By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The playoffs are a time that can produce both blissful joy or utter despair and the Chicago Bears felt both in their 16-15 NFC Wild Card loss to the Eagles Sunday evening.
It was a game where both sides fought extremely hard and evenly, but the Bears came up short after kicker Cody Parkey hit the upright — as he did so painfully often this season — and then hit the crossbar that bounced out and no good to make the drama of the moment all the more gut-wrenching and worthy of the playoff moment.
Parkey’s gut-wrenching miss and the resulting loss brought with it an abrupt end to what fans were hoping would be a magical playoff run. Now the Bears will have to look forward and begin the off-season process of enhancing the team for next season. It will be a long stretch between now and 2019’s Week 1 and every year in the NFL is its own entity and no team is guaranteed anything, no matter how bright their future may look.
That being said, without a doubt the Bears have realistic hope that the playoffs will become a regular trip in the next few years. It is now the responsibility of general manager Ryan Pace on down to the 53rd guy on the roster to not allow this season to be a one-hit wonder.
Here are a few takeaways from the playoff-eliminating defeat.
Changing of the Kicker
It has hit midnight in Parkey’s Cinderella story and the pumpkin has been smashed. Parkey isn’t solely responsible for this loss, in fact the Bears’ offense and defense are both worthy of their fair share of blame.
The play calling and coaching wasn’t nearly good enough, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was stellar in the fourth quarter but average otherwise, and way too many penalties from mental mistakes. But Parkey is like any other kicker in the league, when you haven’t made or you don’t make any big kicks then trust with your team is fragile.
Parkey missed 10 field goals this season coming into this game, the team already had a fear of exactly what happened. Albeit the ruling of Sunday’s deciding kick was changed to a blocked field goal, there was no excuse for the low trajectory of the ball on a 43 yard field goal.
Sometimes teams have a clunky game in the playoffs, like the Bears had, but you still have to find a way to win even when you aren’t at your best. The offense put the team in a position to win the game late and despite a couple tough drives, the defense forced turnovers and gave up an appropriate 16 points to the Eagles.
Sorry Parkey, but a kicker has to make that kick with the team’s season on the line. The fear now with keeping the maligned kicker is that the locker room could be poisoned by their lack of belief in him.
Pace has to do the right thing and not compound his only off-season mistake and bring in someone else in. Kickers deserve to be afforded anomalies like anyone else but Parkey’s 76.7 field goal percentage proved his miss Sunday wasn’t an anomaly Matter of fact it was the second week in a row he missed a kick in relatively ideal environs, Parkey having done so in the domed US Bank Stadium in the regular season finale against Minnesota.
Someone not doing their job is reason enough to make a cut and when it costs the entire franchise as it did yesterday such a decision becomes a priority.
This was a truly odd Bears season, for perspective’s sake in mourning it, try to remember how it began.
The week before the season started, the Bears traded for pass rusher Khalil Mack. Before September 2nd, the most important goal to be accomplished for the franchise in 2018 was the continued development of Trubisky into a franchise quarterback. That has been the underlying reason for every move that Pace has made since hiring Matt Nagy as coach. Trubisky had himself an okay stat line in his playoff debut with 303 yards, one touchdown and a rating of 89.5.
No interception’s were thrown by Trubisky but not for a lack of inadvertently trying, a few balls meant for the Eagles’ hands just didn’t make it there for whatever reasons, luck being among them.
Through three quarters of the game it looked like the offense was tight and not effective enough, outside of a few big plays. Whatever big plays were made didn’t result in touchdowns, at least not until the fourth quarter. In the waning minutes of the third quarter the offense the offense came alive as Trubisky started to let some passes fly. The Bears put a nice drive together to get a field goal, cutting the game’s deficit to one.
What looked to be a game-tilting drive was led by Trubisky over a length of six plays and 80 yards in the fourth. On that drive Trubisky flashed the accuracy that he was known for on draft day hitting on multiple throws downfield, primarily to Allen Robinson, who finished with a game-high 143 yards caught on 10 receptions.
The Bears held a lead of 15-10 before the Eagles responded via a go-ahead touchdown on 4th and goal, leaving only 56 seconds left in the game. Called on once more, Trubisky again flashed the big play quarterback potential with two flashy throws to Robinson, leading the team into position for the go-ahead 43-yard field goal.
All in all, Trubisky was in this game what he’s been all season — up and down. But Money Making Mitch has now shown us that he can cash out on the plays at the most critical times to put his team in position to win the game. What Trubisky has done this season is show everyone that he has real potential and he took a step forward in his progression.
This will be another big off-season for the young QB with a big third season looming as head of a designated contender, but mission accomplished for year two.
Learning on the Job
If anyone had a worse night than Parkey, it may have been coach Nagy.
Nagy has been great all season long, but he didn’t have a great day yesterday. The Bears were plus-2 in the turnover differential and the stat below, tweeted out by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, underscores how shocking of a loss this was.
So the Bears became the fifth team to lose in such a situation — the fourth team? The Chiefs last year with Nagy as offensive coordinator. That’s two straight playoff games Nagy has been apart of where his offense had sputtered so much that it primarily lost his team an elimination game.
This doesn’t mean Nagy isn’t on the path to be a great coach but it is something to keep in mind regarding his ongoing development, hopefully he can learn from the mistakes he’s made. Nagy is a young coach and an even younger head coach, there were always going to be growing pains regarding his present job performance no matter how cool he keeps it on the outside. The fact that there is still more for this already polished leader to learn though should be another obvious positive for the Bears coming out this season.
Nagy is a smart problem solver so fans should expect improvement, but former co-worker and Eagles coach Doug Peterson got the better of him on Sunday. Don’t be surprised if a rematch between these two teams and coaches happens again in the playoffs real soon.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR