By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The NFL is such that one season’s record isn’t indicative of what the following year will bring. Wanting the Chicago Bears to improve on last season’s 5-11 record — going 8-8, say — isn’t necessarily ticking upward. Going 3-13 this year (please, oh, please) bears little to nothing on being a potential playoff team in 2016. This isn’t baseball.
But these aren’t last year’s Bears, either. That was incredibly evident on Sunday in their loss to the Green Bay Packers, a loss that only the willfully delusional didn’t see coming even as opening kickoff was portentously delayed by a medical emergency near the end zone.
Remember watching Bears games in 2014 and that stupid look on your face would form? The one that felt like you were complacent in witnessing a crime on a weekly basis? You didn’t have that look Sunday.
A loss is a loss is a loss, but this wasn’t the waxings we’d grown numb to in 2014 at the hands of the Packers. There was a constancy, a quit-less-ness unlike that which screamed in deafening silence in every loss and tomorrow’s loss and tomorrow’s loss last year in the eyes of every player who just a few games in had willfully shuffled off that season’s coil in a season coached by an idiot, full of coach-speak and futility, signifying nothing.
In less Shakespearean gravitas, the Bears were a grown-ass team Sunday, albeit an inferior one talent-wise. They kept doggy-paddling until the Packers realized they were the Packers and had shot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties enough and could just drown their opponent by pushing down on its head in the fourth quarter. But the Bears didn’t sink of their own free will as they so easily would have this time last autumn.
“The mentality of this offense,” said running back Matt Forte, who ran for 141 yards and a touchdown, “which I was proud of, is nobody had that stupid look on their face like before, when something would happen and they’re kind of saying the game is lost already when there’s time left. So, I was glad we didn’t have that. We came out and kept fighting.”
That stupid look on their face like before. That hound dog look. That insurance seminar attendance face of having all one’s humanity sucked out through the eyes. A nihilism washing over when you’d look over at your leader, Marc Trestman (he now the offensive coordinator of the offensive touchdown-less Baltimore Ravens), and the stupid look on his face that begets yours and accept your fate.
Forte isn’t known for the dynamite quote and has always spoke with his game. So when a longtime quiet leader of a marquee NFL franchise makes a point of torching the grave of the previous regime, it’s amplified. “That stupid look on their face like before” should be etched into the base of a monument to the tragedy of 2014, should be a yellow ribbon stuck on the back of SUVs across the Chicagoland area so that we may #NeverForget.
Lineman Matt Slauson probably isn’t the first Bears name that comes to mind as a go-to for a great sound bite either. Yet he also couldn’t contain his desire to exhume the Trestman corpse for a minute.
Matt Slauson: "Had this been the past, we would have packed it in. That just goes to show the mentality this staff is instilling in us."— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) September 13, 2015
#Bears G Matt Slauson added it's good "to have a coordinator that actually trusts us to run, because we have the best back in the game."— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) September 13, 2015
Players are so willing to say this stuff because coach John Fox and Co., for all their clandestineness and abrasiveness, are running a big-boy program. And the players were just as disgusted by the kindergarten follies of last season as fans were. This team is competent, which isn’t something to be celebrated when you’re the Chicago freakin’ Bears. But it very much deserves recognition after being the league’s saddest reality show.
It needed to be said that there was a palpable change in the viewing mood Sunday during a game that even when the Bears were winning didn’t feel winnable. But it didn’t feel embarrassing, either. They stood up to an elite team and lost as admirably as a team can, rather than go fetal, which previously had made a 5-11 team winless in the hearts of its fans.
The rest of the way won’t produce much to have a whole lot of pride in, but it’s apparent that it won’t leave you ashamed either. And in knowing the Bears are rebuilding, there’s at least a modicum of self-respect to take away knowing there will be no more of that stupid face like before.
At home. In the stands. Or on the sidelines.
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.