Chicago Sports Exchange: Bears Win Again, Continue To Defy Playoff Odds

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

Potential front-office face lifts and a prime draft position be damned!

The Chicago Bears went on the road and outlasted Minnesota Sunday 33-27, scraping together the team’s first pair of consecutive victories since October and keeping an NFC post-season berth within reach. 

According to ESPNs Football Power Index, the Bears (7-7) now have a 35 percent chance of making the playoffs compared to the negligible 2% odds that would’ve awaited them had they lost.

The remaining objectives for the Bears are simple — beat their remaining two opponents, Jacksonville and Green Bay — but their mid-season slump constitutes the need for a stimulus package in the form of at least one Arizona Cardinals loss. The Cardinals (8-6) finish their season against divisional foes San Francisco (5-9) and Los Angeles (9-5). 

While its not what every fan desires, the Bears could creep into the playoffs posing more of a threat than their record and overall makeup would indicate. 

As their once 5-1 record proved prior, looks can be deceiving with this club. 

BUY – Bears Continue Unlikely Last Gasp At Playoffs

It took being a dark horse in the wild card race and mounting outcries for an unprecedented in-season coaching change, but Bears head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor finally tailored their offense to its strengths and not their individual fancies, using power and consistency to wear down the rival Vikes Sunday.

The bullish third-year coach and like-minded OC unfettered Mitch Trubisky from the confines of the pocket and Trubisky in turn completed 15 of his 21 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown to go along with 34 yards gained on the ground. 

Even more astounding was their uncharacteristic commitment to running the football. David Montgomery carried the ball 32 times for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns behind a revitalized offensive line. Montgomery has now scored six times in the last six games in the most productive streak of his two-year professional career.

Trubisky and Montgomery fueled an offense that amassed its largest first-half point total in Minnesota since 1968 and scored on seven of its eight possessions following an opening drive three-and-out drive. 

Save for two throws, Trubisky threw with discretion and precision. His lone giveaway — a red zone under throw — was nullified when the defense forced a turnover on downs on the Vikings’ ensuing drive. 

A date with the 1-win Jacksonville Jaguars, the current holders of the No. 1 draft pick in the next draft, is next on the calendar.

Barring Nagy’s and Lazor’s need to scratch any perverse itches, the Bears should be a few more percentage points closer to a playoff appearance this time next week. 

HOLD – As Opener Looms, Bulls Offense Shows Sparks But Refinement Needed

On the surface, the ratio of Lauri Markkanen’s makes-to-misses this preseason spells inefficiency. 

A bit of zooming in, however, reveals a player brimming with more confidence coming into Wednesday’s opener against the Atlanta Hawks than his woeful 19-for-50 shooting returns would seem to warrant. 

Shift back into macro perspective and it’s evident Markkanen’s ebbing and flowing — as well as the coming and going of the team’s overall defensive zest — will, more than anything, be key to unlocking either the prosperity or peril of the Chicago Bulls this season. 

This time around it won’t be for lack of offensive ingenuity, at least.

Markkanen has been encouraged to handle the ball in the open floor and in pick-and-rolls with Wendell Carter Jr. as part of Billy Donovan’s ball-and-player-movement centric offense. His assertion in doing so could unburden at least a portion of the scoring load from Zach LaVine and Coby White, who is also strapped with the additional responsibilities that come from playing point guard. 

Markkanen’s array of skills also allows Donovan to continue experimenting with lineups in which he’s featured at center with rousing rookie Patrick Williams, a reinvigorated Chandler Hutchison and sprightly Otto Porter Jr.

“It’s a good thing to see him bounce back and get ready for the regular season,” LaVine told the media Thursday in response of Markkanen’s team-high 22-point performance on 9-for-17 shooting from the field and 4-for-10 from beyond the arc in the Bulls final preseason contest Friday. 

“He’s just got to keep his confidence. And we’re all on him to make sure he’s taking those shots, because we need it.”

Following the midweek clash with Trae Young and the Hawks to start the season on Wednesday, the Bulls will play back-to-back games against Indiana (Saturday) and Golden State (Sunday). 

HOLD – Front Office Reshuffling Shows Deep Need For Change With Hawks

When John McDonough was abruptly ousted as president of the Chicago Blackhawks in April, it was presumed Stan Bowman’s dismissal would soon follow.

Instead, it was announced Wednesday that Bowman will not only retain his title of general manager but now also oversee hockey operations as part of his promotion to team president. 

The front-office reshuffling, which included the hiring of Jamie Faulkner as president of business operations and naming of Danny Wirtz, who served as interim president, as chief executive officer, is meant “to put the pieces into place that will bring a new mindset and culture to the Chicago Blackhawks, that will lead us into the future,” said chairman Rocky Wirtz in a public statement.

Stan Bowman wants to get Chicago Blackhawks back on championship course (ESPN/AP)

It begs the question though, how much different of a course can be set for a team that, since hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup five years ago, hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs with Bowman general managing?

“You can bring new for sake of new, or you can work with existing folks who have a hunger to grow,” Danny Wirtz said Thursday. 

It’s evident Bowman is chomping at the bit to help lead the Hawks back to the days of prominence that saw them win three titles in six years. 

It’s also clear that their rebound isn’t yet on the doorstep, though the development of the team’s young forwards and the longevity of its remaining core will dictate the length of ramp up to legitimate contention.

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