By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
And thus one of those rare elemental phenomenons that randomly show themselves in the universe — a wholly satisfying Chicago Bears season — came to its inevitable end early Sunday evening.
Such a randomness and cold emptiness of existence, the kind that would await any of us if we got sucked into deep space, brought a middling kicker named Cody Parkey to the position where he was to absorb decades of disappointment among one of the NFL’s most devoted fan bases all at once, not to mention the unrelenting gaze of the football nation with no other games to distract them.
And in that moment where his legacy as a professional was to be chiseled in granite, Parkey was first frozen by the Philadelphia Eagles coach and shattered into shards soon to melt into the grass at Soldier Field, to forever be a a part of the stadium’s firmament. This is one that’ll be mentioned as long as that stadium remains to exist.
The 16-15 loss the Bears suffered in their Wild Card game to the Eagles ended a season that at face value was as pleasurable as watching the Bears gets. To call the Bears faithful “long-suffering” would be a misnomer — the Lions have suffered, so have the Browns, for instance — but the Bears continually produce an on-field product that has to live up to a degree of historical success that is damning to the current group of 53 signed players.
No matter how the game of football wraps itself up in current trends — whether speed is the thing or impossibly vertical attacks or lengthy athletes controlling the corners of the field and the hazardous areas between the hash-marks — it seems that the Bears try to catch up but fall a bit short.
Constants remain here — defense, the forcing of turnovers, good and speedy returns, the propensity to run the ball — but even those reliable building blocks of Chicago football can fore-signal failure, either when they are being relied on too much or, in the case of the rush attack, being ignored.
In a year of the NFL where high scoring seemed to overwhelm observers into thinking that the postseason would be full of 45-40 games, football as it seemingly does every year settled back into itself in its elimination games and awarded those who played hardest and best utilized their strengths.
Dallas pounded the football with Ezekiel Elliot in their win to the tune of 137 yards, Indianapolis rode Marlon Mack to 148 in their controlling effort over Houston, the Chargers even managed to get over 90 total rushing yards in a win over a defense nearly as stingy as the Bears’ in Baltimore’s — Chicago’s two best runs against Philadelphia came on end arounds to slight receiver Taylor Gabriel while thought-to-be formidable running back duo Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for 11 carries and 35 yards, Cohen contributing one of those carries and none of the yards.
The imbalance of the Bears’ offense could have been overlooked, especially given the record-breaking aerial performances from Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson, but so much of that duo’s connections couldn’t be enjoyed in the moment because of the desperation associated with most of their completions, which came in the second half with the Bears playing from behind.
Playing from behind is something this Bears team was not down to do this season, even at their best. In a pressurized situation such as Sunday’s they were exposed — Nagy’s play selection was exposed as was his time management, Parkey’s inability to rise to the moment was forever laid bare as was the single position in the team’s rebuild where general manager Ryan Pace didn’t do his due diligence in addressing over the past couple seasons.
We at least got a preliminary with Parkey, his infamous four-doinked performance against Detroit in November foretold playoff pain to come and because steely kickers with appropriate balls for the postseason really don’t grow on trees, the Bears front office didn’t bother to pull the trigger then as they should have.
But who could have predicted the steps taken to get to Parkey’s final embarrassment? The Eddie Jackson injury that kept the member of Chicago’s All-Pro core essentially out of the game completely; the failed offensive drives early in this game; the late hit by Adrian Amos that kept the Eagles’ first go-ahead drive alive; the complete failure of containment that resulted in the Bears defense allowing the last go-ahead drive; the awareness of the Eagles’ Treyvon Hester to move the three or so inches needed to tip Parkey’s kick after Doug Pederson called his final time out.
Parkey’s kick was a cosmic occurrence that unfolded like a drunken swag surf by the defending Super Bowl champs. And while Philly gets the trip the light fantastic in the next round with New Orleans, Chicago once again has to cut the lights out for a party we knew it wasn’t ready for.
Maybe it was our fault in the end for assuming that this year was the destined year, maybe its actually next year, maybe its still in a few years and maybe that will come after some other surprising series of events.
Take it back to the early days of 2002 and a 13-3 Bears team falling to Philadelphia in its first playoff shot. That team needed two losing seasons, a coaching change and a few more draft picks and free agents to hit before it was a contender again in 2005 and then that season ended with heartbreak before a true Super Bowl contestant broke through the next year.
That’s the NFL — Not For Long or Never Fully Lasting — year to year, ever shifting and newly defined. The worry for the Bears Nation at this point is that Parkey’s doink could ring out the last chance for as perfectly built a team as this franchise has had in a long time.
It could be, it could also be the final bell rung to summon a mystery of a franchise back home, home in the way of doing what really works for them and not putting yourself in position to rely on a kicker for 60 percent of your offense in a do-or-die game.
In the end Parkey may be a prophet, a deliverer of a final truth via doink and one who will take into his frail frame the final unused stones of a rebuilding era like an unwitting goalpost taking the result of another missed kick.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR