By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Ever devoted to his family’s football franchise, Bears chairman George McCaskey joined the most loyal of fans who braved the extreme cold Sunday at Soldier Field. Deep down, he’s a frustrated fan, like countless others.
Games between the Bears and Packers used to mean so much more. Chicago’s 30-27 loss on this day was memorable only because of a fourth-quarter comeback down 27-10. This felt more like a hard-fought effort by the depleted Bears that ended in all-too-familiar fashion than the latest chapter of a storied rivalry.
McCaskey and the Bears fans loyal enough to freeze for three-plus hours of football left Soldier Field cold and disappointed, reminded of their place in the pecking order.
As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they have a chance — even with their share of injuries and a receiver forced to play running back. Then there are the Bears, who keep finding new ways to lose and have fallen to 3-11.
“We had an opportunity to win a game and we came up short,” Bears coach John Fox said. “It’s happened quite a few times here as of late.”
Sunday marked the first time since 1933 that the Bears haven’t led the series in the longest rivalry in football. The all-time series is now at 94-94-6 thanks to the heroics of Rodgers.
Battles like these were once decided by Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton and those dominating defenses. On Sunday, it was undrafted rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc answering questions to how he let receiver Jordy Nelson beat him on a 60-yard strike from Rodgers on third-and-11 in the final minute, a play that set up the game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby as time expired.
Meanwhile, next to the Bears’ locker room, there was Matt Barkley — the fourth-string quarterback pressed into his role — speaking to his four turnovers that tendered the Packers their victory.
With all due respect to these young Bears, it was supposed to be Kyle Fuller in coverage instead of LeBlanc. Jay Cutler was supposed to be quarterbacking this team, not Barkley.
When the Bears and Packers meet again next fall, perhaps it will be someone else at corner covering Nelson and instead a rookie leading the offense. Heck, maybe a big name like Eric Berry will be there over the top in quarters coverage where Deon Bush was supposed to be on the game-changing play.
Two decades of dominance have allowed the Packers to even their all-time series with the Bears. In that span, they’ve won a pair of championships. The Bears have been trying to build what Green Bay has since Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren arrived in Packerland back in 1992 and helped recreate a winning culture.
The Bears are hoping they have the right leaders in Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. They opted to rebuild after a veteran team imploded, looking to sustain success. This disappointing season was derailed by injuries and has recently been defined by falling short in valiant efforts.
“This team has character,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said, admittedly tired of moral victories. “This team has a lot of guys who are willing to fight to the end and lay everything on the line. This is our life. This is what we do. This is what we chose to do as a career. I expect everyone to have that sort of investment that truly means something to each other.”
Character is certain with this Bears team. Inside that devastated locker room, there were a bunch of players who gave their best effort. Many of those players are fighting for their football futures. They have no choice but to keep fighting.
But for all their heart, the Bears are deficient in talent compared to their arch rivals. Maybe that will change in the coming years.
First come decisions for McCaskey, who will evaluate his football operation at every capacity and decide if the Bears are 3-11 in large part because of injuries or for another reason, in which case changes are needed. Unlike those fans who braved the bitter cold, McCaskey can act on his frustration with franchise-changing decisions.
Despite what the scoreboard said in the end, the Bears are still several drafts away from approaching the Packers’ level.
Certainly, the Bears have to ensure they’re better next time they play the Packers. Reality bites like a cold December wind.