Back when NFL scoreboards couldn’t be trusted to keep time, officials kept a starter’s pistol on the sidelines. As the clock reached zero, an official—starting in 1965, this was the line judge—would fire a gun into the air to indicate the end of a quarter.
The NFL abolished the practice at the end of the 1993 season, but the colloquialism—to play until the last gun—survived. While it’s fair to wonder whether a tanking Bears team did this in Sunday’s 29-13 loss to the Vikings, there’s no question that the men who ran the first 14-loss team in franchise history were the starter’s pistol. The concept needs to be taken literally.
When the final gun sounded on Sunday, general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus had no excuses. So will quarterback Justin Fields, who should benefit from having more skilled teammates next season. In the race to build a winning team, they must run – run – start.
The Bears will have the most money in the NFL to spend — and, thanks to a fourth-and-20 Hail Mary by the Texans on Sunday afternoon, the draft’s No. 1 overall selection. They’ll also have a roster that, by design, has more holes in it than almost any other team in football.
For the first time, they will have hope: to make the Bears winners.
Eberflus has spent the season saying that his expectations are the same every week.
“Standard is standard,” he has said dozens of times.
Now the standard is changing, even if the coach doesn’t admit it.
“For me that’s outside the locker room,” he pushed back on Sunday. “We can’t control those things, and again, we’re focusing on our standard of how we operate in practice, in meetings and in games.”
His failures can no longer be met with the fervor of a slayer of a fan base that lies every week against the Bears with the hope of improving their draft status. They can no longer claim that the close loss means anything. They may now be judged against the low expectations they have set with their own roster construction.
No one celebrated a three-win season in the Bears’ locker room, draft pick or not. Running back David Montgomery was asked how to define it.
“Unfortunate,” he said. “Just unfortunate. It’s unfortunate.
In his first year, what the Poles accomplished required all the finesse of a hammer.
The Poles traded away three of the team’s best defensive players (Roquan Smith, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn) and paid dearly for the privilege, paying a league-high $93.3 million in dead cap fees. That was about a third as much as the league average.
A win—now the move saw Poles trading their second-round pick to the Steelers for receiver Chase Claypool—has been a dud thus far. Of the one-year Flyer free agent contracts he was handed, only one prompted a contract extension – and it was a one-year deal for Equanimius St. Brown. Cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaqen Brisker were acceptable second-round draft picks, but wouldn’t you rather have Steelers receiver George Pickens?
The Poles needed to hold their noses and move forward in order to knock down the team. Reconstruction requires a pancake. It’s an exercise in precision and creativity.
Can Poles Pull It Off? Can Eberflus train them?
Eberflus could go 11-6 over his next two seasons and still have a worse winning percentage than Matt Nagy. Without a win to back up his proof of concept, Eberflus spent the season talking about establishing a winning culture and implementing his HITS theory.
“I think one of the main focuses this year was to build a foundational floor to build on, and I think we did that,” he said. “It’s a credit to those players in that locker room. They did a really good job.”
In that context, maybe. But not by any other definition.
This needs to change. starting now.
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