SOLDIER FIELD — Not too long ago, many — including the NFL’s schedule makers — thought the Week 16 clash between the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs could serve as a late-December Super Bowl preview. Instead, it was nothing more than a three-hour torture session — a reminder of everything that went wrong in the Bears’ most disappointing season in at least three decades.
First, there was Patrick Mahomes thoroughly outplaying the quarterback the Bears chose ahead of him. Then there was Andy Reid thoroughly out-coaching the pupil he developed. And finally, there was the final score — 26-3 — the most telling reality check in a season that went so terribly wrong.
“To me, this one was just embarrassing,” Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack said.
Embarrassing and painful in so many ways, especially because the callbacks never stopped Sunday night.
Remember how the Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky eight spots ahead of Mahomes in 2017? After Mahomes’ six-yard touchdown toss to Travis Kelce in the second quarter, the quarterback counted to 10 on his fingers, a savage way of reminding everyone that he was drafted 10th overall, not second.
“I think anyone that goes about it, and as a competitor wants to be the first guy,” Mahomes said after the game. “But you know there’s a process to it and not everyone can be picked first. And I ended up in a great situation in Kansas City.”
Mahomes’ “counting” celebration occurred not long after Trubisky overthrew a wide-open Allen Robinson for what should have been an easy 46-yard touchdown, making it that much worse.
“I gotta hit those,” Trubisky said… again.
And remember the ill-timed “running into the punter” penalty on linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis back in Week 5 that kept the Raiders’ game-winning touchdown drive alive in London? He did it again against the Chiefs, this time allowing Kansas City to go up 17-0 instead of the Bears getting the ball back down 10. It was only the second quarter, but even then it felt like a game-sealing moment. Bears head coach Matt Nagy singled the penalty out in his opening statement after the game and called it “frustrating.”
“There’s no excuse. It’s my sixth year in the league,” Pierre-Louis candidly told WGN Radio. “This is the second time this has happened this season. I personally feel as though I owe a debt to this city. I owe my teammates that grind, you know, when we’re finally able to get off the field, you can’t be selfish. And even though I’m trying to make a play, that’s selfish. That’s just all that is.”
Pierre-Louis said on that particular punt block, he wasn’t the player that was supposed to get through the Chiefs’ protection, but he did, and he went for the block.
“It kind of shows how that one moment where you skip a beat in your head, you’re not fully locked in, you’re going to make a critical error,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many plays I made tonight, you know? All that can get erased by a critical error and that’s exactly what that was.”
The excruciating reminders of the past didn’t stop there. Even Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker inadvertently trolled Bears fans with a “double-doink” off the goal posts in the north end zone when the score was 23-3. The missed extra point didn’t matter, and it worked in the Bears’ favor, but it was just another cruel joke for fans in that end zone to ponder on a sobering night.
Meanwhile, everything on offense was a microcosm of the entire season. While Mahomes was making plays downfield, Trubisky was scrambling and running out of bounds for a sack instead of throwing the ball away. While Mahomes was converting 3rd-and-17s, Trubisky was checking it down on 4th-and-23. That seriously happened.
“Yeah, I probably should have took a shot,” Trubisky said. “Just when I was escaping the pocket, saw everyone really, really deep. Yeah, tough situation, but try to get what we can get. Maybe next time to force one to give ourselves a better chance, but you can’t be in those.”
And that’s part of the problem. Being in 4th-and-23 in the first place.
The Bears simply weren’t competitive, a rare sight in the Matt Nagy era. It was really only the second time under Nagy that the Bears were completely outmatched, joining the 36-25 loss to the Saints earlier the season on that short list. But considering the players wanted to win this one for Nagy against his former team, the lack of focus throughout the game was surprising to see.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes into every game, and this game especially,” Pierre-Louis said. “There’s a little bit of extra emotion that goes into it, so it’s definitely tough.”
Ultimately, this loss didn’t matter much for the Bears, but the optics of the Trubisky-Mahomes results will linger. Pace and Nagy must take a critical look at both the state of their quarterback and the state of the Bears’ offense before they set a course for 2020. Do they need a new quarterback or do they need to significantly alter Nagy’s scheme to better bit Trubisky? The status quo simply won’t work. It’s a crucial time, especially for Pace, who will be entering his sixth year as general manager. Perhaps Sunday’s sobering results are something Pace and Nagy needed to see, even if they are painful to accept.
Believe it or not, the Bears’ competitive window is still open. But how the organization handles the quarterback position going forward will ultimately determine the success that is seen within that window. And no one can blame the fans for being impatient. They’ve seen this story before and many thought the results would be different in 2019.
This season was disappointing enough that it’s going to take some time and healing for Bears fans to regain trust in this regime. Most importantly, it’s going to take wins, and a lot of them, in 2020.