What fourth straight loss could mean for Chicago Bears

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The pessimistic and realistic alike would have to look at Monday night’s game in Pittsburgh as a last stand by the Bears this year in terms of the playoffs.  

It’s perfectly acceptable to insert the famed Jim Mora quote “playoffs? playoffs?” here.

It might also be the last stand for the coaching regime, at least if you look at consecutive losses as a measuring stick for progress. Losing at least four in a row three straight years is not progress by any stretch of the imagination.

The real progress that counts, though is a possible saving grace for the coaches and that’s in regards to developing Justin Fields.

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What there isn’t much history of is 3-6 teams making the playoffs, and the Bears will have this as their record with a loss. 

“Of course, you know, none of us want to be in this position that we’re in, but we’re just gonna keep doing what we do at practice, and that’s just keep getting better and keep working,” Fields said.

There have been only five teams with 3-6 records go on to the playoffs since the NFL expanded from a 14-game season to 16 games in 1978, and only one in the last eight seasons. 

Actually, the same franchise is the only one to do it since 1996 and that’s Washington. While still the Redskins, they made it with RG III at quarterback in 2012 as a rookie and then in 2020 under Ron Rivera with Alex Smith at quarterback, but in an NFC East where seven victories stood as a championship total.

The addition of a 17th game one year after the playoff pool expanded could make it more likely 3-6 teams make it, but with so many NFC teams crammed into the area near or below .500, the Bears would find it all but impossible to try and go on to a playoff berth after a 3-6 start.

Then again, none of that might matter as long as they develop Fields.  

However, one wonders how far they can actually get in this development before coach Matt Nagy is scrutinized by superiors. 

Winning a few games along the way might actually help to supplement this. 

Last week they saw Fields’ first major step up as a playmaker since the win over the Raiders.
It didn’t result in a win but gave an indication what he can do, especially as a runner.

The Bears have seen Fields play well at home and win, then play well enough on the road against the Raiders in what seemed more like a home game. They saw him struggle against Cleveland but bounce back against Detroit. 

After losing to San Francisco in a strong effort, Fields’ next step is competing well against a possible playoff team on the road, and the Steelers provide this opportunity.

“After Green Bay and after Tampa Bay, I think the way he handled that shows right there his growth of being able to mentally bounce back and have the game that he had last week,” Nagy said. “It’s significant because it helps us with confidence now for this next coming week, and now you’re going to play another defense on the road that does a bunch of different things that’s going to test you again.

“So how do you get through that? Well, we’ve got to help him. The players have got to execute around him, the coaches have got to coach around him, we’ve all got to do our thing. The defense has to play. That’s how you help a rookie quarterback. Rookie quarterbacks succeed with great teammates.”

Providing that help will be anything but easy with Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson unavailable on defense again due to injuries.

“Certainly people are irreplaceable, obviously,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “When you lose guys like Khalil, I think any defense would suffer if you lose a guy like 5-2. You lose another playmaker in a guy like Eddie, that’s tough.”

So facing T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and the Steelers defense looks more like another big bump in the road for Fields with his own defense shorthanded.

It hasn’t been a straight or gradual upward ascension for Fields, but Nagy expected this from the outset.

“So, we knew when the decision was made, yes, there’s going to be some times where, I think we can all understand that still happens with veteran quarterbacks, where you have a game where it just doesn’t go well and you’ve got to be able to bounce back and recover,” Nagy said. “So, with a first-year quarterback, that is going to happen.

“But now we’ve got to insulate him and make sure that he understands you’re not going to win every game like you maybe did in college. So mentally how are you going to bounce back?” 

It’s a weekly classroom on the field of testing Fields until he graduates to a real, live NFL passing quarterback.

“We’ve learned from those past three games and we’re just gonna keep learning each and every day,” Fields said.

Considering the Steelers’ 19 straight home Monday night wins dating back to 1991, the raucous environment at Heinz Field and the Steelers’ three-game winning streak, it promises to be a real education for a young passer.

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