Hub Arkush: Where do Chicago Bears go after New Orleans?
There really is no such thing as moral victories. The Bears’ 20-12 road loss to the New Orleans Saints was not that.
The Saints were the better team and would have won the game even without the absurd mistake the officials made on what might be the last play of Bears tight end Zach Miller’s career.
Of course, I hope I’m wrong, but the injury Miller suffered on an apparent touchdown reception was gruesome, and that some clown in New York used instant replay to see something that almost no one else could pretend to see is inexcusable and unforgiveable.
But while sad, depressing and annoying, that is not the story of the Bears’ loss to the Saints, either.
The story is that these 2017 Bears announced emphatically in New Orleans that they are in fact not who many of you thought they were.
When Kyle Fuller lined up offside, allowing the Saints to take a 32-yard field goal off the board and turn it into a touchdown make the score 7-0 a little less than four minutes into the game, the Bears could have stumbled, but they didn’t.
When the officials decided to take a fumble recovery away from Eddie Goldman a minute into the second quarter with the Bears trailing, 7-3, and no clear video evidence to rely on, instead of whining, the Bears stepped up and sacked Drew Brees, forcing the Saints to punt.
They could have quit when the Saints went up, 14-3, with 3:41 left in the half, and I expect most of us thought they would quit when they answered by driving the ball to the Saints’ 25 only to see Connor Barth miss a 48-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the half.
Instead, the Bears came out and dominated the third quarter, and when the officials stole the Miller TD from them with 5:55 to play in the third, they calmly accepted a 44-yard field goal to make it a one-score game at 14-6 and battled on.
At this point, the Bears already had lost Kyle Long to an injury in addition to Miller and soon would lose center Cody Whitehair, as well.
Still, mainly on the strength of an ascending young defense and behind a game rookie quarterback who is miles below his ceiling but gaining on it week-to-week, the Bears played the now first-place Saints to a standstill to the final gun.
To be clear, the majority of the Bears’ wounds Sunday were self-inflicted, again the better team did win, and it was more obvious than ever Sunday they appear to be handicapped by a young offensive coordinator not up to the task.
But as the Bears prepare for their midseason vacation, the second half of the season and a visit from the Packers in two weeks, some context is a must.
This season always has been about progress, not playoffs.
These Bears were one of the worst teams in the NFL only a season ago. Eight games into 2017, they have arrived at the middle of the pack.
No, 3-5 isn’t anything to feel good about, but the only game on the schedule the second half of the season that now looks unwinnable is Philadelphia, and 8-8 suddenly looks not only achievable but, dare I say, likely?
The paradigm clearly has shifted for these Bears, and it is hard to escape the feeling that Sunday’s loss to the Saints, while dropping them a notch in the standings, is more likely to make them a better team rather than worse.
Here’s a test for you, Bears Nation, as we head into the bye.
Did your 11 that have given you almost exclusively disappointment and angina over the past year and a half offer nothing but more of the same in New Orleans?
Or did you come away at least a little upbeat, looking for more of the same going forward and maybe even a little bit proud?
I’m thinking correct is the latter.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.