By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Those empty seats spoke volumes Sunday at Soldier Field — 5,370 unused tickets, as the Bears estimated.
And frankly, that number was probably a little generous. By the final few minutes, the stadium has mostly cleared. Those who did stay for the battle of one-win teams left sorely disappointed after the Bears blew a 13-0 lead to start the fourth quarter, falling 17-16 to the Jaguars. The implosion seemed inevitable, like their four losses before.
The only thing this team has consistently done is struggled.
“We just don’t play well enough right now, and that’s on all of us,” coach John Fox said after Sunday’s loss.
Blame starts with the head coach. The Bears are now 1-5 to start Fox’s second season leading the charge. There have been injuries, but that’s not a worthy excuse.
Year 2 of Fox’s regime was to bring a team transformation for the Bears. Their hope was for steady organizational growth to be revealed. That’s missing.
At the least, Fox had hoped his Bears could contend. They patch-worked the depth chart with veteran pieces that could create a contender, hoping to hang around in the NFC North. Now, they seem destined to finish last once again.
The Brian Hoyer-led Bears offense can’t seem to find the end zone, and Vic Fangio’s defense can’t get home with its pass rush. And that’s just the beginning of their problems.
This Bears team has many faults. But that’s hardly important relative to the long term, which is also failing.
Fox was trusted to develop the Bears a contender. He’s brought success to the Panthers and Broncos in two prior head-coaching stops, converting failing franchises into Super Bowl attendees. That seems like a pipe dream for the Bears in these coming years.
Move up one level and find early disappointment from general manager Ryan Pace, the bright scouting mind whose early draft returns aren’t making a difference. Young players can’t truly be judged until after three seasons, but they should at least be showing some semblances of growth.
Pace was eager after taking receiver Kevin White with the seventh pick in 2015 and linebacker Leonard Floyd with the ninth pick this past April. White recently had his second surgery in as many seasons and only has four NFL games under his belt. Floyd has missed his last two games and is leaving Fangio quite disappointed.
Those were to be the Bears’ impact players — the guys to help transform this team from bottom dweller to contender. They’re dynamic talents at key positions on each side of the football, both with uncertain development tracks even when healthy.
Now nearly a season and a half into Year 2, the Bears are lacking pieces on which they can rely for their future. Has Pace missed on picks or is Fox’s coaching staff failing the development process?
The Bears’ best hope this season was that Jay Cutler could maximize White and Alshon Jeffery, with Jeremy Langford and Jordan Howard stabilizing the backfield. Defensively, the hope was that the pass rush could create enough pressure to create opportunities for a young secondary.
Consider that the plan for wins in 2016, buying time while young players grow and fortify a roster neglected before Pace took over. Instead, the short- and long-term have both faltered through six games.
Pressed with a 13-point lead to open the fourth quarter against a weak Jaguars team, the Bears found a way to lose. They failed to find the end zone, and the defense couldn’t hold. Only Jeffery didn’t mince words when asked of the struggles.
“We got to score a (bleeping) touchdown,” Jeffery said.
At this point, Jeffery may not be a part of the Bears’ future. Pace may soon have to look for ways to maximize his chips for beyond 2016, and that may mean looking to trade Jeffery before the Nov. 1 deadline. Heck, evaluating the market for Cutler couldn’t hurt, too. His future with the team seems to be in doubt.
Meanwhile, Pace and his team of scouts have been evaluating Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer in recent weeks. That would at least be a start. Growth from the rest of the roster would offer a better outlook for 2017, but this rebuild has a lot of work ahead.
The Bears have a long way to go. Sunday brought further proof that progress is lacking.
Far too many fans didn’t care to even watch.