sims and game-clinching throw to Kendall Wright – despite throwing only 15 passes.
Talk about maximizing your chances. And talk about having trends that will have to continue. Clutch playmaking.
The strength of this Bears team is quite obviously the defense. As the league’s sixth-ranked unit at the moment, Vic Fangio’s group picked the quite the time for an ascension to lift these Bears.
Dominating defensive performances such as against Baltimore on Sunday, where the Bears forced three turnovers and enjoyed disciplined play at every level in the best showing of the Fangio and Fox era, need to be stacked upon with regularity. The spine of this team making a run into January rests with Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller, and company.
Aside from his flash plays, Trubisky will need to continue growing week by week, getting more efficient and confident. He can’t be a game manager. He has to be a game maker. The playmaker. The primary compliment to one of the league’s best defenses. Easier said than done, but there’s something special about this passer that the Bears have naturally aligned with so quickly. A calming thought.
Finally, as the Bears have become one of the NFL’s more underrated teams, it’s been because of a string of recent successful trick plays. The fake punts, wild two-point conversions, and touchdown passes from “Boobie Miles” Tarik Cohen in the past two weeks can’t stop. They’ll have to be sprinkled in against tougher competition with the same element of surprise. Guys like Cohen who “can block, can tackle, and he can pass!,” are quite the blessing for the Bears.
“It was a dime. I feel like I channeled inner Mitch,” said Cohen with his trademark swagger of his shocking touchdown pass.
Ultimately, that’s how these Bears will level the playing field.
With guys like Cohen channeling their “inner Mitch.” Players playing out of position and above and beyond their roles on the rarest of, but necessary occasions. That’s how they will catch a collective league doubting them, off guard.
The misfortune of other teams like the Packers now means the story of the 2017 Bears, one still primarily about the development of Trubisky, isn’t close to being fully penned. The race to the finish line of 10 games, with a playoff berth still in reach, has the Fox-Bears uncharacteristically sitting pretty.
“I’m excited, bro. I can’t even lie to you,” said Pernell McPhee. “I ain’t good at expressing my feelings, you know what I’m saying?”
Perhaps that’s what these suddenly life-filled Bears desire the most. Expressing themselves by shocking the football world.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.