Chicago Sports Exchange: “Slimy” Performance Bounces Bears Out of Playoffs

The Chicago Sports Exchange provides a brief look at each pro team in the Chi each week and decides whether fans should “buy,” “sell,” or “hold” their investments in each team. Check back for more CSE reports each Monday.

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

With no additional loopholes or fluky scenarios left to exploit, a season wound around disappointment, obstinacy and infuriating mediocrity met its anticipated undoing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints Sunday. 

A 21-9 defeat as one of the two first-ever seventh seeds to qualify for the postseason now in their rearview, the Bears trudge into an off-season in which solutions to their middling ways won’t be easy to find. 

Particularly as this organization embarks on its fifty-eleventh attempt to find a franchise quarterback. 

SELL – Bears Don’t Measure Up, But Nickelodeon is Impressed

If that Nickelodeon simulcast was truly meant to teach youngsters the game of football, the Bears offered very little in the way of sound tutelage. 

Except for maybe in how not to win an NFC Wild Card game. 

Painfully conservative play calling, inexplicable lapses in discipline and stone-handed receiving engulfed the Bears’ 21-9 loss to New Orleans and made for another shameful presentation in front of company — this time on dual national television broadcasts. 

Even with Javon Wims’ miserable mishandling of a sure-touchdown on a perfectly executed trick play (not to mention a beautifully thrown pass on one of few occasions Mitch Trubisky was given clearance release a deep toss), things didn’t begin in altogether ominous fashion. To secure a takeaway, hold the volatile Saints offense to just seven points and carry a manageable four-point deficit into halftime, thoughts of a monumental upset were still within reason. 

Only continued offensive ineptitude and, perhaps, the inevitable consequences of fielding a defense without Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine followed them out of the locker room. So too did absent mindedness as Anthony Miller was ejected for punching C.J. Gardner Johnson and Eddie Jackson escorted the Saints to a two-score advantage after jumping offsides on a fourth-and-three in the red zone.

At the onset of their final drive, the Bears still had just three points and hadn’t yet recorded a third-down conversion. That possession, the game and their season ended with Jimmy Graham’s spectacularly inconsequential 19-yard, one-handed touchdown grab.

Trubisky, who threw for 199 yards on 19-of-29 passing with that one garbage time score, fell well short of manning the deep playoff run that would’ve reportedly swayed general manager Ryan Pace to reconcile his decision not to extend the former second overall pick for whom he surrendered major draft capital. Nor was he given much chance to do so, even as both his future with the team and its playoff life hung in the balance. 

As a result, a job under center in white, burnt orange and navy blue likely won’t present itself this off-season. 

In flippant fashion, Trubisky was voted Nickelodeon’s Most Valuable Player after the game. While Trubisky may attract the brunt of Internet jokes, the Bears as a whole haven’t done much to warrant being taken serious either. 

BUY – Bulls Take Hits But Compete Against Contenders

Has a team ever instilled this much confidence in its fanbase with three straight losses?  

These are certainly not the same Bulls (4-7) who offered little resistance — or counterpunches — to the haymakers thrown from Atlanta and Indiana at the start of the season two weeks ago. In that span of time they’ve gone from looking helpless and heartless to scrappy and saucy. 

And it’s damn good to see them here. 

Watching Zach LaVine score in bunches, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. set career highs as they settle into redefined roles, and Patrick Williams continue to take the challenge of guarding the league’s elite head-on is fun, too.

A few more favorable bounces or plays would’ve set the stage for an all-out commencement ceremony. 

Had Carter Jr. ventured higher in defense of the screen to discourage Sacramento’s Buddy Hield from launching what was essentially a death knell, the Bulls may have jumped above .500 for the first time in nearly four years. 

Had LaVine nailed a midrange jumper like several others that left his fingertips for the bottom of the net, the Bulls may have upset the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Had sloppy ball handling or a levee-breaking third-quarter been mitigated against the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday, the Bulls may have even clinched a sweep of their four-game trek out West. 

Games aren’t won or lost in singular instances, obviously. But given how the Bulls won a slugfest in Portland to open the trip and that those aforementioned moments could even be extrapolated from the crunch times of recent contests is a testament to their competitive awakening. And that says nothing of them showing this fight in the absence of Lauri Markkanen (health and safety protocol), Tomas Satoransky (COVID), Chandler Hutchison (COVID), Ryan Arcidiacono (health and safety protocol), and Otto Porter Jr. (back spasms). 

Growing pains will continue. More lessons will be taught; namely how turnovers, leaky defense and spotty execution can ruin otherwise attractive performances. But as long as they’re balanced with steady development and, more importantly, continued inspired play, Bulls fans have good reason to be optimistic. 

HOLD – With Opener Looming, Hawks Struggle Filling Former Big Names

Expectations may be wanting, but the Blackhawks are not without juicy storylines ahead of Wednesday’s season opener at defending champion Tampa Bay. 

While the losses of Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Alexander Nylander defined their offseason, how head coach Jeremy Colliton adjusts to life without his two best centers and who steps up in their absence will write the story of their 2021 campaign. 

There’s also the question of who will plug the still-gaping hole that was dug when executive Stan Bowman chose not to resign two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie Corey Crawford, who retired Friday and is the third winningest goaltender in franchise history. 

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Hawks brought up the rear in shots against (34.82), scoring chances against (30.22), high danger chances against (12.91), and expected goals against (2.64) during 5-on-5 play per 60 minutes last season. Whomever gets the first crack — whether it’s Collin Delia or Malcolm Subban — will be undertaking a foreign responsibility as a team’s foremost goalie.

Following another match-up with the Lightning Friday, the Blackhawks will play a pair of games against Florida then return home to host Detroit. 

Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago

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