Opportunity Awaits Bears In Second Half Of Season

By Chris Emma—

(CBS) The Halas Hall to which Mitchell Trubisky arrived in late April has a different feel nowadays that he’s the Bears’ starting quarterback.

Trubisky maintains that he can sense the changes in attitude, which revolve around his presence and the promise he brings moving forward. Though the Bears are 3-5 at their bye week and a still last-place team, the desperation isn’t overwhelming the way it has been the last several seasons.

“We have bought in,” Trubisky said last week. “Guys are starting to believe. It’s more fun going out to practice and more fun looking forward to the weekends to the next game. You enjoy the moment rather than looking ahead. It’s been great vibes in the building and for the organization.”

With Trubisky, the second overall pick in April’s draft, the Bears have hope – the kind that Jay Cutler and Mike Glennon couldn’t bring to the locker room. With the poise he brings to the huddle and flashes of pinpoint throws that he makes, the Bears see the potential of what they can be.

The Bears aren’t a winning team – under John Fox’s watch, they’ve gone 12-28 – but they have the belief that the tide can turn with the second half of the season ahead. Without Aaron Rodgers and the Packers presiding over the NFC North and with four divisional games remaining, the Bears feel they can climb into contention. The Vikings are in first place at 6-2, followed by the Packers (4-3), Lions (3-4) and then the Bears.

“You’re always thinking about it,” Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “As a football player in our profession, it consumes you. That’s all you’re thinking about, is how to take the next step forward – as a player individually and as a team as a whole.

“This mindset in this locker room is very positive, very upbeat and looking forward to getting a chance to get some things to turn out in our favor. Especially in the close games. That’s the important part – being able to finish games.”

The Bears will play the second half of the season as a team with little margin for error. In a 20-12 loss in New Orleans on Sunday, the Bears were left regretting a first-quarter offsides penalty on a field goal that allowed the Saints to post seven points instead of three. Kicker Connor Barth shanked a field goal from 48 yards out before halftime. The Bears missed a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, making it nine points left on the field in an eight-point loss.

During the bye week, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains must identify ways his unit can be better around Trubisky – even with few playmakers – to create some semblance of balance. The Bears rank 31st in passing yards per game with a mark of 157.5 but fourth in rushing yards at 130.1 per game. Getting receiver Markus Wheaton back healthy and acclimating the recently acquired Dontrelle Inman can only help.

Then there’s the defense, which is playing its best football in the last three years. The unit has 11 takeaways in eight games, which matches its 2016 total. The Bears rank eighth in yards allowed per game (312.0) and 14th in scoring defense (21.4).

The difference with this Bears defense is its ability to force turnovers. The front seven is providing a disruptive rush and creating opportunities for the secondary. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson has made his mark, and cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Adrian Amos have played inspired football.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is dialing up calls with good faith in the execution because he sees the increased confidence in each individual.

“It’s just like golf,” Fangio said. “You make a couple long putts, all of a sudden you think you’re a good putter. Our guys are feeling good.”

Opportunity is there for the Bears’ taking in the second half of the season, starting two home divisional games against the Packers on Nov. 12 and Lions on Nov. 19. There’s also a game against the sub-.500 Bengals and home contests against the winless 49ers and Browns.

Somewhere within Halas Hall lies the reality that the second half of this season will ultimately decide the future of Fox. Perhaps only general manager Ryan Pace knows what, if anything, it will take for Fox to return for the final year of a four-year deal.

Right now, the focus in an upbeat building is about finishing strong, because hope doesn’t equate to victories.

“We’re a little bit behind,” Fox said. “We have eight more games to define our season.”

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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