Emma: Matt Barkley, Bears Come Unhinged

By Chris Emma–

CHICAGO (CBS) — Always a popular storyline in this fair city, the legend of another backup quarterback has faded long after the sun set on this 2016 season.

Forget the hard-fought comebacks from Matt Barkley, who had garnered the embrace of some Bears fans this last month. Chicago’s 41-21 loss to Washington on Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field finally offered a complete look at the fourth-year quarterback. All the questions have been answered.

Barkley has certainly earned consideration moving forward, whether that’s from the Bears or another team, but his ceiling is what many have expected. He’s a quality backup and serviceable spot starter at best. He’s not a quarterback to build around.

In his worst game since taking over behind center for the Bears, Barkley threw five interceptions Saturday while completing 24 of 40 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns. His throws were all over the place, and he made the mistake several times of throwing off his back foot.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Barkley said. “It’s kind of one that you want to forget.”

The Barkley chapter of this season has seen the Bears and their replacement-level depth chart play admirably but ultimately fall short. Coach John Fox has come forth after each loss to shoot down the concept of moral victories but credit his young team’s fight and its heart. The Bears’ demise isn’t for a lack of effort, Fox has reminded over and over again.

During this stretch, it’s been Barkley who has helped keep this puzzle together to form a competitive football team, no matter the opponent or deficit. He kept defying adversity and putting the Bears in position to win the game. Then Barkley and the Bears came unhinged Saturday.

Following this porous performance, Fox refused to blame Barkley, who was critical of himself. As for the effort? Fox stated it was the same as recent performances. It sure didn’t reflect on the field.

Late in the second quarter, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was sucked in on a zone-read option by Kirk Cousins, then got beat to the edge and the end zone. McPhee and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman were visibly upset with the defense’s horrendous effort.

Nothing changed after that. Washington hung 41 points and 478 yards of offense on Chicago. Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay had a Merry Christmas Eve in Chicago, using an effective run game to set up the air attack on a depleted secondary. Cousins threw for 270 yards and a touchdown while rushing for two more. He sure looked worthy of the new contract coming.

You like that? The Bears sure didn’t.

“They just outplayed us,” McPhee said.

One game remains, and the Bears (3-12) are a loss away from marking their worst season since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. Only once before has this franchise lost 13 games, way back in 1969.

Fox got out in front of Week 17 by walking through the locker room and keeping heads up. Some players were crushed. Cornerback Tracy Porter tucked himself in the very back of his locker stall and was completely distraught, covering his face with his hands.

“(Crappy) performance by me,” Porter later said as he was surrounded by reporters. “I embarrassed my teammates, the Bears, the coaches, myself. I had a terrible performance.”

Others left the locker room looking less ticked off than Porter. Maybe it was the joy of the holiday season, but perhaps there’s a sense of relief that this season is finally coming to an end. It seems the Bears ran out of fuel one week shy of the end. Their only silver lining for the finale is that the Vikings are a big mess, too, having been eliminated from playoff contention in embarrassing fashion.

Over the past month, Barkley had inspired the battered Bears and gave this team a chance. Saturday brought a full display of his game — good, bad and ugly. He’s at least earned consideration moving forward and has likely earned a future in the league after he nearly fell into the abyss of forgotten quarterbacks.

As for these Bears, they’re finally nearing the finish line of this disappointing season in sole possession of the No. 3 pick. Change for this franchise starts with the next quarterback.

The Bears must finally find the franchise quarterback who makes his backup a footnote, not a folk hero.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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