By Robert Zeglinski
At 4-10, the Bears are in no position to have any “schedule wins” or overlook an upcoming opponent. Yes, a healthier in-spirit Bears squad managed to beat contenders such as the Steelers, Panthers, and Ravens. A true microcosm of the Jekyll and Hyde this 2017 team was earlier in the year. Line them up and let them play. But with a rookie quarterback in Mitch Trubisky learning on the fly coming off a three-interception game in Detroit, and a defense battered with injuries to key contributors, Chicago is now at the point of the season where its a better bet they lose to anybody.
Enter the winless Cleveland Browns, who are seeking to avoid their own futile history of an 0-16 season. With the rival Vikings playing for home field advantage in Week 17, this is one final likely opportunity at a Bears 2017 victory. This is one game for the Bears’ young core to again flourish should they receive the opportunity. Ultimately, this is one shot to avoid humiliation (not that the Bears haven’t already experienced enough).
Of course, the public hype for this matchup is at a mute considering that it occurs on Christmas Eve. Soldier Field isn’t expected to sell out in with this pending barn burner on the horizon, far from it. Not that that’s shocking. People and Bears fans in particular would understandably rather be with their families staying at home for the holiday than watch non-quality football. A not-so crazy concept.
Even while most of the public turns a blind eye to a game between teams with a total of four wins, that doesn’t mean the Bears are overlooking their opportunity. They haven’t earned the right to overlook opponents. As John Fox coaches out the string of his tenure, it’s still something he preaches to his players.
“We look at tape. We don’t look at the record,” said Fox, speaking of the Browns.
Indeed, the Browns are better than their current 0-14 record indicates.
Much like Chicago continually experiences “almost-wins” with Fox, Cleveland has lost five games by one score this season, including heartbreakers to the Steelers and Packers respectively. Talents such as 2017 No. 1 overall pick pass rusher, Myles Garrett, are a load to handle. Humbled star receiver Josh Gordon has taken it to teams of late. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer does lead the NFL in interceptions, but has proven to be one of the better quarterbacks between the 20’s so far.
The Browns aren’t stacked with talent and ability. They’re not some juggernaut waiting to be unearthed. But this will be no cakewalk for the positivity-seeking Bears. This isn’t a game you can merely show up to, not that you can do that for anyone.
And really, that’s the best ideal for Chicago.
This is an organization looking to put a meaningful stamp on the rest of the season. This is a nucleus of talent trying to sell itself to a future attractive new head coach. You know, the coach that will finally turn the Bears into a contender. That’s because while there won’t be an intense magnifying glass from a national perspective on this Browns’ visit, you can bet top prospective NFL minds will have their eye on how Trubisky responds to his turnover-laden game. Overall, someone important will be watching how Chicago buries an inferior team on paper.
These Bears, like all NFL teams, are too prideful, too afraid of losing their own collective livelihood to play for a draft pick the way many them want to, anyway. Actively tanking doesn’t benefit anyone on this team, although retaining Fox through the end of the season is essentially a passive version of tanking.
Building a resume for a hotshot coach is the key. Glitzing up a mess of a situation that can be fixed with a few proper strokes is what the Bears need to focus on. A poor finish, especially against a team Chicago is expected to come out on top against, will only handicap this venture. When it comes to finding the next coach, that’s not a situation the Bears would do well to see themselves in. Mailing it in is not an option.
Solid competition down the stretch can’t hurt anyone in that respect. Playing like a favorite, instead of hungry underdog, is how the Bears must approach their last two games, not only against Cleveland. A healthy mindset of that mold will help prepare an organization prepared to soon finally turn the page.
Trubisky, who is from nearby Cleveland and who was reportedly a stroke away from becoming the Browns next quarterback in the draft, was asked about what it’s going to be like to face his hometown team. About how he doesn’t want the Bears to give them their first win of the year.
He jokingly exemplified his team with the needed amount of loose edge, not taking any opponent for granted.
“Is that another jinx?”
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.