Bears playoffs? .500 record now more realistic goal

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The Bears had a golden opportunity to reach .500 for the first time this season Sunday against the woeful San Francisco 49ers. Instead, they looked up at the scoreboard and watched a supposedly inferior opponent drop them in overtime, 26-20.

Remember all that momentum that the Bears had built after beating the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving night? That’s all but a distant memory now. And the playoff talk that picked up steam after the Bears had won three games in a span of four weeks is now laughable.

You cannot overlook any opponent on your schedule, and the Bears botched perhaps the easiest of their remaining games. I don’t believe in trap games by definition — that the Bears were somehow looking past the 49ers toward the Redskins — but I do believe in the idea that players “get up” for the big games and let their guard down for the less notable ones. Never has that been more evident than in the past two games against the Packers and 49ers.

The Bears’ pass rush flashed moments of success in sacking 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert four times — yes, that’s a real person, for those who had never heard of him, and yes, he’s still in the league for those who were as shocked as I was to seem him playing after fizzling with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But where the Bears had the most difficulty on defense was finishing plays and keeping Gabbert contained in the pocket. Gabbert used his agility in the pocket to evade the pass rush and buy time until he found an open receiver. He also scrambled six times for 75 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 20.

Statistically, the Bears whipped the 49ers. They had seven more first downs, more net yards, rushing yards, passing yards, return yards, and way more time of possession — by 13 minutes.

But they also had more turnovers, more penalty yards, and more missed field goals — thank you very much, Robbie Gould, a.k.a. the Michael Jordan of kickers.

I think the harsh reality that we were all met with on Sunday was that the Bears, despite their improving play this season, still have a talent deficiency that can’t be overcome in one offseason with general manager Ryan Pace at the helm. When the talent on the field is lacking, the margin of error is so slim and discipline must be rock solid, and the Bears lost their focus and tenacity in this one.

I was guilty, I admit it. I drank the Kool-Aid and bought into the idea that the Bears could make a playoff push. With a conference so watered down, and with .500 records littered throughout the divisions, how could you not expect the Bears to hang around and make things interesting?

As it stands now, the Bears still are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but I have given up the sliver of hope I once had of them making a run. Instead, their goal should be to get to .500, a place they have not seen since the season began.

The schedule still looks promising to do so, but after what we saw from the Bears against a lousy 49ers team, can we even “expect” it to happen anymore?

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