5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …
And the ball dropped — from the palms of tackled Atlanta Falcons operating again Tyler Allgeier to the moist grass on Soldier Field.
That was it, the ultimate second of Sunday’s 37-17 Chicago Bears victory, placing the punctuation on the ultimate recreation of a wildly eventful calendar 12 months for the franchise.
Satisfying? One-thousand %. Especially for all these Bears who haven’t had many wins this convincing or many surges of success which have generated a lot confidence.
The Bears have now gained 5 of their previous seven video games.
Sunday’s triumph marked their fifth consecutive victory at residence.
This is now a feisty soccer workforce that’s proving able to caring for “should win” video games.
That’s why, in a jubilant residence locker room on New Year’s Eve, there was a celebratory cloud of cigar smoke lingering and a shared power that the darkish days for the workforce are gone.
“We’re celebrating New Year’s. And a victory,” security Eddie Jackson mentioned. “It means a lot for us to keep rallying around each other.”
Added tight finish Cole Kmet: “I think you can see where this is going. We’ve got some really good pieces. We have a really good team coming together. I really believe that. And I couldn’t have said that in the past.”
Even the all the time measured and ultra-grounded Matt Eberflus appreciated what his gamers have been feeling and expressing. “Just to get that vibe in there, that feeling of ‘Hey, we can do this,’ is certainly exciting,” Eberflus mentioned.
Sunday’s blowout — the Bears’ second consecutive victory during which they by no means trailed — had so many individuals’s fingerprints on it, beginning first with Justin Fields, who threw for 268 yards, ran for 45 extra and contributed two touchdowns.
There have been 9 catches — together with a 7-yard landing catch — sprinkled in from DJ Moore, plus 4 extra interceptions from by spirited Bears protection.
Cairo Santos kicked three subject targets. The Bears held possession for greater than 37 minutes, racked up 432 complete yards and soaked all of it in inside a cold Soldier Field snow globe.
“Felt like a movie,” Fields mentioned.
Perhaps this was a becoming 2023 ending for a workforce and a company headed in a optimistic path, making plain progress on their climb. Yes, there’s nonetheless subsequent weekend’s rivalry finale towards the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the sport that may full this Bears season. But on the ultimate day of 2023, the vibes felt so energized, so hopeful and so many miles aside from the place the 12 months started.
A glance again
Pause for a second. Reflect. Understand all that simply occurred throughout a busy and dizzying 2023 for the Bears, one which began on New Year’s Day in Detroit with a disastrous blowout loss to the resurgent Lions and ended with Sunday’s encouraging romp over the Falcons.
Think about all of the arrivals and exits, the unfathomable losses and hope-inducing victories. Most importantly, perceive the soar this workforce has made.
“We’re getting closer and closer,” Jaylon Johnson mentioned.
The Bears at the moment are onto 2024, a Leap Year on the calendar and, fairly probably, a intercalary year within the workforce’s championship pursuit. Wouldn’t that be good?
In some ways, the approaching twelve months will show landmark for the group, stuffed with stress and alternative and high-stakes choices that may propel — or maybe impede — the workforce’s path.
But what concerning the 12 months that simply completed, this 2023 curler coaster filled with corkscrews and stomach-dropping falls and, these days, a handful of exhilarating moments?
On the twelfth day of the 12 months, the Bears employed a brand new workforce president and CEO to interchange Ted Phillips. Kevin Warren, the brand new Halas Hall head honcho, formally took over in April and continues vowing to not solely redefine expectations and requirements in Lake Forest however is working day by day to stimulate energized ambition throughout the group.
“I want people in this organization in this place in time to understand what we’re trying to achieve,” Warren mentioned final spring. “I want this to be something where 30, 40, 50 years from now, people are asking anyone who was around this, like, ‘What was that like? What was that really like? What made that work?’”
(We’ll save Warren’s stadium mission for an additional column.)
For now, Warren’s most vital direct report is normal supervisor Ryan Poles. And man, did Poles have himself an eventful 2023. He acknowledged again within the spring how stimulating and exhausting it was to navigate the early components of an offseason that noticed him flip the workforce’s No. 1 general decide within the draft into a present basket of roster-building property from the Carolina Panthers.
Hello, DJ Moore. Welcome, Darnell Wright. Happy to have you ever aboard, Tyrique Stevenson.
Oh, plus there’s nonetheless a 2025 second-round choice coming from that commerce to not point out the prize(s) the Bears can declare with this 12 months’s No. 1 general decide. Yes, they formally personal that choice now, too, due to the Panthers’ 14th lack of the season Sunday.
Highs and lows
Poles’ March commerce for Moore and that assortment of draft picks was the primary of three high-profile trades the GM made in 2023 — one a “my bad” and “good riddance” separation from moody receiver Chase Claypool and the opposite a daring midseason addition of standout cross rusher Montez Sweat.
Both, by virtually each account, have been big web positives for Poles and the Bears.
The similar couldn’t be mentioned for each recreation inside this common season, particularly the primary 4, all losses and all carrying a distinct type of demoralization.
Remember that beautiful reality-check Week 1 beatdown from the Green Bay Packers?
What about that missed alternative the next Sunday in Tampa? Or that 41-10 thrashing from Poles’ outdated workforce, the Kansas City Chiefs, on Sept. 24?
Or, sure, the mom of all breakdowns, a Week 4 residence loss to the Broncos when the Bears blew a 21-point lead within the closing 16 minutes?
That was the primary of three brutal fail-from-ahead losses in 2023 during which the Bears squandered double-digit leads within the fourth quarter. (The examination of these setbacks needs to be a part of the efficiency opinions of everybody within the days and weeks forward.)
By mid-October, the Bears’ season appeared useless, the workforce’s playoff desires dashed, the fan base’s consideration turning far too early to the 2024 draft and, by extension, lighting the hearth for a citywide quarterback debate that has solely gotten hotter and extra intense with every passing week.
The leap Chicago was banking on from Fields in 2023 didn’t occur as envisioned. Fields has made plain enchancment throughout so many key areas and that was simply evident Sunday. But there has not been any kind of league-shaking breakthrough both.
Consequently, a fault line has been activated between a contingent of annoyed followers who’re prepared to maneuver on and the frenzied optimists who’ve checked the “close enough” field on the beginning quarterback whereas envisioning Fields’ rise to stardom.
Last February, Poles mentioned he must be “blown away” by a quarterback prospect within the 2023 draft class to pivot off Fields as his QB1. He wasn’t. So he didn’t.
(Bryce Young turned a Panther with the No. 1 decide that franchise purchased from the Bears. C.J. Stroud went No. 2 to Houston.)
Now, terribly, the Bears once more personal the No. 1 decide for the 2024 draft and Poles will probably be pushed into answering the identical riddle. Stay the course with Fields? Or take a giant swing and gamble on a quarterback prospect within the draft class?
No matter what, the Bears GM must proceed increase a instantly aggressive roster that featured 10 high quality starters Sunday who weren’t a part of the group on New Year’s Day a 12 months in the past. That included Moore and Sweat, free agent signees Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards plus draft picks Darnell Wright and Tyrique Stevenson, who had two interceptions towards the Falcons.
Piece by piece, the Bears have turn into extra stable and extra harmful.
‘We all push each other’
Eberflus appeared totally appreciative Sunday of how tightly his workforce had caught collectively in 2023, notably by means of all the acute turbulence they skilled. Most notably, the abrupt late-September resignation from defensive coordinator Alan Williams for what a number of sources indicated have been conduct-related causes created chaos — and proper in the course of the workforce’s 0-4 begin.
While unrelated to Williams’ departure, a failure to fulfill office requirements additionally value operating backs coach David Walker his job on the Wednesday of Week 9, solely including to the commotion inside Halas Hall and an outdoor notion that Eberflus is likely to be in over his head because the workforce’s coach.
Yet these pronounced lows and the grit this workforce confirmed to tug out of its early tailspin definitely factored into the satisfaction that was flowing contained in the Bears locker room Sunday.
“When you go through adversity, when you go through (hardship), it battle tests you,” Eberflus mentioned. “It makes you feel appreciative of what you’re doing right now when you have success. If it was all easy, it would feel like, ‘Oh, no big deal.’ But we know how hard it is to win in the NFL.”
Fields singled out the workforce camaraderie as gas for the latest success spike.
“Everybody in this locker room loves each other,” he mentioned. “I think that’s number one. We all push each other to be our best. Win or lose, we all look after one another.”
That stuff issues.
Back to the long run
So cease for a second. Just think about if the Bears can assault this subsequent calendar 12 months with a heightened degree of objective and unity whereas making one other collection of great strides. Might we attain the top of 2024 and be evaluating a playoff contender?
“I really do think you can see this thing coming together,” Kmet mentioned. “I think you see a real football team coming together.”
For the primary time in a very long time, that sentiment felt a lot extra legit than hopeful. Still, as Jaylon Johnson asserted, the Bears additionally shouldn’t exaggerate their late-season momentum.
“It’s hard,” he mentioned. “At the end of the day, you want to get into the playoffs. And I feel like that seems kind of far away at this point. But we’ve definitely been putting some things together.”
Step by step, piece by piece, that meeting continues.
Now it’s on to 2024. One approach or one other, it must be an enchanting 12 months for the Bears. And, one way or the other, it’s set as much as be much more eventful than the one which simply ended. Imagine that.