Bears-Lions: And the winner is…

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Bears-Lions: And the winner is…

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.

[MORE: Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN]

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

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.