The Chicago Bears went all-in on the present in 2018, shipping a package of picks that included two first-rounders to the Oakland Raiders for edge-rusher Khalil Mack. The deal appeared to pay off—the Bears sported one of the most stifling defenses in the league last year, won 12 games and went from worst to first in the NFC North.
After that success last season, the Bears entered the 2019 campaign with hope and expectations in equally high measure. If young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky could take the next step in his third season, the belief was the stout defense and an improved offense could take the Bears all the way to Miami and Super Bowl LIV.
However, eight weeks into the season, the Bears look nothing like a Super Bowl contender. The defense is still excellent, but the unit isn't making the big plays it did a year ago. The offense has been a sputtering mess, and Trubisky has taken a huge step all right—in the wrong direction.
Rather than being one of the better teams in the NFC, the last-place Bears have the look of the most disappointing team in the NFL.
The knee-jerk reaction of many fans and pundits after Sunday's one-point loss to the similarly disappointing Los Angeles Chargers will be to blame kicker Eddy Pineiro for missing a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Directing rage at kickers has become a common occurrence in Chicago over the past couple of years, but the truth is the Bears never should have been in a position where they needed Pineiro to make that kick.
Entering Sunday's action, the Bears were averaging just 263.7 yards of offense per game. Only three teams were averaging fewer. The running game has been especially putrid, averaging all of 70 yards per game.
After running the ball just seven times in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints, head coach Matt Nagy indicated the team needed to rededicate to the ground game. Sure enough, the Bears did so against the Chargers, and the results were encouraging: Chicago racked up 162 rushing yards, and rookie David Montgomery had the first 100-yard game of his career.
But despite all those rushing yards and 388 total yards (over 150 more than the Chargers), the Bears scored just a single touchdown. The reason for that offensive futility isn't difficult to pinpoint.
Trubisky was awful—again.
Over the first seven weeks of the 2019 season, he averaged fewer than 170 passing yards per game with just five touchdown passes. In three of his five starts, he posted a passer rating under 71. His passer rating of 82.8 entering Sunday's game ranked 43rd.
That trailed such stars as Mason Rudolph, Case Keenum and Joe Flacco.
As John Mullin reported for NBC Sports Chicago, Nagy said earlier in the week the confidence level of both his young quarterback and the offense in general wasn't especially high:
"[Trubisky's] confidence isn't at an all-time high. We're struggling right now. But he's not the only one that the confidence isn't there. But how do you get that back? You get it back by practicing hard, by actually getting 'tighter.' We need to get tighter and understand, and I think that's the message that we've had is get tighter, believe in one another, keep trusting, right? And bond together and then when you get that one win, it just sparks. (snaps his fingers) It's crazy. It's just absolutely crazy how that works. So, we gotta do that."
The Bears were 5-of-14 on third down Sunday. Chicago made five trips inside the red zone and came away with one touchdown, and Trubisky was responsible for both of Chicago's turnovers.
So much for that confidence boost.
The consistent offensive ineptitude has placed Chicago's defense in an untenable position. There's zero margin for error. The defense played relatively well in Week 8, giving up just 231 total yards. Chicago ranked 10th in the league in total defense entering the game—a respectable number.
But that respectable number is seven slots lower than it was a year ago, and whether it's a critical stop or a big play, the Bears defense isn't making the splash plays it did during last season's playoff run.
A year ago, the Bears were third in the league with 50 sacks. After getting to Philip Rivers just once Sunday, Chicago is on pace for 43 in 2019. In 2018, the Bears led the league with 36 takeaways. This year, they are on pace for 25 and rank in the middle of the pack.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said the following after last week's collapse against the Saints: "Certainly, the standard is the standard. We have played to that standard at times. I think it's just consistency. Again, you look at the first half of the last game—we played well, and we played consistent. Now we've got to do it for 60 minutes."
That's the problem. Whether it's the offense or the defense, consistency has been a concern. There isn't a facet of the game where the Bears haven't backslid, and it's hard to see where a quick fix is going to come from—especially for Trubisky and the offense. If the offense continues to sputter, the defense is going to need to overperform.
It's not a recipe for success.
In some respects, maybe it's our fault. Maybe we expected too much of this Bears team after last year's run. We were distracted by all the takeaways and defensive scores (stats that aren't sustainable) and overlooked Chicago's warts and offensive flaws.
Maybe it's unfair to be so disappointed that a team some thought could represent the NFC in Miami doesn't look like it's even going to make the playoffs.
Whatever the reason, fair or not, that disappointment is all too real, and after another moribund performance and another Bears loss, it's weighing on the Windy City like a ton of bricks.