By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma–

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (CBS) — For a franchise draped in a rich football tradition, this can be argued as its worst season ever.

Only once before Sunday had the Bears lost 13 games in a season, way back in 1969, when even the great Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo couldn’t save that team. This is a much different day in age for the franchise.

Sunday brought rock bottom in a forgettable 3-13 season for the Bears, a 38-10 beatdown by the Vikings. In its season finale, Chicago was outplayed in every facet of the game. The new year brought rock bottom for this troubled campaign.

“We got every motivation in the world,” Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “There’s not one thing on the list that I don’t feel like we need to work on this offseason and become better at.”

Coach John Fox’s job was considered safe prior to Sunday’s slate. For now, one can only wonder if the reek of this season-ending stinkfest was too much for chairman George McCaskey to bear. If his mother, Virginia, was “pissed off” by the ugly 5-11 season in 2014, this one won’t make her feel any better.

Questioned on whether he expects to be retained, Fox did what he so often does. He evaded the query. He couldn’t say definitively whether he will return for a third season or be fired.

“One thing I’ve learned about this league is that a lot of different things can happen,” Fox said.

A thing that’s never happened in the NFL is a team winning the Super Bowl a year after going 3-13. After Sunday’s loss, that’s what top receiver Alshon Jeffery proclaimed the Bears are going to do. While Jeffery’s future with the Bears is unknown, his optimism for the franchise is certain.

“I guarantee you we’re going to win the Super Bowl next year,” Jeffery said of his Bears.

Better results are demanded next season, regardless of whether Fox returns. General manager Ryan Pace has revamped this roster from one of the league’s oldest to youngest. They have gone 9-23 with Pace and Fox leading the way. A critical offseason awaits.

The Bears just finished their third straight season in last place, a mark they clinched weeks ago. They went winless on the road, fittingly joining the Browns in that company. Now, they look ahead to the No. 3 pick in the upcoming draft. That selection could bring the team’s next quarterback.

Of course, there are many needs across the board. The defense could use another 5-technique and an entirely new secondary. Receiver and tackle are among the questions on offense. But the decision at quarterback could make or break this franchise’s direction.

Struggles for the Bears were a bit exaggerated this season as the injuries piled up. They finished the season with 19 players on injured reserve, compiling a league-leading total of $66 million worth of talent injured. Frankly, that’s the strongest defense for Fox after a season that should never have been this bad.

How the McCaskeys survey the carnage could be different. At the least, Fox wants to be back with the Bears.

“I think a lot of this organization,” Fox said. “I think a lot of this city. I think a lot of the tradition of this team.

“It’s definitely a job I want to finish.”

When Fox first arrived as the Bears’ coach in January 2015, he pointed toward the one lonely Lombardi Trophy that Halas Hall holds. That came in 1985 with one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

Things can change fast in this NFL. Look no further than the Cowboys, who went from 4-12 and the No. 4 pick to the top team in the NFC this season.

Returning to contention is the first goal for the Bears. That will be the expectation in 2017, a year that has started at rock bottom.

There’s nowhere to go but up.

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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