A week earlier, the Chicago Bears kept it close for a half against the Buffalo Bills. Previously they’ve waited until the fourth quarter to melt down.
On Sunday at Ford Field, the Bears had two decent offensive possessions to begin, and then it turned into a good, old-fashioned butt-kicking. 10 thoughts after the Detroit Lions demolished the Bears 41-10.
1. You know what the worst part of this loss is?
It’s not the 504 yards of offense the Lions were able to roll up, the first time an opponent has hit the Bears for half a thousand in a non-overtime game since a 54-11 loss at the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 22, 2013. It’s not the brutal offensive showing in which Justin Fields completed as many passes — seven — as he took sacks. It’s not the season-high 31-point margin or the fact the Lions had 19 more first downs. It’s not that the Lions produced points on six of their first seven possessions.
The most bothersome element of this shellacking is that in a season constructed to build for the future with a focus on process and growth, coaches will have to work overtime to produce much in the way of positive moments. That’s the real shame of this game. Blowouts happen and the Bears have played in an abnormally high number of close games while putting together a 3-13 record. This one was so bad, though, that it would seem disingenuous for the Bears to suggest there were flashes of progress with one week remaining in the season.
The Bears have tied the franchise record for most losses in a season. They finished 3-13 in 2016 and were 1-13 in 1969. They’ve lost a franchise-record nine consecutive games, no small deal when you consider it’s their 103rd season. They’ve lost eight in a row against NFC North opponents.
At the end of the 2016 season, who knew the Bears were one more bumpy year from a division title and a home playoff game? Not many could have predicted the fairytale first season for coach Matt Nagy in 2018. The Bears followed up 1969 with another six losing seasons in a row before a 7-7 finish in 1976 and then a 9-5 record in 1977.
There were a few core pieces on defense in 2016, when defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was doing his best to build that side of the ball. The Bears were fortunate he stayed on when Nagy was hired, and a good defense turned great after the trade for outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
The troubling thing is what do coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles have to feel generally excited about when building this roster? Some believe quarterback Justin Fields is the long-awaited replacement for Sid Luckman. I don’t know if they feel that way at Halas Hall. Who can tell from a season in which the Bears have been statistically terrible throwing the football?
Yes, the offensive line needs to be improved. They need more help at wide receiver. Fields cannot do it by himself, and he has shown incredible flashes this season that warrant giving him more support to see if he can break through.
What else is there in the way of building blocks, guys who can be difference makers on offense? You can talk about the strengths of a handful of players and point to a few statistics here and there. Running back Khalil Herbert has had a nice season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Tight end Cole Kmet has six touchdown catches — half of them against the Lions. That’s about it.
On defense, the secondary is full of young players who have gained a ton of playing time. Strong safety Jaquan Brisker had a really rough game against the Lions. Film review won’t be enjoyable. It’s easy to come down on a safety for a poor angle or missed tackle when the front seven is being run over (again), but this game wasn’t good. Think there is anyone in the front seven who can be a key contributor to a top-10 defense?
That’s where the Bears are. Poles has stripped this thing down — and I’m not saying that was the wrong thing to do. You can’t half-ass a rebuild and the team has more than $88 million in dead salary-cap space this season, clearing the books for a fresh start in 2023. Now the football acumen of Poles and his staff will be put to the test.
If you’ve spent too much time wondering what kind of prize could be waiting for Poles at the top of the draft, you may have overlooked the reality that a stud pass rusher, defensive tackle, wide receiver or left tackle (you pick the position) won’t transform this roster. There’s more work to do than you might have thought a month or two ago and certainly at the start of this season.
That’s because the Bears are coming off a brutal loss and they can’t find young players who did much of anything positively. That’s what stinks about this game.
2. Forty percent of the Bears offense came on two Justin Fields runs.
Fields had a 60-yard scramble and another play in which he lined up as a tailback and tight end Cole Kmet took the snap and pitched the ball to Fields, who dashed 31 yards around the left side. Those are exciting plays, and it was cool to see how offensive coordinator Luke Getsy built off Kmet’s quarterback sneak in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins and added a new wrinkle.
But it’s a big-picture problem when week after week, the passing game cannot generate consistent highlights. Yes, Fields hit Velus Jones Jr. on a schemed-up deep shot a week ago against the Bills. The Bears had three tight ends on the field showing a heavy play-action look, and Fields cut loose a bomb to the speedster. There are numerous other examples like that from the season.
When Fields has to simply drop back and let the ball go, it’s a struggle all the way around. That means Fields, the protection, the skill-position players — everyone. Criticism of Fields is off limits for some because he has generated breathtaking highlight plays while providing legitimate reason for hope.
It was a bad day throwing the ball. Fields completed 7 of 21 passes for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception on the final snap of the first half, which was basically an aborted play. The Bears wanted to run a razzle-dazzle play in which they would throw the ball back across the field. That was blown up when the Lions were completely off in coverage.
The Bears wound up with a season-low 30 net passing yards as Fields was sacked seven times for 45 yards. The Bears have had fewer than 100 net passing yards four times in 16 games. They have exceeded 200 once. Fields acknowledged taking too many bad sacks.
“Have to play better than I did today, not putting my team in second-and-15s, taking sacks on plays that I shouldn’t be getting sacked on,” he said. “Just trying to make a play out of nothing, so just learning from that and throwing the ball away and, yeah, keep going.”
The pass protection wasn’t good enough. Left tackle Braxton Jones had a tough time. It looked like the Lions played some games up front, perhaps borrowing from the game plan the Eagles used a couple of weeks ago. Too many times, Fields had to get on the move right away. On the play in which defensive end James Houston stripped Fields late in the second quarter, he had wide receiver Dante Pettis on a corner route. Fields pumped and pulled the ball down and left the pocket.
Houston had run through Jones’ midsection and sacked both the left tackle and Fields on the play, one of three sacks for the veteran. The Lions were rotating to a two-deep zone in the secondary, and a corner route is a classic Cover-2 beater. There was a deep hole shot and Fields needed to take it. It’s what he pumped to before pulling the ball down. At this point in the season, let it rip.
Pettis dropped a ball later in the game before leaving to be evaluated for a concussion. Trust takes time to build between quarterbacks and receivers. Does Fields have a guy he legitimately can trust right now? Would he say so if the answer was no? Maybe he lacked trust, but Pettis was open and the Bears were on their 48-yard line trailing 21-10.
General manager Ryan Poles was asked what he hoped to see from Fields in the final weeks during the WBBM-AM 780 pregame show.
“I think just elevate his game in the passing game, the two-minute drills, end of half,” Poles said. “Obviously to start games, he’s been outstanding. He’s shown ability to make a ton of plays with his legs. No one questions his playmaking ability, but really growing as a passer is going to be the next step. And we can accomplish that now and obviously into the future as we continue to grow.”
This was a missed opportunity for all 11 players in the passing game against the Lions, who entered 32nd in total defense, 30th in passing defense, 32nd in yards per pass attempt, 26th in sack rate, 32nd in first downs allowed and 31st on third down. One of the worst defenses in the NFL throttled the Bears passing game, and while Fields ran for 132 yards, 91 came on the two big plays.
The offense accomplished next to nothing outside of those two plays, so it’s proper to question where things are when Fields is averaging 149.5 passing yards per game. I don’t know when the answers will come, but there should be indicators next season if the Bears can improve the personnel around him.
3. The Bears are locked into a top-four draft pick.
If the order were generated from the current standings, they would own the No. 2 pick. The path to No. 1 is clear. The Houston Texans (2-13-1) will get the top pick if they lose to the Colts in Indianapolis or if the Bears (3-13) win at Soldier Field against the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears would slide into the top spot if they lose to the Vikings and the Texans defeat the Colts.
The Texans can’t pick lower than second. The Bears could move to third or fourth. Also in play are the Arizona Cardinals (4-12), who close the season on the road against the San Francisco 49ers, and the Denver Broncos (4-12), who host the Los Angeles Chargers. If the Bears beat the Vikings, they would lose a tiebreaker against the Cardinals and Broncos at 4-13.
Here’s where it gets interesting. At Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, Bears-Vikings opened as a pick ‘em. Oddsmakers are telling you they don’t believe the Vikings will have anything to play for in that game, which could lead coach Kevin O’Connell to rest key players for the postseason.
The Vikings were hammered by the Green Bay Packers 41-17 on Sunday. Yes, they still have a path to the No. 2 seed in the NFC (which doesn’t offer a bye), but that would require defeating the Bears and relying on the lowly Cardinals to win at San Francisco. The Cardinals have used four starting quarterbacks in the last four weeks.
Las Vegas isn’t in the business of losing money, so the hunch is some smart people believe the Vikings won’t be playing for anything and will be settled into the No. 3 seed, which would mean hosting the sixth-seeded New York Giants in the first round.
The Bears seem committed to giving it their best shot in Week 18. Matt Eberflus referenced the finale when talking about the decision to keep Justin Fields in this game late.
“It is important,” Eberflus said. “It’s important for us to be able to do that going forward this last game. That’s why late into the game we kept Justin in there because we want to get that live experience. You can’t really get that anywhere else, so that’s why we decided as a staff and we decided working with Justin.
“He said, ‘I want to be in there.’ Credit to him, he was, ‘Coach, man, I’m still going out there. I want to be able to operate.’ With his toughness and grit, he wants to go out there and compete, and that’s what he did.”
I don’t believe the possibility of dropping in the draft order will change how the Bears do business this week. I realize many want to look ahead to the draft, but this kind of stretch the team is in takes a real toll on those involved.
“Right now, I speak for myself, I’ve got to play better,” veteran safety DeAndre Houston-Carson said. “If everyone kind of does that — looks at themselves and is honest and gives an honest evaluation of how they played — and enough people can say they’ve got to play better, then that is just what happened. We just didn’t have it. We just didn’t play well enough to give ourselves a chance to win. I know I didn’t.
“You can’t get used to having something like that happen. We don’t care about (injuries). We’ve got to stand up. I know I’ve got to stand up and be better. You play long enough in the league, you have some like that, unfortunately. You’ve just got to respond. How are we going to bounce back? We’ve got to let it hurt for a little bit. Let it hurt for today, a little bit (Monday) and then get back to the drawing board.”
In a quiet postgame locker room, the calm was punctuated here and there with a locker being slammed or struck. Guys were angry and they should be.
“In hard times you rely on what your foundation is — belief, trust, personal responsibility, integrity, doing your job for your teammates to be able to depend on you,” said defensive end Trevis Gipson, who had a sack for the first time since Week 2. “It does get frustrating. These hard times are what brings our team closer. A lot of people on the outside are booing us. A lot of naysayers, man. But these hard times bring you closer to each other.”
Whoever is on the field against the Vikings will try like hell to end this season with a victory. As for the Vikings’ plan? We’ll have to wait and see.
4. The Chase Claypool trade will have a significant impact in the draft, but it hasn’t moved the needle in passing rankings for the Bears or Pittsburgh Steelers.
When the Bears traded their second-round pick to the Steelers for Claypool on Nov. 1, they were 32nd in the league in passing and the Steelers were 24th. Entering Week 17, the Bears were 32nd and the Steelers 24th. The Bears have gone 0-8 since the trade while the Steelers got on a roll, winning six of eight games after Sunday night’s 16-13 win over the Ravens in Baltimore.
The value of the pick they received for Claypool has soared. The Bears were 3-5 at the time and if the draft order were based on the standings on Nov. 1, the Steelers would have received the 43rd pick. The Bears have spiraled since and now that pick, based on the standings after Sunday night, would be No. 34. That would be the 33rd player selected as the Dolphins were stripped of their first-round pick. That’s a pretty penny to pay for a player who was the 49th selection in 2020.
Based on that, this trade can only be viewed as a win in Pittsburgh. The Bears are banking on future production from Claypool evening things out because, to this point, they don’t have much to show from Claypool, who returned against the Lions after missing the previous two games with a knee injury.
Claypool got only four snaps in the first half and 19 in the game. He had more playing time in the second half but no production to speak of. He was targeted once and didn’t catch a ball — but cameras caught him throwing his helmet on the sideline and then jawing with wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.
Claypool was one of the first players dressed and exiting the locker room after the game, so if he spoke to reporters, I didn’t see it happen. Maturity issues followed him in Pittsburgh. There was a late-season game against the Vikings in 2021 in which he had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the game and then cost the Steelers some time while celebrating a late catch as they tried to rally from a 28-0 deficit. The Vikings held on to win 36-28.
Quarterback Justin Fields probably spoke better for Claypool than the receiver could have done himself.
“He was frustrated,” Fields said. “He’s a passionate player. He’s passionate about the game, but I think he was just showing his emotions, which is good to have emotion in a game, but you just have to know how to control it. You can’t let it come out like that because at the end of the day, that’s not helping anybody. That’s not helping the team. Everybody’s frustrated. We’re getting blown out, like just call it what it is. We got punched in the mouth. Everybody feels that way.
“I talked to him like, ‘That’s not going to do anything. That’s not helping anybody. That’s just spreading everybody apart. We need to be here for each other, stick with each other and fight because not many teams in this league are going to fight the way we did.’ I don’t know, I’m getting really passionate, but it’s just like, we were getting blown out, and like, I don’t care what the scoreboard is. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to play our hardest and they know that I’m doing that.
“Going back on Chase, he’s passionate but just has to learn how to control those emotions and keeping it inside and just knowing what’s going to be best for the team.”
Two veteran personnel men I talked to at the time of the deal liked the move for the Bears, but one pointed out they paid a new-car price for a used vehicle. It’s more like a lease for the time being as Claypool will be in the final year of his contract in 2023. That’s an expensive rental if Claypool is only with the Bears for 1½ seasons, and when is it a good idea for a team totally out of contention to spend that kind of draft capital for a player who won’t be around long?
“I’ve really liked the way our offense is starting to come together and move,” Ryan Poles said at the time of the deal after the Bears scored 62 points over two games. “I thought it was important to add another impact player to go along with the guys we currently have.
“I like the way Justin is trending, and adding another big body who is physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field — but also is violent with the ball in his hand and as a blocker — I think that enhances everyone around him.”
The Bears were averaging 150.5 passing yards and 19.4 points per game when they got Claypool and have averaged 148 passing yards and 20.8 points in six games with Claypool on the field. The players and coaches can talk all offseason about how long it takes for a wide receiver to adjust to a new offense. That’s fine. It’s not an excuse next season, and Claypool’s production — 12 receptions for 111 yards — is scant.
“I’ll be really excited for next season,” Claypool said last week. “I hope people haven’t counted me out yet. I’ve got a lot to bring to the table.
“We traded away a top second-round pick, very valuable. I smile because I know it was a great trade for the organization. Right now, however that may look — I don’t want to get roasted for saying something too soon like I have before — but I feel very confident the fans, the organization, the team will be happy.”
I don’t know how Poles could consider a new contract for Claypool in the offseason. I can’t imagine Claypool would want to negotiate off what he has done this season. Maybe he puts up big numbers in 2023, but he really will have to produce for the Bears to hope this deal evens out.
5. Lamar Jackson’s record is within reach for Justin Fields.
Fields’ 132-yard rushing effort against the Lions gives him 1,143 rushing yards entering Sunday’s finale against the Vikings. Jackson set the NFL record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback in 2019, when he ran for 1,206 yards. That leaves Fields 64 yards from eclipsing the former league MVP. Fields is averaging 76.2 rushing yards in his 15 starts, and while his pursuit of Jackson took a hit a week ago when the Bills limited him to 11 yards, he’s right back in the hunt now.
The Vikings entered Week 17 ranked 21st in the league in rushing yardage allowed to quarterbacks. Fields ran for 47 yards in the teams’ Week 5 meeting, and that was just before the Bears really got him going as a rusher. The Bills’ Josh Allen ran for 84 yards against the Vikings, and the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts hit them for 57. Helping Fields reach the record would be something neat in a season that hasn’t included a lot of fun.
Fields also has a chance to be the first Bear to rush for 1,200 yards since Jordan Howard had 1,313 in 2016. Here’s the list of players to top 1,200 in a season since Walter Payton: Neal Anderson, Thomas Jones (twice), Matt Forte (twice), Howard. That’s it.
6. The top of the draft can yield an elite player, so I thought it would be instructive to see how the team with the No. 1 or No. 2 pick fared the next season going back to 2000.
In instances when a team traded out of the pick, I tracked the record of the team that originally owned the pick.
Before diving into the numbers, it’s worth noting a quarterback has been selected No. 1 in six of the last eight drafts. Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Travon Walker (2022) and Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (2017) are the only non-QBs in that span.
Sixteen quarterbacks have been taken with the first pick since 2000. Only Matthew Stafford (2009) and Eli Manning (2004) have won a Super Bowl. Neither did with the team that drafted them as Manning was selected by the Chargers and traded to the Giants. Stafford won his with the Los Angeles Rams last season after the Lions traded him. Joe Burrow (2020, Cincinnati Bengals) and Cam Newton (2011, Carolina Panthers) also reached the Super Bowl.
A quarterback has been selected No. 2 on five occasions since 2000, an undistinguished group of Zach Wilson (2021, New York Jets), Mitch Trubisky (2017, Bears), Carson Wentz (2016, Eagles), Marcus Mariota (2015, Tennessee Titans) and Robert Griffin III (2012, Washington). Odds are decent none of them will be a Week 1 starter in 2023.
So what is the impact of a No. 1 or No. 2 pick (or the impact of talent added from a trade down)?
- The team with the No. 1 pick averaged 6.5 wins the following season since 2000. That includes the Jaguars, who selected Walker No. 1 in April and are 8-8 with one week remaining.
- Of those 23 teams, four reached the playoffs, the last instance the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, who chose left tackle Eric Fisher. The Jaguars have a winner-take-all game for the AFC title with the Titans in Week 18, so they could make it five playoff teams in 23 seasons. Of course it was the Jaguars’ second straight year with the top pick. They went 3-14 last season after choosing quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
- The team with the No. 2 pick averaged 6.0 wins the following season since 2000. That includes the Lions, who selected Aidan Hutchinson No. 2 in April and are 8-8. Of those 23 teams, four reached the playoffs the next season. The most recent example is Washington in 2020, going 7-9 and winning the NFC East after drafting defensive end Chase Young.
- Six teams that had the No. 1 pick had a winning record the following season, and seven had four wins or fewer. Three teams that had the No. 2 pick had a winning record the following season and six had four wins or fewer.
Every pick and every team has unique circumstances, but this provides a general idea of what kind of impact one pick (or picks collected in a trade down) can have.
7. With so much focus on the idea of tanking at the end of the season for improved draft position, we might as well bring up the last time allegations were leveled.
The Eagles hosted Washington on the final Sunday of the 2020 season, a game that was moved to NBC’s prime-time slot. The Eagles had already clinched a last-place finish in the NFC East. Washington needed to win the game to win the division. An Eagles win meant the Giants would win the division and Washington would miss the postseason.
The Eagles were trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter when coach Doug Pederson pulled starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had run for both Eagles touchdowns, and inserted third-stringer Nate Sudfeld with 12:35 remaining. Sudfeld was intercepted to end his first possession and lost a fumble on the second play of his second possession. Washington wound up winning 20-14 to advance to the playoffs.
Incensed Giants coach Joe Judge reacted the next day.
“To disrespect the game by going out there and not competing for 60 minutes and doing everything you can to help those players win, we will never do that as long as I’m the head coach of the New York Giants,” he said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported players and assistant coaches were shocked at the move.
“Man, if I’m being honest, nobody liked the decision, nobody,” Eagles running back Miles Sanders told WIP-FM 94.1 the day after the game. “That’s all I can say really. I don’t know who was the main person behind that decision. All I know is that a lot of people on the team (were) confused.”
That’s the risk with a move like this. Players will have a hard time following anyone who isn’t prioritizing winning each and every week. Pederson, who was fired after that season, said the plan all week had been to get Sudfeld some playing time.
The Associated Press reported that the league office could not determine the Eagles were intentionally trying to lose. The upshot of the whole thing? The Eagles had the sixth pick in the 2021 draft. Had they won the game, they would have picked ninth. Sudfeld, now the backup to Jared Goff for the Lions, hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game since. He was sacked by the Bears’ Justin Jones late in the fourth quarter Sunday when he was in for mop-up duty.
7a. One example of the Bears making decisions they believe are best for winning the game — and not looking to future development or long-range plans — is their decision at punt returner.
I asked special teams coordinator Richard Hightower if they considered giving Velus Jones Jr. a chance to return punts at Ford Field with the game indoors so wind wouldn’t be a factor in fielding the ball.
Jones hasn’t returned punts since the Week 6 loss to the Washington Commanders on Oct. 13. At this point in the season, why not put him back out there?
“That’s a good question,” Hightower said. “We still are rolling with Dante (Pettis) as of right now just because he’s really having good success. But we’re never counting Velus out. He still works at it every day. There’s always consideration for him every week to go back there, but as of now, Dante is the starter.”
Hightower said Jones has shown improvement tracking and catching the ball in practice.
“He’s gotten better in every facet of his game, not even just that,” Hightower said. “He’s become a better pro off the field. He’s being more detailed and he’s learning. All these guys got to learn how to be pros. I’ve seen the eagerness for him to get on the field.
“Catching the ball better. Getting to the ball better. Asking better questions in meetings. He’s on the up and up. I think the kick returns have given him confidence. He’s had a lot of success there.”
Apparently not enough to warrant a chance late in the season in a setting that would not involve wind. Pettis had the duty until he was sent to concussion protocol. After that rookie running back Trestan Ebner returned punts.
8. Back in 2011, the Bears broke a long losing streak in the final game of the year.
That victory brought them to 8-8 but cost them significantly in the draft order. The Bears had lost five consecutive games entering the Week 17 meeting with the Vikings at the Metrodome. The Vikings were a mess, entering 3-12, but the Bears were in such bad shape at 7-8 that Minnesota was a 2½-point favorite.
In his second start with the Bears, Josh McCown threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Roy Williams, and Charles Tillman returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown as the Bears rallied from a 10-0 deficit for a 17-13 victory.
“When you have gone through the type of season that we have, our goal this week was to start the new year off right,” coach Lovie Smith said of the Jan. 1 win. “(We wanted to) get to 1-0 and end that five-game losing streak.”
The Bears were 7-3 after 11 weeks that season when a thumb injury sidelined quarterback Jay Cutler. Backup Caleb Hanie flopped and the Bears fell out of postseason contention. They wound up one of seven teams in a logjam at 8-8, getting the 19th pick in the first round. A loss to the Vikings would have meant picking 13th.
The Bears drafted defensive end Shea McClellin at No. 19. Selected between the 13th and 18th picks were four defensive ends — Michael Brockers, Bruce Irvin, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram — wide receiver Michael Floyd and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. The best pass rusher of the first round wound up being Chandler Jones, whom the New England Patriots chose at No. 21. Current Bears right tackle Riley Reiff was the 23rd pick by the Detroit Lions.
9. Rookie punter Trenton Gill has quietly put together a solid season.
He’s in position to become only the third Bears punter to finish a season with a net average above 40 yards. Gill can set a franchise mark with a big game against the Vikings. He raised his net average to 40.5 yards with a season-high seven punts against the Lions. Pat O’Donnell (40.7 in 2019) has the mark to beat, and Adam Podlesh finished at 40.4 in 2011.
Ryan Poles traded the 2023 sixth-round pick he received from the Chargers in the Khalil Mack trade back to Los Angeles for two seventh-round picks: 254th and 255th. The Bears chose safety Elijah Hicks with the first one and Gill with the next, seven spots before the San Francisco 49ers made quarterback Brock Purdy Mr. Irrelevant.
Gill and O’Donnell (2014) are the only punters the Bears have drafted since Todd Sauerbrun was, gulp, a second-round pick in 1995. The Bears have drafted only one kicker since taking Kevin Butler in 1985, and that was Paul Edinger (2000).
What made Gill a target after O’Donnell signed with the Packers in free agency?
“Just the way he played in college,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “He was a technician. We saw flashes of a guy that could be really good. He was really good directionally. He had really good hands catching and molding the ball. He was a good holder as well and then we also saw the leg talent. The leg talent was there, and as you know, in this wind you’ve got to have the leg talent or you can’t survive.”
The conditions at Soldier Field, especially in the second half of the season, make it nearly impossible for a Bears punter to lead the league in net average. If it isn’t too windy against the Vikings, perhaps Gill can become No. 1 in team history.
10. The Week 18 results will determine two of the Bears’ three 2023 opponents that are based on the standings.
The Bears are locked into fourth place in the NFC North and will have a road game against the Commanders at FedEx Field. The Commanders were locked into last place in the NFC East with a loss to the Browns on Sunday.
The fourth-place finishers in the NFC West and AFC North remain up in the air. The Cardinals (4-12) and Rams (5-11) are in the mix with the Cardinals the likely opponent. That game will be at Soldier Field.
The Bears will travel to face an AFC North opponent — the Steelers (8-8) or Browns (7-9), who meet in Week 18. If the Steelers win, the Bears head to Cleveland in 2023. If the Browns win, the Bears would head to Pittsburgh as the Browns would place third in the division by virtue of sweeping the two games against the Steelers.
As for the rest of the non-division opponents, the Bears will host the Atlanta Falcons, Panthers, Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders and will have road games against the Chiefs, Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
10a. Two weeks after leaving with a neck injury after the fourth play, Bears right guard Teven Jenkins left after the seventh play with a neck injury. I think we’re talking about stingers here. Jenkins had a stinger on the third play of the Week 15 game in Seattle last season. This isn’t new for a guy who has had a difficult time remaining on the field.
10b. The rationale behind having Dieter Eiselen on the game-day roster is he can snap the ball and fill in if something happens to center Sam Mustipher. The rationale for not having a healthy Alex Leatherwood on the game-day roster is the coaches don’t want to see him play again this season. Why else have him inactive and Larry Borom in uniform? That’s not a knock on Borom, but the Leatherwood experiment isn’t working. Not a huge deal. Yes, the Bears are on the hook for some money, but if you’ve been following for a minute, you know cap space won’t be an issue.
10c. While on the topic of the offensive line, Cody Whitehair looked like he was gutting it out at times in coming back from a knee injury. He has had two knee injuries this season and probably hasn’t been at his best, but you can tell being on the field means a lot to him.
10d. Jared Goff completed passes to 10 receivers — in the first half.
10e. Bears linebacker Joe Thomas made 12 tackles.
10f. Condolences to the family and friends of John Flaws, who died Dec. 26. Flaws, 58, worked for years on the WBBM-AM 780 radio crew, holding a parabolic microphone on the sideline. The LaGrange Highlands resident was a valued member of the broadcast team, which was stunned by his death as Flaws had worked the Dec. 24 game against the Bills.