By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Two weeks into the 2017 Chicago Bears season, many fans were looking ahead to the sweet, sweet release of death … I mean, the bye week. They had had their fill already of Mike Glennon, who’s an NFL quarterback in the way one of those spastic-but-anchored inflatable wind creatures outside of car dealerships is an NFL quarterback.
That all kind of seems forever ago, though, as the Bears (3-5) decided that, even in a season that was preparation for the next draft, they couldn’t be one of the weekly jokes in the league. Nor could they continue to convince the rest of the players to walk into certain death with Glennon behind center. Now the Bears consumer is in a different place as the bye week turns and eight more games lay ahead.
The Bears probably aren’t a playoff team (but weirder things can happen in the NFL), but they’re also not a chore to watch like they were a year ago and at this season’s beginning. The postseason is something still on players’ minds, though.
“You’re always thinking about it,” 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.”
Which is cool and all — hey, the Bears haven’t quit on their season — but what is this team at the moment? What we know for sure is the Bears have a franchise quarterback in training by fire. Mitchell Trubisky often looks the part: big arm, able to move out of the pocket, not rattled when something bad happens. But bad things do happen, and Trubisky has looked very much the part of a rookie too. Still, that’s a million times better than whatever the reasoning is behind paying Glennon a gross paycheck and having Mark Sanchez around for veteran leadership and inactive designations every week.
“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.”
This team isn’t a joy to watch necessarily, but it’s interesting and sometimes fun, and Trubisky’s quote there reflects that despite the specter over it all from the beginning of coach John Fox eventually losing his job. And that might still happen regardless of how the Bears finish (assuming it’s not an amazing trip to the postseason somehow). Fox is still too conservative in his approach, and his choice of Donk … Delbert? Loggains at offensive coordinator has put clamps on Trubisky’s progress. Anyone watching the games would much rather see Trubisky try and fail with aerial attacks that the Bears are hardly allowing him, lack of viable wide receivers or not.
General manager Ryan Pace traded for a receiver, Dontrelle Inman, two weeks ago, and as he’s a free agent at season’s end, that’s not really the kind of move an organization makes when it’s focused on rebuilding for the future. Does Pace think there’s a 17th game in this squad? Probably not, but he doesn’t seem to be tanking either.
Even if someone wanted Chicago to lose as many games as possible, the defense just isn’t going to go quietly into that good Cleveland night. The play of the Bears defense has been downright bothersome, in the sense that it’s been so good even with a new significant injury every week that you’re angry that it’s mostly wasted with the offense and embarrassing special teams it has to carry.
Hicks has emerged as a rhino stomping everything in front of him like it was a fire in the savannah. Second-year edge rusher Leonard Floyd is increasingly becoming a nightmare for opponents and living up to being traded up for in the 2016 draft. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is suddenly what he was always supposed to be. Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Christian Jones have been great.
This unit hits, it isn’t defined by poor tackling as in the past and it embodies much of the Chicago Bears stereotype that national broadcasters often lazily subscribe to the Monsters of the Midway. This is defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s doing, and it scares to think that he could be gone after this season with a contract up. You don’t hear Fangio’s name pop up around head coaching vacancies, and if the Bears have one, it would behoove Pace to consider the regression that might occur if Fangio isn’t around in 2018 in some capacity.
Until then, this team is entertaining, which I’ll admit I was wrong in assuming two months ago. The rest of the way is about Trubisky’s growth — however that’s allowed — being decent enough to float amid the blob of the NFL middleness and not sustaining devastating injuries that linger into next year. And if we want to get really meatbally, the Bears are actually favored to beat the Green Bay Packers.
“We have eight more games to define our season,” Fox said last week.
Of course, that definition might not be all that different from whatever it is right now.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.