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While the Bears moved the football effectively against the Titans last Sunday, a historic case of the dropsies ultimately sunk what looked like a certain comeback win.
Sure, there were a couple of costly red zone turnovers that - if converted to points - would have eliminated the need for an epic comeback, but in this town those kind of mishaps are the stuff of QB normalcy.
This one stung a bit, but even so you had to marvel - well, "marvel" is a bit strong; maybe "raise an eyebrow" - at the performance of Matt Barkley, especially when you contrast Sunday's loss against his other appearance this season.
For those of you who missed Week 7 against the Packers (or more likely purged it from memory using whiskey or a Ryobi power drill*), Barkley looked so overmatched that most of us instantly declared him the second coming of Jimmy Clausen . . . or Craig Krenzel . . . or Chad Hutchinson or Cade McNown or Moses Moreno or Rick Mirer AAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGH!!!
Running down the list of Bears Quarterbacks Past is enough to make any fan want to eat a handful of cyanide-laced Craisins - so if you're looking to take the easy way out, catch the next train to Oregon.
Back to Barkley.
The first half of the former USC quarterback's first NFL start was uneven; he opened the game with a touchdown drive but committed two big turnovers. But as the game wore on, the guy looked like he belonged. One might say that his performance belonged in the win column.
Did I mention the 11 dropped passes? Specifically, the ones in the end zone, down by six with 30 seconds to play?
You can read about it all over the Internet, so I'll just say that they happened and they were awful, but the 2016 season is lost and we learned something very important in the process of this loss.
Before I get to my ultimate point, let's talk about the state of the Bears quarterback position in general.
(Downs a shot of blue Kool-Aid, downs a shot of orange Kool-Aid.)
Consider the sneaky acquisition of Connor Shaw, a former Brown who was cut by Cleveland in the preseason.
Now, you may not remember him because he's been on IR since the preseason . . . aaaand because he's played only a touch over (scans career game logs on NFL.com) zero pro football games . . . ooorrrr you're inherently distrustful of any quarterback who wasn't good enough to make the Browns roster.
But believe it or not, Shaw had an impressive college career and was well regarded in Cleveland. He was expected to land on the Browns practice squad after he was cut.
That was until Ryan Pace swooped in like a mighty executive level eagle.
Or more aptly, an executive level vulture, feasting on the roster carrion of weaker animals.
Let's meet in the middle and call Pace a majestic vulture.
We're not going to see Shaw until 2017, but with a 2-9 record it's high time to start looking ahead.
In addition to Shaw, the Bears recently re-acquired our old friend David Fales from the Ravens.
Fales has experience with the offense, and that might come into play in over the final weeks.
Here's my point: Don't look now, but the Bears have a pipeline of young quarterbacks to evaluate.
[Editor's Note: Wow, dude. It's like Ryan Pace got the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour and using the power of time travel has attempted to create the equivalent of a quarterback controversy between Peter Tom Willis, Shane Matthews and Steve Walsh. Thank goodness there are some brains at the top of this operation.]
First off, I'm sensing some sarcasm. Secondly, if Pace were to hatch a plot to travel back in time for the purposes of pitting PTW, Matthews and Walsh against each other, in their prime mind you, he would definitely use George Carlin's phone booth from Bill And Ted - for the comedic effect of cramming three football players into a small space, if nothing else.
Fan criticism of Bears brass has been understandably harsh. The team has so many injuries . . .
(From the peanut gallery): "How injured ARE they?"
This team has so many injuries that Dick Wolf sold a series called Chicago Code Blue & Orange to NBC starring the members of the Bears on IR, which is a large enough cast to be considered an ensemble.
Furthermore, whoever is healthy enough to suit up seems to be largely underprepared (see "terrible half-games, most of 2016"), particularly on offense.
We need to ask ourselves as a fan base, is this going anywhere? Are the right guys are running the show?
The Case For Pace
I haven't quite worked my way up to blaming the entire coaching staff for this season's failures, but offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has made me feel stupider than usual for arguing on his behalf during the middle parts of 2016.
Examining whether the unbelievable run of injuries is a byproduct of mistakes at the coaching level, or if this staff is partially to blame for the number of PED suspensions over the last couple years, are topics for another day.
I will say that Vic Fangio is an excellent defensive coordinator, and despite the Bears struggles no players on the roster appear to have quit, which speaks to John Fox's ability to inspire (though it's reasonable to lay the blame for the in-game Jekyll/Hyde nature of 2016 at his feet).
This week, I'd like to take a moment to posit that GM Ryan Pace has done a respectable job. Here is my thinking:
- Pace shipped out dickheads/locker room cancers.
I give you Jeremiah Ratliff (he might shoot you in your place of business), Brandon Marshall (a bit of a prima donna, as it turns out) and Martellus Bennett (just a garden variety dick). Even though all were productive, Pace sent them packing when it became clear they were part of the problem. Removing a culture of negativity is a bit of an intangible, but important for long-term success.
Hey, maybe you're a cop with a beat on the South Side and are used to people waving guns around during your shift, but in general this is not appropriate workplace behavior.
- Pace has drafted well.
Draft highlights from 2015 include Eddie Goldman (impact D lineman), Hroniss Grasu (potentially impact O lineman), Jeremy Langford (good role player at running back) and Adrian Amos (good role player, borderline starter at safety), while 2016's class features Leonard Floyd (possible impact linebacker), Cody Whitehair (good player, definite starting O lineman) and Jordan Howard (definite impact running back, possibly the biggest steal of the entire draft).
- Pace signed free agents with a winning pedigree who have largely produced for the Bears.
Eddie Royal, Tracy Porter, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Bobby Massie and Josh Sitton all came from winning environments. With the exception of Massie, each has made tangible contributions to the team on the field.
The (Mediocre) Future Is Now?
The void in that list is the answer to the quarterback conundrum, as it basically has been for the lifetime of the Beachwood Reporter's entire readership.
The topic of Jay Cutler's tenure in Chicago is another story for another day, so let's say that there have been more lows than highs since he got here in 2009. Since he's been here much longer than the GM, Cutler's history doesn't impact my opinion of Pace one way or the other.
Which brings me to my point about the intersection of Matt Barkley's performance against the Titans and the evaluation of Ryan Pace overall.
I'm not suggesting even slightly that Barkley is the answer or that Pace has solved the Chicago quarterback riddle, buuuuuuut, Barkley showed off a stronger arm than we expected along with some nice touch passes, and if our fourth-, fifth- and sixth-string receivers had come to the field with hands made of something other than cement, we'd be celebrating (or bemoaning, if you're looking for a top pick) a win.
Barkley went from appearing to be a complete waste of everyone's time to someone who is worth a look as the rebuild moves forward, and that is real progress.
Throughout the year, many of us felt that the Bears' best moves at QB were to let Cutler go, give Brian Hoyer a hefty one-year deal (which he probably would have rejected for a longer-term deal elsewhere) and identify a quarterback in the middle rounds of the quarterback-thin 2017 draft.
You don't need to feel excited about Barkley or Shaw or Fales, but for most of this season, the Bears looked like they had nothing even close to a future signal-caller.
Barkley and Fales (because of his experience in the system) will now get deserved shots to prove whether they belong at the NFL level.
They don't have to be superstars, but if either can at least put up good showings against teams who have something to play for, Bears fans have a glimmer of hope for the long term.
The Cowboys aren't winning because of Dak Prescott. He's good, but I doubt he looks as capable behind a different line and without Dez Bryant or Zeke Elliot.
The Cardinals weren't contenders in 2014 and 2015 because of Carson Palmer. A great defense and some stellar wide receivers covered up his statue-like mobility and an arm vastly diminished by age.
Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Jim McMahon have rings.
McMahon's concussion-related brain damage might have messed him up so bad that he thinks the shiny thing on his finger with "1985" engraved on it is an onion ring, which might explain a chipped tooth or two, but goddammit the Punky QB will always be a champion!
I could go on.
This week's opponent might not have anything to play for, but the Lions, Packers, Redskins and Vikings all do. Whoever is slinging the ball will be tested, and for better or worse, Chicago fans will have answers about the state of the future.
Thanks to Pace, the Bears have three quarterbacks worth looking into. Let's give the man some credit for stocking the cupboard better than most of us expected.
Eye On The Opposition: It's A Long Way To The Bottom (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll
To quote David Fucillo of Niners Nation, the 49ers "enter a critical two-game stretch these next two weeks that could drop them at least a couple spots."
That's right, the 49ers are "in danger" of receiving a pick as high as the fifth in the 2017 draft.
That is, if they get all careless and win games against the Bears and Jets in the next two weeks.
To think, all of the work that went into a 10-game losing streak could be squandered in the blink of an eye.
But because San Francisco yields an average of 31 points per game, I like their chances to beat everyone but the Browns at the ancient art of tanking.
The Golden State Footballer Organization isn't without its bright spots though.
Running back Carlos Hyde has proven to be a meaningful player even when his team is losing by large margins. Which is often.
Colin Kaepernick's return to starter-dom hasn't been as productive as any 49ers fans would like, but he did turn in an excellent performance last week as he personally provided more than 400 yards of offensive yardage.
That said, his greatest talent might be getting his hair to fit into an NFL helmet.
Maybe he wets it down first?
I don't know. But I'm impressed.
The Niners are also quietly competent at defending the run.
Even though they typically play from behind (most opponents take a 3-0 lead into the opening kickoff), San Francisco's run defense ranks fourth in the NFL.
With that in mind, and the wordily aforementioned evaluation of Matt Barkley in full swing, expect the Bears to lean heavily on the mid-range passing game early in the contest.
Kool-Aid (5 of 5 If You're Rooting For A Loss, 2 of 5 If You're Rooting For Good Football - Either Way, Drink Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout)
Great brewery with a location near 17th and Western. Drink their beer, tour their facilities, bring me back some swag.
(Opens palm): Sponsorship, please!
If you're rooting for a top pick in the 2017 draft, this is your Super Bowl.
If you're like me, then you're really interested in the offense's answer to last week's loss.
The question is, can Barkley inspire a meaningless, possibly counterproductive win, or is he only good at slicing up prevent defenses for eight minutes?
In the only game left on the schedule in which the Bears will be favored, I say he can!
To help him get over the pain of the critical 4th-and-goal drop against Tennessee, Barkley targets Deonte Thompson 15 times.
The defense holds a bad offense down and even creates a turnover - though it's because Kaepernick's fro pops out of his helmet and tips the ball in mid-flight. Whatever, I'll take it!
Expect the second complete effort of the season and rejoice (or recoil) as Chicago's offense is fun to watch for one week!
Bears 33, 49ers 20
* Of course you lobotomize yourself with the Ryobi! They give those drills away with paint samples at Home Depot. And you know if you get blood all over the cordless DeWALT, your dad will smack you directly in the face, even if you're 40, a female, it's your drill and you perforated your skull in your house. If our dads taught us anything, it's to never get blood on the good tools.
Carl Mohrbacher is our Kool-Aid Korrespondent. He tolerates your comments.