When the Chicago Bears began the 2019-2020 season, the hype was intense.
It was something this Chicago Bears fan hadn’t seen in a long time.
But was it justified?
One Chicago radio host was off to Vegas, placing a bet on the team to not just reach the Super Bowl, but win it. Meanwhile, national pundits were questioning the hype and predicting the team would finish at .500 below. Their reasoning? Questions still surrounded quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the defense would regress, at least in terms of turnovers, and head coach Matt Nagy’s offense would no longer surprise, now that opponents had tape. Oh, the departure of Jordan Howard didn’t help, either.
I found myself somewhere in the middle of the optimists and the doomsayers. I thought the Bears would win or lose about the same amount of games as last year, meaning the low end would be 10-6 and the high-end 13-3 or 14-2. I expected a repeat trip to the playoffs and possible advancement, but I wasn’t sold on the Super Bowl.
We all know how this year played out. The Bears will either finish 8-8 or 7-9, after entering December with an outside shot at the playoffs. It’s been a disappointing season in which Trubisky regressed, Nagy regressed, and so did the defense. The running game was non-existent, the o-line struggled, the kicking problems weren’t completely solved.
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Here’s the question – did the team actually take a step backward? Or were they not as good as we thought last year? Perhaps 36 takeaways and some luck along the way were obscuring faults all along.
Remember, 2018 was Matt Nagy’s first year as a head coach and Trubisky’s first full year as a starting quarterback. Expectations following the John Fox era were low. Observers knew the team had a good defense, but it wasn’t until Khalil Mack showed up via trade that it was clear what the defense could do.
Things change from year to year. The defense is still good, but the takeaway number dropped. Akiem Hicks, an anchor of the defense, missed significant time. So did linebacker Danny Trevathan. Other injuries, such as to tight end Trey Burton, hampered the Bears in 2019.
Still, it’s too easy to say “well, this was a good team hurt by key injuries.” Yes, Trubisky missed time due to injury and perhaps was playing hurt, but his regression may not have anything to do with health. Perhaps it wasn’t a regression at all – perhaps he’s still experiencing growing pains.
Again, the 2018 Bears were supposed to be a rebuilding team, with a rookie head coach and a second-year QB and a young-ish roster. Instead, the defense became one of the league’s best, the coach made all the right calls, and that young QB played just well enough for a playoff spot.
Which led to crazy-high expectations for 2019. Too high. We, as fans, are disappointed after the team missed the playoffs, but perhaps we overreacted to last year. Perhaps this team was destined to have a middling record. Or perhaps, even if they returned to the playoffs, it would’ve been with fewer wins and possibly as a wild card.
Football is funny that way – fans tend to overreact to one year’s success or failure, and sometimes a team ends up with a better – or worse – record than we all expected.
That can interpreted to mean next year’s Bears will fix this mess and be back in the playoffs, or to mean this team will remain a .500 team without significant change, or that it could get worse. I don’t know the answer to that.
I do know that perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, we overrated this team before opening night, thus making the hurt of a lost season feel even worse.