By Timothy Baffoe–
(CBS) The long, strange trip of the John Fox era in Chicago has reached the portion where the Bears’ head coach is now criticizing, inadvertently or not, his own ability to do his job.
A 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on Sunday was another step toward Fox not having much of a case to keep his job after this season. The focus could’ve been mostly on kicker Connor Barth, who badly missed a game-tying field attempt in the closing seconds.
“(Foot) hit the ground a little bit,” Barth explained. “It just didn’t make good contact. Tough one.”
His excuse is a bit metaphoric for the Bears season, like the inflatable Bear that stands over the entrance tunnel. Or is supposed to.
Fox said afterward that he would “evaluate” the kicking position.
“We’re in a production-based business and that’s what we get paid to do, whether it’s win games as the head coach or make kicks as a kicker,” Fox said. “We’ll evaluate it. And like I said, every time we go out there we’ll do everything we can to put the best team out there.”
Not a ringing endorsement of his kicker, but anyone without CTE could tell last season that Barth wasn’t really a valid option for an NFL roster. If he’s on your roster, doesn’t that mean you probably haven’t put out the best possible team every time you go out there?
The Bears brought Cairos Santos in for a physical last week, and he might be getting a call back. In early October, the team worked out Roberto Aguayo for the second time and Josh Lambo, who’s now 9-of-10 on field-goal attempts for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite multiple blatant expressions of this coaching staff wanting a new kicker since training camp, the Bears still rolled with Barth throughout, deciding he was the best option.
But the Bears’ issues are bigger than a kicker costing them a win. Is there even one example of a clean special teams week in the last two seasons?
It’s also one thing to be swiss cheese due to injuries and not that talented. The players even acknowledge that.
“Call a spade a spade — we’re not loaded with incredible talent everywhere,” offensive tackle Bobby Massie said. “But we have a great team. We have some hard-fighting (guys) on both sides of the ball. We’re gonna fight to the end.
“But with all this fighting, we always end up coming up short.”
It’s another thing, though, to keep coming up short — losing close game after close game in the Fox tenure — and to beat themselves too often in the process. A week prior, the Bears were a national joke after Fox’s blunder of a challenge that he “won” and lost his team the ball and a good chance at a touchdown in the process. On Sunday, there was another challenge issue to add to a pattern of strange video reviews and clock management that has defined this coaching staff. Maybe gun shy from last week, Fox chose not to challenge a clearly incomplete pass by the Lions that was ruled a catch.
It’s to the point now where we just assume the Bears will have at least one mind-boggling use of challenges or lack thereof and/or questionable timeout usage per game. They also allowed lots of time to get chewed off on the final drive before choosing to use their three timeouts when setting up that abortive field-goal attempt. This is coaching, not a talent issue.
Another coaching issue is the revelatory play-calling from Duncan… Doheny? … Loggains early on Sunday. The Bears looked like an actual offense for once, which was fun and all but brought to mind why this was just happening in Week 11. Is it Fox kneeling on his offensive coordinator’s neck or is it on Loggains? Either way, it’s the fault of at least one coach, which means it’s ultimately the fault of the head coach.
And then Fox admitted after the loss to the Lions that the team — he didn’t clarify if he meant just the players or the coaches, too — isn’t always mentally there.
“We have lulls,” Fox said. “We have siestas. We just don’t do it for 60 minutes. And I think we’re not good enough. Nobody, I think, is good enough to overcome that.”
I’m not sure if this is refreshing honesty or bus-tossing players, but either way it’s an indictment of coaching. A team’s inability to have the gas pedal pressed for the entire game points to coaching incompetence. This is a head coach admitting his team isn’t sharp, and on a professional level, that’s inexcusable. It’s the sort of comment you hear an exasperated college coach say to fire up a team maybe. But if an NFL coach says it, he’s saying he’s a failure at his job. How then he keeps that job would make no sense.
“Adversity is a great teacher,” rookie quarterback and future of the franchise Mitchell Trubisky said. “Overcoming struggles is a great teacher.”
Yeah, but literal human teachers are kind of as important in this business as baptisms by fire. Trubisky clearly doesn’t have competent teachers to develop under right now — his head coach has basically said as much, whether Fox meant to or not.
Hopefully, the young quarterback does next year.
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.