By Robert Zeglinski
To most, January is a fresh start. It’s a conscious acknowledgement of all the rights, wrongs, and missteps of the last 12 months. A representation of where one’s life stands, and what must be, or could be, done to improve standing. Resolutions are made as fast and as eagerly as they are broken in half. A sizable swath of the population is encased in ice, deep in the throes of winter, not quite knowing when they will be thawed and safe again. January is a tacit admission of a coming long-term journey. It’s the very first fork in the road. Baby steps to be mapped out and walked through on a gradual basis, on patient terms.
The NFL runs on a quite different path in direct juxtaposition to human existence.
Whereas one person works on a rounding path that’s supposed to reset itself with a clean slate when Auld Lang Syne begins to blare through airhorns, anyone involved with the NFL is working specifically for January’s meaning. The first month of the year to pro football also happens to be the most eventful, the most important, the most visible. Thanks to the postseason and tensions abound, January is the crown jewel of a decadent league feeding into itself. A preeminent example of the peaks and valleys football at its highest level is capable of providing to a viewing audience on a silver platter. It’s mythologized and lionized in records with solid grounds. As much of looking forward to the cold, silent landscape of winter as any rational soul can fathom.
If any of the 20 teams that don’t happen to qualify for the playoffs are prudent, they’ll take notes on what happened and how it unfolded over the course of a short five weeks. They’ll be diligent in recognizing patterns, and conscientious of what matters to the success of the latest top-tier ambassadors, in this case, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco (Clara) 49ers. They’ll take lessons from the coldest month of the calendar, and apply them as active learners.
A year after a premature exit from January, the Bears would be wise to sit down and be wary. The best thing Halas Hall can accomplish in the most important off-season since the last most important off-season, is emulation. Adaptation of the Chiefs and 49ers to take into 2020 should be the primary underlying goal.
Every conversation general manager Ryan Pace has with his subordinates and Matt Nagy from this point forward starts along similar and familiar lines.
“How did they get there?”
“What can we take for our own?”
“Where is our gap, our place to jump in and take advantage?”
An answer to the first question is more obvious than it should be.
The Chiefs have a place in Super Bowl LIV because they have the latest, greatest, face-of-the-league quarterback in Patrick Mahomes at the helm. They have a coach in Andy Reid. who knows when to step in and when to simply let the magic of Mahomes flow from his bazooka of a right arm. Chicago has been searching for such a quarterback for seven decades. This isn’t news, and remains a prominent source of frustration for over-invested northern Illinoisans. Chances are, that face-of-the-league quarterback isn’t around the corner waiting to be anointed in orange and blue oils. But someone that can even sometimes match this kind of production, talent, and charisma is enough to turn January into February. filed away in every Google Document of every scout in Lake Forest.
San Francisco is built on a different platform; one of grit, physicality, and not only a punch-you-in-the-mouth mentality, but one that necessitates a thorough broken kneecap beating. Local Boy Hero Jimmy Garoppolo had 27 pass attempts, 208 passing yards, and one touchdown in the 49ers’ wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. That figure is a total. The 49ers have a 64-30 scoring margin this winter. They have not faced a team that forced them to unleash Garoppolo’s smile. A gigantic, unnecessary albatross at quarterback could not stop this roster from steamrolling its way to the swamps of Miami.
Pace, try as he has for five seasons, has largely flailed to no avail in this department. He’s made himself a target of scorn and villainy because of it.
He has not yet constructed such a team that didn’t need its quarterback to be the best player on the field every play and every second of every Sunday. He’s professed that this moment will arrive, but it hasn’t. This is, of course, an easier task to accomplish than finding a generational quarterback. And the Bears do have some asymmetrical pieces that could match Santa Clara in some distinct areas (their defensive front seven, their secondary, for two). But it still displays the chasm the Bears have to cross without the wind at their back, and how far they have to go before they can knock the crown off Kyle Shanahan’s head, (nepotism and all).
Such a unique stylistic difference between Kansas City and Santa Clara might make it difficult to denote where the Bears should take their next plan of action. The answer, as it always should be, is not black (running the ball to the point of exhaustion) or white (having a quarterback that throws four touchdowns in a quarter like a hobby). It’s grey, navy grey.
Finding means to possessing the ability to run the ball again and close games down should be a fixture in the Bears’ minds. Ask Jordan Howard and David Montgomery about this very issue. You might have to consult a milk carton because they’re missing in action. At the same time, sacrificing your team’s dignity and putting your balls in one isolated ball-control court isn’t thoughtful. It’s complacent. It’s a reactive answer to a reactive, ever fluid problem.
The math in this calculus equation isn’t difficult, or discombobulating. The Bears both need a quality rushing attack and a quarterback who doesn’t see any number of phantoms and demons every instance he passes to work in conjunction with one another. They need reflective coaching that understands the strengths of its players, and works to elevate them.
In other words, the lessons to be taken from this January’s Super teams are the same lessons that have eluded the Bears for 35 years running. There’s a solid rationale for why Chicago had no part to play in January’s poignant drama: the Bears have yet to take these lessons and discern relevant meaning from them. If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, the Bears have this market pegged. They are as insane as it comes.
2021 will be a monumental year around the world. A new U.S. President might be sworn in, or begin his second term. The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, a landmark tool in space exploration, in the James Webb Space Telescope, will be launched. And millions around the world, as usual, will be pledging to wipe their lives anew for the future.
Depending on what the Bears have learned now from the Chiefs and 49ers, they’d do well to make certain they aren’t following the crowd to be “cool.” They’d make sure their resolutions are waiting until February.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.