LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Nov. 11, 2012. That’s the last time NBC’s Sunday Night Football crew visited Chicago.
It was also a significant time for the Chicago Bears organization. They were 7-1 and rolling after winning six straight games.
But things were about to change dramatically in a game the Houston Texans — also 7-1 — won 13-6.
Jay Cutler suffered a concussion that night. Brian Urlacher got hurt and played his last game three weeks later. The Bears went 3-5 the rest of the way and Lovie Smith got fired.
You know the rest. And none of it is good. It’s been a long road back to relevance, but the Bears are finally here.
1. Bears-Vikings Game Flexed To Sunday Night
The decision was made as soon as the Bears finished off their 41-9 victory over the Bills Sunday, but was not made official until Monday: the Nov. 18 game against the Vikings at Soldier Field will be played in primetime on NBC.
“When we first got here we talked about how fortunate we were to have two prime-time games to start the year. They don’t come easily,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Monday. “The goal as we go is to have a lot of those. That means you’re doing well. To be flexed for that game, a division game, should be exciting to our team and our players.”
But it does come with a catch. The Bears play four days later in Detroit on Thanksgiving — with a 12:30 ET kickoff. Every team deals with the short turnaround from Sunday to Thursday, but typically it’s a Sunday day game to a Thursday night game. For the Bears, they’ll lose about 15.5 hours in an already short week.
“That’s a super tight schedule for us, but we can’t worry about that,” Nagy said. “We’ll focus in on what we have this week and as that time goes, we’ll arrange the schedule and make sure we take care of our guys.”
It will help that they’ll be playing the Lions on Thanksgiving, just 12 days after hosting them at Soldier Field. From a preparation standpoint, there will be a lot of familiarity.
2. The Spotlight Is Growing
As noted in this space over a month ago, the league and its television partners want the Bears to do well. The Chicago Bears are good for ratings. So as soon as they got off to a 3-1 start — and delivered two entertaining games on Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football in Weeks 1 and 2 — you knew they were going to be flexed into primetime later in the year.
And the Vikings game might not be the only one. The Dec. 9 game against the Los Angeles Rams at Soldier Field is also a candidate to be moved to either the primetime or late afternoon window. And depending on how the rest of the season plays out, the Week 17 finale in Minnesota could also be in play.
Between those games and the Thanksgiving game in Detroit, the 5-3 Bears are going to have a big opportunity to show off in front of a national television audience during the second half of the season.
And — at least on Nov. 18 against the Vikings — they’ll do it in style in their orange alternate jerseys. It will be the first time the Bears will wear their orange jerseys in primetime.
3. Don’t Say The ‘P’ Word
Despite all the hype and outside conversations about playing football in January, you won’t hear Matt Nagy talk about the playoffs.
“Never. You’ll never hear that from me. You’ll never hear the word ‘playoffs’ from me,” Nagy said.
“Because we’re worried about Week 10. That’s it. (If) we worry about playoffs, then we’re worrying about the wrong thing. We have a lot of season left.”
4. Divisional Woes
For now, the Bears need to be worried about beating teams within the NFC North, especially with two games against the Lions and one against the Vikings coming up. If they want to win the NFC North, they have to beat the NFC North — especially at home and especially against the Lions at home.
Going back to the start of the 2013 season, the Bears are just 6-24 against the NFC North.
Think about that. 6-24. Just dreadful.
And the record against the Lions is even more depressing. The Bears are just 1-9 against Detroit in their last 10 games. The only win came at Soldier Field in 2016.
John Fox was just 3-15 against the NFC North in his three years as head coach and reversing that trend has to be among Matt Nagy’s highest priorities, even if he’s not here to talk about the past.
“I’m aware (of the divisional struggles). I understand, but that’s the thing with us and where we’re going, we try not to get into the past. We really don’t,” Nagy said. “We’re in such a good place right now as an organization. The vibe that we have. We’re learning how to win in a different way. We’ve learned what losing is about and how you respond from that. But we’re trying to really create our own culture and create our own history.”
That starts Sunday at Soldier Field against the Lions. It’s a game the Bears simply must win.
5. Injury Report
One positive for the Bears is that they should be getting healthier. Despite Matt Nagy saying Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson are still “day-to-day,” there is a growing expectation that they will return against the Lions. Nagy also said rookie defensive tackle Bilal Nichols (knee) should be back this week.
And the Bears could also be getting some help at tight end, where Dion Sims and Ben Braunecker are currently dealing with concussions. Second-year tight end Adam Shaheen is eligible to come off of IR and could start practicing this week.
“He’s getting very close,” Nagy said, adding that it’s a “possibility” that Shaheen will practice Wednesday.
6. Watch The Tape
Nagy continues to give future opponents more wrinkles to worry about in the red zone. Sunday against the Bills, he introduced two new formations that Matt Patricia and the Lions are going to have to scheme for:
Monday marked another one of our monthly opportunities to chat with assistant coaches, so we’ll end this “10 Bears Things” column with four highlights, including some outstanding comments on the evolution of cornerback Kyle Fuller, who may have played his best game as a Bear Sunday:
7. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell on how rewarding it has been to watch Kyle Fuller turn his career around…
It’s as big as it can feel because I had boys that played sports and they’ve been injured and had bad years and so forth, and you get close to these guys and they’re just like your own, you know? And when you have a guy that is that good of a guy, that was not in a good place because he couldn’t produce for this team, and he’s the No. 1 draft pick and he misses the whole year, and his confidence is down and everything — it’s just a credit to him. Two years ago, he came to camp and he just worked. He worked and he wasn’t going to be denied. It’s cool for me. I haven’t seen that many big turnarounds like that. That’s very rewarding to see that.
8. Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone on how Mitchell Trubisky is trending…
Where he’s at, where we want him to be with the pre-snap/post-snap stuff, I think his trend is going up. And I think his confidence and his conviction in-and-out of the huddle with his pre-snap, it’s night and day from even a month ago. I thought he had, in my opinion, the best week of practice last week in terms of all that stuff — and truly, ownership at the quarterback position before the ball was snapped. A lot of people, I know, we get the post-snap and everybody follows the ball, but it all starts pre-snap. If you have true conviction and confidence pre-snap, usually your success rates goes up on that play. And I felt, really for the last couple of weeks, it’s been trending that way and I thought he was awesome in the week of practice the past week and I thought it carried over in some crucial situations in the game when it needed to be against Buffalo. So where he’s at with all that, with (Allen Robinson) being out of the lineup and different tight ends being in-and-out, I think he’s done a great job of kind of being a steady hand and understanding when he needs to potentially take a chance and when he hasn’t. And that’s all growth. Again, he’s a smart player for how young he is and where he’s at in his career, he’s really mature in a lot of those aspects. But I do think he’s trending upward for sure.
9. Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey on Kevin White being inactive against the Bills…
I just think the biggest thing right now is just to keep continuing to do what he’s doing. I’m really pleased with where he’s at and I think he would say that too with the fact that he can go out and run around and he’s feels good. He’s feels healthy. He understands what we’re doing. He’s made some plays. He’s had some chances.
10. Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley on if Leonard Floyd’s pick-6 can spark a big second half of the season for him…
Yeah I think it’s like a jump shooter getting a dunk. If you can get a layup or a dunk or a free throw, that will lead to good things afterwards. I think just continuing to focus on his technique and focus on the things that he’s in control of, because he’s obviously plenty good enough. It’s just kind of getting over that hump.