The vibes have been good in Chicago for the past month, or at least better than they have been in a while. The Bears turned a corner after a miserable start to the season, finally looking like a real team for the first time in years. Momentum has been building for both Matt Eberflus and Justin Fields to run it back in 2024, but Week 18's dud casts that entire plan in doubt.
If you think of the Bears' season as a courtroom trial, Week 18 was a chance to make a powerhouse closing statement to sway the jury (general manager Ryan Poles). If this was a movie, Justin Fields would have lit up a suspect Packers defense with his arm and legs, the rejuvenated Bears defense would have smothered Jordan Love and Aaron Jones, and the Bears would have ended the Packers' season in one small act of revenge after decades of being the little brother. The defense rests, Your Honor.
Instead, the Packers once again gave the Bears a noogie, and in the process cast doubt on the entire movement among the fans to maintain continuity next season. Leave it to the Packers to always be the ones to give Bears fans an existential crisis.
The final score of 17-9 was not indicative of how one-sided this game was
The Packers moved the ball with ease against the Bears' defense, racking up over 400 yards of offense. Jordan Love was nearly perfect, and he found wide-open receivers again and again. The Bears' front four, which has made life hell for opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks, only registered one sack on the day, and on most plays, they weren't even close to pressuring Love. The run defense, which has been the best in the NFL, was gashed repeatedly by longtime nemesis Aaron Jones, who picked up 111 yards on 22 carries.
The progress that Chicago's defense has made in the second half of the season was reversed in just one game, calling everything Matt Eberflus has accomplished into question. Was it all a mirage, a product of playing the likes of Taylor Heinicke, Josh Dobbs, and Kyler Murray in recent weeks? The case to keep Eberflus has rested on two things: the ascension of his defense, and his ability to keep the team together after a rough start to the season. With the defense now being exposed against the one team Bears fans wanted a win against, that could undo all the good Eberflus has done in recent weeks.
Likewise, Justin Fields did little to help his case to be the starting quarterback of the future, but as always, there's plenty of room for interpretation. Fields was hurt by an offensive line that got consistently demolished by the Packers' pass rush and by Luke Getsy's playcalling magnum opus, an ode to conservatism and lack of imagination that is the purest distillation yet of his two years in Chicago.
Even with these restrictions in place, Fields only made a small handful of plays all day. On the few occasions when he had time in the pocket, he held the ball too long, and I can't think of more than two times that he dropped back and hit a receiver in rhythm.
With the #1 pick in the draft and loads of cap space, the Bears are undoubtedly in a good place moving forward, but Week 18's result left the door open for Ryan Poles to start fresh as head coach and quarterback, and it would be hard to fault him for doing so.
The season may be over, but the real fun is just beginning for the Bears and their fans. This offseason's decisions have the potential to vault this team into the NFL's elite tier, and there are arguments to be made for any number of paths that Poles can choose. There's still a chance that Justin Fields and Matt Eberflus return, but if changes are made, I'll remember Sunday's wasted closing statement against the Packers as the reason why.