Though in the midst of their most successful season since 2012, the rejuvenated Bears still lack a signature legitimacy that the titans of the league have. Though the wins may have piled up early in the season, much of it came from peeping out come-from-behind victories against pushovers like the Cardinals and Seahawks. Considering the numbers indicate a Super Bowl contender, with a point differential on par with the then-undefeated Chiefs over the first quarter of the season, the Bears’ inability to win consistently and leave no room for doubt highlights a fundamental flaw with the Bears-their undeveloped culture.
With a roster with this much defensive talent and offensive potential, the domination against Tampa should be weekly against poor programs. Yet it seems like the Bears just haven’t figured out how to put a stamp on clearly inferior opponents. Evident against teams they see eye-to-eye with, pulling off wins against teams that don’t hand the game to them has been concerningly difficult for the Bears.
After so many years in the gutter, such an abruptly positive roster overhaul, and especially the acquiring of megastar Khalil Mack, seems to have stunned them, causing them to be bewildered by how dominant they could be. The attitude for winning hasn’t clicked for the Bears yet. Almost as if they startle themselves with success, they hesitate with mistakes that cause them to collapse in winnable games.
Such a massive talent infusion and sudden leaps in development to this scale is a rarity in the league and the Bears look dazed because of it. Seldom does a team so devoid of star power either nab so much talent or the current young core blossom so intensely, even more so all at once. Nearly every member of last years draft class flowered into a large contributor as sophomores while Ryan Pace landed a Pro Bowler in free agency and swiped the Defensive Player of the Year for a couple of picks. The unexpected turnaround of the roster and the elite stature has yet to settle in and neither has the culture.
Whether a rookie head coach issue, an unconfident young quarterback, or purely a painful adjustment period, the Bears still have kinks in their basic culture. In the should-be win against the Dolphins, the Bears failed to display a key trait in championship franchises-killer instinct. Ignoring the defensive lapses and offensive blunders during regulation, a fumble on the goal line with well over five minutes remaining should have given the Bears the spark necessary to roll over the Miami defense. This contest had a Mitchell-Trubsiky-led game-winning drive written all over it.
However, a few Jordan Howard scampers later, two minutes remained, and the Bears settled for a long field goal on the forty-three-yard line. A drive consisting of nearly pure rushing felt like a whimpering attempt to just get in field goal range and hope Cody Parkey can drill an ill-advised fifty-three yarder to win the game, even though his career high is only slightly deeper at fifty-four yards.
Under the breathtaking heat and game-winning implications, walking away with a win from this strategy is next to an impossibility. With a good amount of time remaining on the clock, the decision to settle so early and allow time for the Dolphins to charge down themselves for the win demonstrates the Bears’ current mindset-just don’t lose.
While this can all be chalked up to pure inexperience and the palpable shock value at play, the Bears must figure themselves out or risk dropping more gimmes, a plague that will haunt them come home stretch. When the playoff race reaches a boiling point, easy chip shots like the Dolphins spell a wild card spot or golf in January. Honestly, a statement game needs to happen for the attitude to click but a realization requires a wake-up call. This Dolphins game serves this purpose though Green Bay in Week One also painted a similar outlook.
This begrudging paradigm luckily has a chance to come to a close in a marquee matchup against the Patriots on Sunday. As the first team of objectively higher quality on the schedule, this game will be a chance to ultimately decide the intangibles of the new-look Bears. Welcoming Tom Brady into Soldier Field gives them an ideal opportunity for an up-close example of a model franchise.
As the most prosperous franchise of the millennium, tasting even a down year from New England could open up the Bears eyes really on how winning has to be achieved. The probable loss would level them to .500 but could endow invaluable lessons. But a win would be the statement necessary to jumpstart a vicious run from the Bears. Upsetting the Patriots would mean some degree of pieces falling into place and gutting out a victory would certify the Bears overdue legitimacy. As the paramount icons of winning in the NFL, the Patriots will be the first top-tier team on the Bears schedule this season.
But purely from a talent standpoint, New England could be seen as inferior outside the quarterback position. Defensively, they lack bite and the offense doesn’t impress as much as years past. While a tough cookie to crack, the Patriots don’t have to be unstoppable so long as the Bears soul-search enough this week to discover and understand the brilliant talent present.
With the finest core since the Lovie Smith era, the Bears don’t necessarily need force themselves into what they don’t have to be. After all, they have the franchise quarterback under his rookie deal until 2022 and only Adrian Amos to resign come the offseason.
They can allow themselves a dot of time and don’t have their backs shoved against a wall in terms of a contention window. But the earlier the entire team can find the winning culture and as a result, string together strong and consistent performances, the earlier the Lombardi trophy becomes a real possibility. The talent couldn’t be any more Super Bowl ready than this. Only the mindset holds the Bears from something special.