By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Everybody got some of what they wanted Sunday in the Bears’ final loss, 24-20 to the visiting Lions at Soldier Field.
The Bears worked, but they failed and could be arguably closer to winning a Super Bowl because of the unfortunate result. Those insisting on the continued instillation of “a culture of winning” under a new coaching and management regime can at least stand on effort if not ultimate success, settling for a continued “culture of trying hard with a bunch of pretty awful players out there” that in a better world becomes something less inherently sad.
At 6-10, the Bears’ draft position improves significantly over the alternative, not just in the first round but every round. It’s real, calculable value to a team with needs across the board. Depending on the outcome of Sunday’s later afternoon games, Chicago will pick either No. 10 or No. 11.
Don’t confuse this fact with those who had urged the Bears to lose on purpose or at least stop short of doing all they could to win. One side of that all-too-annual civic debate often discounts the personal and professional aspects of the NFL that require certain levels of dedication and preparation, asking coaches to undermine themselves unfairly. But that doesn’t mean one can’t appreciate the advantage gained by coming up short.
It was a drab affair on a drab afternoon, at times more interesting than other, similarly meaningless tussles elsewhere and before, but then their 2015 was over quietly. More a dissipation than a hard stop, it wasn’t a door slammed shut but a wet paper napkin of a season finally coming apart.
Coach John Fox’s first campaign in Chicago was about right, however, with enough of an improvement in competitive quality to inspire considerably more confidence in fans than they had a year ago. If Virginia McCaskey was said to be “pissed off” at that time, there’s a good chance she too now sees a floor put in and a chance to build. Any argument for cultural carryover is thin, though, because it’s unlikely the 2016 Bears will be more likely to win their season opener in any way due to all those reserves playing hard Sunday. It sounds good to say, but the practical application ends up being a reach.
It’s Ryan Pace’s time, and the young general manager will finally meet with the media Monday for the first time since training camp. He’s been hiding from reporters all year – even during and after the troubling incident with Jeremiah Ratliff threatening violence at Halas Hall – so it will be nice to get his initial thoughts on the offseason to-do list. His absence may have been his way of ceding symbolic control of the Bears to his veteran coach, but he now must speak with authority about what’s next in the plan to return to title contention.
Pace has to figure out what’s really going on with receiver Alshon Jeffery and what he’s worth, determine which of the slew of no-names could even potentially be names and gauge the market on 30-year-old running back Matt Forte if he feels there’s a number team-friendly enough to justify his retention.
He’ll oversee Fox’s pursuit of at least one new coordinator, it appears, with Adam Gase’s name connected in preliminary reports to most of the projected openings around the league. Something will probably happen fast on that front, and the Bears could end up in a lucky spot with that too, if San Diego parts ways with longtime Fox lieutenant Mike McCoy.
The honeymoon is over, regardless. The Bears should be expected to make the playoffs now, not just hang around enough each week and far enough into the season to talk themselves into relevance.
It’s over. It continues.