Coach John Fox addressed his team at a special meeting on Friday. While he wasn’t getting into details of his remarks, the general tenor was clear for the wrap-up of a season of reforming a destitute culture within one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.
“I think this is unique in that you're kind of finishing one season and beginning another year so how you finish is important,” Fox said.
The specific outcome of the Bears-Detroit Lions game Sunday has not mattered since the playoffs dealt both teams out over the past couple weeks. But it does matter in the minds of Bears coaches who’ve worked since last January to install not only different systems in all three phases, but also a different mindset around winning.
So while the stated objective of avoiding a second straight season with double-digit losses may seem both meaningless and menial, it isn’t for those invested in the process and wanting to be part of a Bears future.
It was more than coincidence that GM Ryan Pace’s first three signings in free agency were two players from winning Super Bowl teams – Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle – a third who’d been part of playoff teams two of his previous four seasons – Eddie Royal – and a fourth who anchored offensive lines for playoff teams two of his last three seasons – Will Montgomery.
The point has been to import building blocks with talent and character and, particularly now, to “get some good energy in the building, some wins, some confidence,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “Because I really don’t feel like that we’re that far off.”
A season on the rebound from its 0-3 start went completely off the rails with losses to lesser opponents with losing records (San Francisco, Washington). A victory over Detroit does not give the Bears a winning record. But it would end a five-game losing streak against the Lions, longest run of futility against that division rival since the six straight losses from 1968-70.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Coaches and personnel staff will be continuing an evaluation process that has been going on for nearly a year for more than a few players. But the bigger focus is on building a culture from within.
“It’s mostly about trying to stay positive,” said defensive end Willie Young, “and keeping all the young guys on the same page and doing whatever it takes to get this thing rolling again.”
And the winner is…
For all of the talk of attitude shifts, none of that really happens without wins to sustain confidence of players in themselves and in everything the coaching staff is presenting. For most of this season, that has been present as the schemes of coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers put players generally in positions to make plays, and players not making them and pointing thumbs, not fingers.
The Lions (6-9) are a better team than they were when the scraped out an overtime win at Detroit back on Oct. 18, the first of the three times the Bears (6-9) played and failed to reach .500. The Bears? Not so sure what they’ve become.
The Bears had lost three straight before thumping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. The Lions have won their last two and five of seven since a 1-7 first half-season with the only win over the Bears. The Lions are wondering about the future of head coach Jim Caldwell; the Bears don’t have a head-coaching question but do have others about themselves and the ability to target a game and win it.
“It would be big,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “To have that momentum going into the offseason, to finish the season out on a two-game wining streak, that would create huge momentum leading into next year.”
So who comes out of Sunday with momentum?
Moon's prediction: Bears 23, Lions 17