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Let’s play GM with the top offseason needs: Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears’ Week 13 loss — their 6th straight

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 12/5/2022 Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune
Bears coach Matt Eberflus on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears coach Matt Eberflus on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose to the Green Bay Packers 28-19 on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

The Bears’ sixth consecutive loss also moved the Packers atop the NFL’s all-time victory list with 787 to 786 for the Bears. The New York Giants are a distant third at 713.

1. The Bears remain on track for the No. 2 draft pick after losing for the ninth time in 10 weeks.

With intense fan attention on the team’s draft position and the more than $100 million in salary-cap space general manager Ryan Poles will have for 2023, let’s play GM with the Bears’ top needs.

A Bears fan in a costume cheers in the fourth quarter of a game at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS A Bears fan in a costume cheers in the fourth quarter of a game at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

Offensive line and wide receiver — in whatever order you prefer — probably topped most lists when the season kicked off. That might have been how Poles was thinking at the time, too, before seeing the season unfold to get a better picture of the roster.

There probably has been a shift after 13 games, and Sunday’s loss just about cemented it for me while allowing for some things to shift slightly with four games remaining. Poles needs to go big in free agency on the defensive line. He either needs two big-time signings or to pair a marquee free agent with his first draft pick.

Aaron Rodgers entered the game with a busted thumb and banged-up ribs, and the Bears totaled zero quarterback hits in 31 drop-backs. None. Zilch. It’s not like the ball was coming out quick all the time. How many times was Rodgers’ first read covered before he moved to No. 2, saw he also was covered and then started surfing around the pocket to buy time?

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bears quarterback Justin Fields embrace after a Packers victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bears quarterback Justin Fields embrace after a Packers victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

The Bears couldn’t get a finger on him, and the Packers were without their best offensive lineman after left tackle David Bakhtiari woke up Friday with a sore abdomen and wound up needing an appendectomy.

There wasn’t a hint of pressure on Rodgers, and when he gets all day and more to throw against a secondary missing both starting safeties and two of the top three cornerbacks, it’s going to turn against you eventually. That’s exactly what happened against a patchwork secondary that did a pretty darn good job.

I thought it had to be the first time in a very long time the Bears didn’t lay a hand on a quarterback — at least in the official game book. Turns out the Bears had no QB hits on Jimmy Garoppolo in a 33-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 31, 2021, at Soldier Field. Just like the Packers did Sunday, the 49ers scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to win that game.

I’m not shedding light on a new issue here. The Bears pass rush has been inadequate all season, and they’re last in the league with 16 sacks. The run defense has been suspect almost weekly, and the Bears lack anything resembling a difference maker on the defensive line.

Good defenses need at least two difference makers on the line, players who are so talented they elevate the play of those around them. You hear some players called “multipliers” because they make the guys next to them or near them better. The Bears don’t have any of those on the defensive line or at linebacker for that matter. It’s a huge problem Poles and coach Matt Eberflus must address before they can approach being competitive again.

The good news is Poles is flush with cap space heading into the offseason and will have a premium draft pick unless he trades down.

I’m a little skeptical of the idea the Bears would be able to turn their high pick (let’s say it’s No. 2 for the sake of this conversation) into a bounty of first-round picks. I don’t know that this quarterback draft class (Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Will Levis) is good enough that we would see that kind of movement. Of course, it takes only one desperate team to fall in love with one passer for something to happen. Take that shot and miss and it’s the kind of move that can cripple a franchise for half a decade or longer.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers points to Packers fans in the stands as he exits Soldier Field after a victory over the Bears on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers points to Packers fans in the stands as he exits Soldier Field after a victory over the Bears on Dec. 4, 2022.

The bad news is I don’t see a generational defensive lineman on the horizon in free agency. Barring something unexpected, there won’t be a Julius Peppers type on the market.

The Carolina Panthers elected not to use the franchise tag on Peppers in 2010, and that made him a free agent and allowed the Bears to sweep in and sign him to a six-year, $84 million contract, at the time the richest ever given to a defensive player. Transcendent talents such as Peppers are rarely available in free agency, and the Bears’ good fortune fueled a run to the NFC championship game in his first season in Chicago.

Provided they make it to the marketplace — never a sure thing — there will be some quality defensive linemen available, a list that starts with Javon Hargrave of the Philadelphia Eagles, Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders and Dre’Mont Jones of the Denver Broncos.

Hargrave has been terrific in the middle of the Eagles defense with 14½ sacks since the start of last season. But he turns 30 in February, and with the Bears trending younger, I wonder if he’s a little old to be the guy Poles wants to make a huge splash with, especially with the Bears just starting to reset the roster after a season of tearing it down.

Payne, on the other hand, turns 26 in May, so he’s entering his prime as a rugged interior defender with enough wiggle to create interior pressure on the quarterback. He had two sacks in a tie with the New York Giants on Sunday, giving him a career-high 8½ for the season.

“He’s a disrupter,” a scout said. “Payne is a monster body in the interior of the defensive line. He’s got a massive, athletic frame and he is a powerful mover. Real light feet for someone that big. He’s got heavy hands. His technique has developed. He’s going to cash in because he’s a dual-threat player. You don’t pay someone to make tackles or take on blocks. You pay them to hit the quarterback, and that’s what he’s shown he can do.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields runs in a 55-yard touchdown during the first quarter at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears quarterback Justin Fields runs in a 55-yard touchdown during the first quarter at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

“It’s hard to find guys that can rush the passer from the interior of the defensive line. That’s why Hargrave, even though he is an older player, is going to get paid. He can hit the quarterback.”

Jones has 17½ sacks since the start of the 2020 season and is positioning himself for a big payday, but he’s not the same kind of run defender Payne is.

“Jones has a big, long body and he can play as a three or one technique,” the scout said. “I think he’s best as a three and he’s a big-time athlete. He’s disruptive. At times, he plays a little high. He was a little inconsistent coming out of Ohio State, but there is still a lot of upside there. He is big and he can move and he might fly under the radar a little more than Payne and Hargrave.”

Bears quarterback Justin Fields breaks free for a long touchdown run in the first quarter against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears quarterback Justin Fields breaks free for a long touchdown run in the first quarter against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

The Bears made a run at Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson in 2016 free agency before he signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jackson was surrounded by elite talent on a Super Bowl defense in Denver and cashed in big time. He had 14½ sacks in his first two seasons with the Jaguars but was gone after his third year there before spending two years in Philadelphia and one in Cleveland. He’s currently a free agent.

The point is Jackson was the star of the free-agent class, and it’s hard to say the Jaguars got the return they sought on the investment. Payne plays on a terrific defensive line in Washington, lining up next to Jonathan Allen, and that group is the strength of the roster. Drop Payne into a defensive line like the Bears currently have and he would be good and would make it better, but he’s not bringing Allen or any other teammates with him.

That’s where the draft pick comes into play. Poles has to completely remake the defensive front, and that could mean adding a player like Payne and maybe pairing him with Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who picked up LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels with one arm for a sack in Saturday’s SEC championship game.

Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn tackles Packers running back AJ Dillon in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn tackles Packers running back AJ Dillon in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

The Bears also should consider Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson, who many thought in August would be the first non-quarterback drafted. Anderson is supremely talented, but as deficient as the Bears have been rushing the passer and stopping the run, it’s hard to argue against Payne and Carter in the middle of their defensive line.

Is it possible? We’ll have to wait and see. Payne would absolutely kill it if he reaches free agency, and whoever landed him would be forced to overpay. That’s the nature of free agency. To get a return on the investment, they Bears would need talent around him, and as porous as the front seven is right now, I don’t know how you can argue offensive line or wide receiver or any other position over defensive line when it comes to Poles’ first pick in April. You can’t let Rodgers slide around in the pocket without risk all game long and not realize it’s the most pressing need on the roster.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields heads to the locker room after a loss to the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears quarterback Justin Fields heads to the locker room after a loss to the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

“I moved around a decent amount, held on to the ball at times, and I went to the ground one time,” Rodgers said. “So it’s like a dream game for somebody in my position with a pretty sore rib cage.”

It’s a bad dream for the Bears.

2. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams and his staff deserve credit for getting the Bears ready to play on the back end.

A week after New York Jets quarterback Mike White threw for 308 yards in his fifth career start, the Bears prepared to face Aaron Rodgers with three rookies in the secondary to go with cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, who had 95 snaps on defense through the first 12 games.

Bears running back David Montgomery makes a move in the third quarter against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears running back David Montgomery makes a move in the third quarter against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

Safety Eddie Jackson (more on his injury situation in a bit) is out for the season, and rookie safety Jaquan Brisker missed his second straight game with a concussion. Rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon also missed his second game with a concussion, and an ankle injury knocked out cornerback Kindle Vildor.

Bears offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood stands on the field during a break in the action against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood stands on the field during a break in the action against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

That forced the Bears to turn to rookie safety Elijah Hicks, who had 39 prior snaps on defense; rookie cornerback Josh Blackwell, who had yet to play a snap on defense this season; and rookie Jaylon Jones, who had been the fourth option at cornerback.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson leaves on a cart in the second quarter on Nov. 27, 2022, at MetLife Stadium. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears safety Eddie Jackson leaves on a cart in the second quarter on Nov. 27, 2022, at MetLife Stadium.

If you would have told me before the game that Rodgers would be limited to 182 passing yards with a long completion of 21 yards, I would have been surprised. That’s what the Bears did, and it kept them in the game against a quarterback who has had huge performances against some star-studded Bears defenses.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles walks through the tunnel before a game against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears general manager Ryan Poles walks through the tunnel before a game against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

“They played a lot of coverage, a lot of two-high,” Rodgers said. “Mixed some coverage up, held the shell to the very end most of the time. Jaylon (Johnson) is a premier player, but the other young guys played pretty well. Got to give them credit. There were multiple times where it felt like getting out of the pocket, somebody is going to come open. They locked down our guys. They definitely deserve credit for that.”

Bears quarterback Justin Fields heads to the locker room after a loss to the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS Bears quarterback Justin Fields heads to the locker room after a loss to the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 4, 2022.

The defensive backs played well in the second quarter when the Bears stopped the Packers on downs. Rodgers missed on three consecutive throws from the Bears 36-yard line. He scrambled forever on second down and threw deep to Christian Watson.

On third-and-7, he threw behind Watson on a back-shoulder attempt. Watson was the boundary X receiver, and Jones did a nice job not giving Rodgers a throwing surface. He couldn’t go front shoulder and Jones stacked on Watson and pinned him into the boundary.

On fourth down, the Packers ran a divide concept, pairing a corner route with Randall Cobb running a post. The back-side safety, Houston-Carson, did a nice job. The Bears locked the back side with quarters coverage to the front side. Houston-Carson had the No. 3 vertical, which was Cobb. He was stationary and waiting, probably expecting Cobb to run a crosser, and then all of a sudden he hit it upfield.

Houston-Carson had to wheel, snug up to Cobb’s hip and try to find the ball. Rodgers tried to put air under the throw to give Cobb a chance to run to the ball, but Houston-Carson made the catch point really small.

Hicks had good coverage on the 14-yard touchdown pass to Watson on fourth-and-4 late in the second quarter. You can’t fault him. Rodgers had more than five seconds to throw. Any quarterback would pick apart a secondary in that situation.

“That’s Aaron Rodgers, making extra time and finding ways to be accurate on the run,” Hicks said. “It’s part of the game. We’ve got to just cover longer. Cover longer. Cover longer.

“We were locking them up in scramble drills. He got that extra time ... those were plays we had to keep covering, as long as it is. It’s hard to cover for that long but we did it throughout the game. There were times that they got away that hurt us. I’m proud of my guys, Blackwell, the dudes that came up.”

Said Blackwell: “We’re rookies but we play like we’re confident. We can come in and be the next guy up. So what if Kyler and them are down? We’ve got to play to the same level that they do, and we came in this week and prepared that way.”

3. Justin Fields looked more comfortable in the pocket, a step in the right direction.

Fields returned from a separated left shoulder that sidelined him in Week 12 against the New York Jets and completed 20 of 25 passes for a season-high 254 yards and ran for a team-high 71 yards on six carries.

The latter total included an electric 55-yard touchdown on a zone read, his third touchdown run of 50-plus yards this season. Fields is the first Bear to accomplish that feat since Neal Anderson in 1988. Add a 56-yard pass to Equanimeous St. Brown and a 49-yard pass to N’Keal Harry, and the offense had plenty of explosive plays.

Fields said he wore a little extra padding to protect his shoulder, and it’s possible offensive coordinator Luke Getsy dialed back the quarterback runs a little bit to try to protect Fields. He didn’t appear skittish at all and handled the pocket pretty well, hitting St. Brown across the middle for 24 yards on the fourth snap to spark a field-goal drive.

After winning the coin toss, the Bears bucked the recent trend by electing to receive and put the offense on the field.

“We felt our offense has been humming pretty good and we wanted to give them a chance to go out there and score, and it worked out for us,” Matt Eberflus said. “It was good for us, obviously, going up 10-0. I told Justin all week that we were going to do that. He was excited about it.”

What has Fields meant to the offense this season? The Bears have become excellent on third down. They converted 6 of 11 (54.5%) and are now at 45.1% for the season. The franchise record is 43.9% in 1989.

Fields had a 10-yard pass to tight end Cole Kmet on third-and-5 in the first quarter (two plays before the 55-yard TD run), a 15-yard pass to Chase Claypool on third-and-5 in the second quarter and a 24-yard pass to Kmet on third-and-10 in the third quarter when it looked like Fields made it all the way to his third read.

“This was one of my best games passing-wise,” Fields said. “Of course, the stats won’t show that. I felt really comfortable out there in the passing game. I’ve just got to keep improving and keep getting better.”

The stats won’t show it because of two interceptions in the fourth quarter, and we’ll get to those in a minute. First, the big plays.

  • 55-yard touchdown run: The Packers brought nickel pressure, and the Bears had an interesting design with left tackle Braxton Jones pulling. It was almost like zone-read power with the back-side tackle, Jones, coming across. Defensive end Kingsley Enagbare crashed hard, and Fields made the proper read to keep the ball. Almost immediately, he had blitzing cornerback Keisean Nixon in his face and he shook Nixon out of his cleats. Then it was off to the races. Wide receiver Dante Pettis did a good job of shielding safety Rudy Ford, wide receiver Byron Pringle worked across the field to block safety Adrian Amos and it was Fields just being an athlete.
  • 56-yard pass to St. Brown: The Bears ran a high/low concept with Kmet on a sit route. Fields read that the Packers were in split-safety coverage and the safety to the boundary, Ford, was sitting lower looking inside. So Fields knew he had a one-on-one outside to St. Brown. Cornerback Jaire Alexander, who has not had a very good year, was squatting on St. Brown. This showed up later in the game on the first interception. This was a corner saying, “The guy across from me is not very good and I am going to sit on everything and try to steal something.” Alexander was being greedy. He squatted on the route and slowed his feet, and St. Brown just ran past him. It was a good read by Fields, who got rocked on the throw by Dean Lowry coming off a twist-stunt and got lifted off his feet.
  • 49-yard pass to Harry: This was a really nice second-reaction play by Fields. He initially pumped to Harry, and that got Alexander to jump in front of Harry. Fields came off the pump and looked front side, didn’t like it, spun out and then came back side to hit Harry. That’s why the ball was a little underthrown and turned into a really good contested catch by Harry.

Fields’ two interceptions came late, the first a killer as the Bears were trailing 20-19 and on the move with plenty of time. They were at the Green Bay 43 with 2:57 remaining when Fields tried to hit St. Brown on a deep hitch route.

Alexander was sitting on it. He allowed St. Brown to eat up the cushion and get on his toes. He wouldn’t do that against Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase or Stefon Diggs. He did this because of the receiver. St. Brown lumbered into his break. It took him a long time to sink and come out of it, and Alexander beat him to the ball.

The quarterback is told to rip it when the receiver starts to sink his hips, but the receiver has to sell it and get the cornerback to open his hips and run and Alexander never did that. St. Brown needed to create separation and work his way back to the football. He never did that and rounded the break.

In hindsight, Fields needed to take the check-down, but when you’re looking at this in the playbook, that’s where the ball is supposed to go. St. Brown didn’t gain any separation. It was a bad route by a receiver whom the Packers, who were in a world of hurt at the position after last season, allowed to walk out the door in free agency on a minimum contract to the Bears.

“Justin’s been ripping that pass a couple times earlier,” Eberflus said. “And that’s a trust throw. When you have a trust throw, that means that he’s reading it and, man, he’s going to let it rip and the guy’s got to do a great job of stepping up and making those plays. I thought the corner made a nice play. He jumped it. But hopefully our receiver can jump out and knock that down if possible. But it was unfortunate at that time.”

Said Fields: “Once you throw that ball, you anticipate the throw and then, boom, (Alexander) jumped it, and really at that point you just like to see the receiver come back to the ball.”

Said Alexander: “As soon as he broke, I knew it was a comeback route. He’s slow coming out of his break. It was just easy.”

Trailing by nine after that, the Bears needed two scores and Fields forced a deep shot to Pettis into Cover-2 on third-and-1 from the Packers 28. He should have thrown to the flat. Fields probably saw Nixon squatting a little and thought he could fit the pass in there, but it was a far throw from the opposite hash and turned into an easy interception for Nixon. Fields could have taken the check-down in that situation and the Bears could have kicked a field goal to pull within six before attempting an onside kick.

All in all, it felt like there was some growth. Pass protection was solid, Fields looked more comfortable in the pocket and the Bears moved the ball well.

4. Who knows how many more times Aaron Rodgers will play at Soldier Field as a member of the Packers.

There has been speculation the team will take an extended look at Jordan Love before the end of the season. Rodgers’ contract makes it difficult to trade him in the offseason and challenging for an acquiring team, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Rodgers is now 25-5 against the Bears, including the postseason, with an eight-game winning streak in the series. But the Packers are 5-8 this season and barely alive in the NFC playoff race. Maybe a trip to Soldier Field got his juices going a little bit. He saluted the crowd after Christian Watson’s 46-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep sealed the game with 1:51 remaining.

Rodgers is a villain to the Bears and their fans, and he plays the role awfully well. I don’t think his appreciation for the Bears, their players and their history is an act. He also didn’t seem panicked with his team trailing by nine entering the fourth quarter.

“You definitely draw a lot of confidence and good memories off of this matchup,” he said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of success during my time against them. I’ve enjoyed playing here. A lot of great memories here over the years. Obviously won the NFC championship here. And hit (Randall) Cobb in ‘13 on a big play and Jordy (Nelson) in ‘16 on a big play. It’s been a rivalry I’ve been part of. There was probably a lot of people that felt good at 19-10. So did I.”

Seeing the Packers move ahead of the Bears in the all-time win column was important too. Obviously that could flip-flop in the weeks and seasons to come.

“That’s part of the legacy,” Rodgers said. “You always want to leave the place you’re at better than you found it. Right now, we’ve flipped the all-time series. We’ve flipped the all-time wins. I’ve had a lot of success against them, so I think in a few years, you look back and you feel pretty good about your contributions to the rivalry.”

Earlier in the week, Rodgers reflected on what playing in Chicago has meant to him.

“I’ve been hearing it from fans for 15 years down there, so I don’t expect anything to be different,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the city of Chicago and the sports fans. I grew up, said it many times, watching WGN was one of the few channels we had on our TV, so I grew up watching Cubs games and Bulls games, so I’ve been a fan of Chicago sports for a while. I have a lot of respect for the city and the legacy of excellence that the team and the region has. I always enjoy playing against the Bears.”

The hope for the Bears is that one day in the near future, Justin Fields is regarded by Packers fans much the same way Rodgers is by Bears fans.

5. Tight end Cole Kmet did a good job of encapsulating the feeling in the locker room for a 3-10 team that has little other than pride to play for after the upcoming bye week.

It looks like a rebuilding year from the outside, but that’s not how the players view the season.

“Don’t really care what (others) are thinking about the situation,” Kmet said. “I’m frustrated because at the moment we have three wins. I don’t really look at it as rebuild or whatever. I want to win and I want to win now. (Fans) have their expectations but at the end of the day, we have our expectations here in the locker room. That’s what we hold ourselves to. Everyone here is disappointed where we’re at. We could have been way better up to this point in the year. We’ve got four games left to show what we can do. We’re going to take that head on.

“It’s tough. You try and keep that perspective (of a rebuilding effort) maybe a little bit ... keep your spirits up and guys’ spirits around you, but it’s tough, man. This is such a week-to-week, year-to-year league where things are changing constantly. You can call this a rebuild, but some guys aren’t here for that, you know. You’ve got guys who are in their 10th or 11th year, they’re not here for a rebuild. They want to win. You just have to look inward, take it for what it is and, like I said, we have these last four to show what we can do.”

Matt Eberflus called it a “mini bye” after the Bears hosted the Washington Commanders on a Thursday night in Week 6 and challenged coaches and players to make improvements with the extra time. That has to be the goal now with players scheduled to have meetings Monday and then potentially a week off to recharge.

“You use this moment, self-evaluation,” Kmet said. “Nothing really stops. There is so much for each individual guy in this locker room to play for. This is our livelihood. You’ve got to put good stuff on tape not only for this team if you want to be here next year but for all the 31 other teams. To think that there is going to be a let-up, that’s not going to happen. We have to continue to stick to this process.”

Said center Sam Mustipher: “That’s Flus’ whole message — morale — and then the idea of constant improvement. That’s good. When you’ve got things to focus on other than the outcome or the results, it tends to increase the morale a little bit. That’s huge, especially for a young team.”

6. Thirteen teams entered Week 13 with three or four victories.

So much mediocre to downright bad football is being played this season, it has created a logjam of yuck that promises to produce compelling results in the stretch run for those eyeing draft position.

Including the down-and-out Houston Texans, who fell to 1-10-1 with a loss to the Deshaun Watson-led Cleveland Browns on Sunday, 14 teams entered the week with four wins or fewer. Over the previous decade, an average of 11 teams entered Week 13 with four wins or fewer, with a high of 13 (2020 and 2012) and a low of seven (2021). So a large mix of teams has a legitimate shot at a top-five draft pick. Here is the current draft order at

The group of 14 teams includes five led by first-year head coaches with that team: Lovie Smith (Texans), Matt Eberflus (Bears), Nathaniel Hackett (Denver Broncos), Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders) and Doug Pederson (Jacksonville Jaguars). I don’t think there is a common denominator among the group, but it is notable nine of the 11 worst offenses in terms of passer rating were among the 14.

After the Dallas Cowboys pummeled the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, the Texans have the worst record in the league, followed by the Bears (3-10) and the Broncos and Los Angeles Rams (both 3-9). Four teams are 4-8 — the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals — and the Colts are 4-8-1. The Saints are at Tampa Bay on Monday night.

The Rams host the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday night, and the Broncos host the Chiefs on Sunday. If both teams lose, the Bears would be knocked down to fourth in the draft order going into Week 15. Keep in mind, the Rams host the Broncos in Week 16, so one of those teams will have four wins unless there is a tie.

7. Ryan Poles’ goal to ‘take the North’ won’t happen this year.

This was the Bears’ seventh consecutive division loss and fourth this season. They’re likely headed for a last-place finish in the NFC North as they are two wins behind the Packers and Lions.

In the 12 years since losing to the Packers in the NFC title game after the 2010 season, the Bears are 25-45 (.357) against division foes. And they can’t just dream about Aaron Rodgers eventually leaving Green Bay. They have a ton of work to do to catch up with the other teams.

The Vikings are running away with the North and have clinched at least a tie at 10-2. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is having a subpar season — judged against his own standards — which means the rest of the roster is playing well.

Of course the Vikings have caught some breaks along the way, but the Bears have a lot of work to do before they can think about winning the division or becoming a consistent contender. One look at their recent history against their rivals confirms that.

8. Lisfranc injuries have contributed to the demise of some elite Bears players over the years.

Six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz suffered a Lisfranc injury in his final game with the team — a loss to the Packers in the 2011 NFC championship game. Nose tackle Ted Washington suffered a torn Lisfranc ligament on his final snap with the Bears in 2002 in Atlanta. A Lisfranc injury was one of the numerous serious injuries that playmaking free safety Mike Brown endured.

Now free safety Eddie Jackson has a long road to recovery ahead of him after suffering a Lisfranc injury in the Week 12 loss to the Jets. It’s a bad break for Jackson, who has been durable, missing only five games through his first five seasons. He enjoyed a strong bounce-back season in a new scheme, becoming a playmaker on the back end once again. The Bears produced 15 takeaways through their first 12 games, and Jackson had four interceptions and two forced fumbles.

It’s premature to say what the future holds for Jackson, who turns 29 on Dec. 10. Two years remain on the four-year contract extension he signed in January 2020. He has a $13 million base salary in 2023 with a $100,000 workout bonus and a $14.05 million base salary in 2024 with the same workout bonus. None of the remaining money includes guarantees, and he ranks seventh leaguewide at his position with an average annual salary of $14.6 million.

With the salary cap a nonissue for the Bears in 2023 — they have loads of space, which bodes well for 2024 and beyond — GM Ryan Poles could easily justify paying Jackson if he believes Jackson can play at the same level while bringing intangibles to the huddle and locker room. The salary cap is always a factor in decisions, but the way I look at this, it’s all about where the Bears believe Jackson will be health-wise.

Here is some good news for Jackson, who visited teammates in the locker room after Sunday’s game wearing a walking boot and using a scooter: A source said he won’t require surgery.

Not all Lisfranc injuries lead to the operating room. Kreutz had a “stable” Lisfranc injury and did not need surgery, which of course is preferable. The amazing thing about his injury, which happened on the second snap of the third quarter when Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett threw right tackle J’Marcus Webb on the back of Kreutz’s legs at the end of a run play, is that he not only finished the game, but also didn’t miss a snap.

“I actually thought I broke my leg,” Kreutz said. “That’s what it felt like. I went up (after the series) and told (offensive coordinator) Mike Tice, ‘I think I broke my leg.’”

When Tice asked if he could finish the game, Kreutz said he told him he could, “but there were certain things I cannot do.”

“When B.J. Raji takes off for the end zone (on his interception return), you see me try to limp after him,” Kreutz said. “It’s a torn ligament in your foot. Awful.”

The Packers went on to win 21-14. Had the Bears won and advanced to Super Bowl XLV, Kreutz would not have been available. He was 33 at the time and in the final year of his contract, and when the lockout ended the following summer, he signed with the New Orleans Saints. It’s possible the Bears’ low offer was based in part on Kreutz returning from a serious injury.

“Even without the surgery, the rehabilitation was brutal,” Kreutz said. “I couldn’t have played in the Super Bowl if we would have won that game.

“Eddie will recover. He has tons of time. It’s so different now. Rehab is so much better than it was before. If Eddie finds someone good and he attacks it, he’ll be back to 100%.”

9. By my count, Alex Leatherwood got 10 snaps at right tackle.

The Bears started Riley Reiff, who was questionable with a back/shoulder injury and missed practice Wednesday. I think if Leatherwood had excelled in practice, he probably would have started, but Matt Eberflus said the plan was to rotate him.

That’s a good first step toward evaluating the Raiders’ 2021 first-round pick. The Bears need to see him in action and they let him get some experience to evaluate. One of the possessions was short-circuited by wide receiver Chase Claypool’s fumble. The next came on a two-play series — the deep pass to Equanimeous St. Brown and David Montgomery’s 7-yard touchdown run that followed. If the possessions had played out differently, Leatherwood likely would have spent more time on the field.

We’ll see if he’s in line to slide into the starting lineup after the bye.

10. The Bears finally enter their bye in the last week NFL teams will be off this season.

They were one of six teams to draw a Week 14 bye along with the Packers, Falcons, Colts, Saints and Commanders. The Bears had a Week 14 bye once before in the 1999 season.

It’s easy to grumble about the bye being so late in the season, but the league stretched it out because the regular season now runs through the second weekend in January. Before the current system, which has teams off between Weeks 6 and 14 (there were no byes in Week 12 because of Thanksgiving and the league’s desire for a full slate of games for television), teams could be off as early as Week 4.

Say what you want about a bye in Week 14, but I think most coaches would gladly take that over time off in Week 4 — at least without knowing any specific situations their team would be facing. Unforeseen circumstances always could change when a team would prefer some extra rest. Week 6 seems like a better spot in the schedule to start giving teams a breather.

“It really doesn’t matter,” veteran safety and special teams ace DeAndre Houston-Carson said. “I kind of like it a little bit (later) but probably a little bit too late this year. We had that Washington Thursday night game (Oct. 13), which was kind of like a bye week. We had four days off.

“I wouldn’t want it early. It depends, though. Everybody is different. For one person, Week 6 could be just where they needed it. Coach (Matt Eberflus) has done a great job of taking care of us, making sure we are fresh for Sundays. He does a good job asking for our input.”

The Bears’ bye a year ago came in Week 10, and I would be shocked if they are saddled with a Week 14 bye again next season.

10a. Speaking of the bye, the Bears have been particularly bad after a week off. That shouldn’t come into play looking ahead to the Week 15 meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field because a new coaching staff is in place, but they have lost eight consecutive games coming out of a bye, a stretch that began with a 55-14 loss at Green Bay on Nov. 9, 2014.

10b. Rough game for kicker Cairo Santos, who missed an extra point wide right, his fourth missed PAT this season. A 40-yard field-goal attempt was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Dean Lowry. Santos probably was battling the wind and wanted to keep the ball down, but the kick was too low. Those are four points the Bears needed, but they ultimately didn’t swing the game. Santos is 18 of 20 on field goals this season.

10c. Nice 42-yard kickoff return by rookie Velus Jones Jr. That’s the kind of explosive play the Bears need from the return game, and it was well-blocked.

10d. Running back Khalil Herbert (hip) must remain on injured reserve through the Eagles game. The Bears placed him on IR on Nov. 15 and he has to remain on the list for a minimum of four games — not weeks — meaning the soonest they could designate him to return would be in advance of the Dec. 24 home game versus the Buffalo Bills.

10e. The Bears defense had no takeaways for the second consecutive game and the fifth time in six games. There is an easy explanation. They lack difference makers on that side of the ball.

10f. The Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the nation’s finest senior long snapper, will be awarded Saturday night in a ceremony at Bernie’s Book Bank in Lake Bluff. The finalists are Oklahoma State’s Matt Hembrough, Penn State’s Chris Stoll and Central Florida’s Alex Ward, who will participate in the Senior Bowl.

The fourth award dinner will feature Mannelly, Bears long snapper Patrick Scales and former Bears Pro Bowl center Jay Hilgenberg. Tickets are available here.

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