THE MORNING AFTER: Do you believe in Ryan Pace’s ‘Promise’?
CHICAGO – Finally, you got to hear the sound of his voice. It’s been a while.
Frankly, the fans should have heard it a lot earlier. When their team was being decimated with injuries, inundated with coaching rumors and toiling at the bottom of the NFL.
A lot has happened since Ryan Pace spoke at all publicly about the Chicago Bears back in August. What some thought was a team that could knock on the door of a playoff spot instead had it shut on their fingers.
But on Saturday, a little bit before the team’s second-to-last game of the year against the Redskins, the general manager broke his silence. In an interview with team play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak on WBBM-AM, Pace was asked a number of questions about specific players on the roster.
In his second-to-last question, he was inquired about a message he would have to the fans.
“What I’d say is I promise it’s coming,” said Pace of success for the team.
Promise is an interesting word. It’s a bold one when it comes to a Bears squad that is a little more than mired in mediocrity.
For a third-straight year the team will finish with less than six wins. They’re in danger of losing three games for the first time in team history during a 16-game schedule. Even if they knock of the Vikings in Week 17, there four wins would be the lowest total in 14 years.
The team has no stability at the most important position – quarterback. Jay Cutler may be on the way out, Brian Hoyer will come off an injury while Matt Barkley remains an interesting yet cautious piece for the future.
On top of that, will John Fox or his offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains or defensive coordinator Vic Fangio be back next season?
Still, Pace’s positivity remained undeterred.
“We’re going to be successful and they’re going to be with us every step of the way,” Pace told Joniak. “I can’t wait to see how the city reacts when we’re rolling and reeling off some consistent wins and watching young players that they can grow with.”
This is the same narrative sold by the Cubs in the early years of Theo Epstein. He was facing a similar build from the ground that Pace took on the with the Bears in the winter of 2015.
But Epstein came with a pedigree as the man who ended the Red Sox 86-year championship drought. He then got the team another in 2007, proving his ability not just to win once but sustain it. No wonder Cubs showed a reasonable amount of patience with Epstein in his five-year build to a championship on the North Side.
Asking for that faith from the fans is a little more blind for fans considering that Pace is still young at the general manager game. This is the first time he’s held this position in the NFL, having served in the Saints’ player personnel department from 2001-2014.
Building a team from scratch from the top position is a first for Pace.
“There aren’t a lot of quick fixes in our league,” admitted Pace in the interview-and he’s right.
Saturday afternoon the Bears fell behind 17-0 to a Redskins team fighting for a playoff spot. The momentum of Matt Barkley came to a halt after a five-interception performance.
By the time Mack Brown completed the 41-21 blowout win with a 61-yard touchdown run, most of the Christmas Eve crowd had retired towards going home. No comeback like past weeks, no playoffs like past years, seemingly little hope for meaningful football at Soldier Field for sometime to come.
“We have great fans here we have great fans when we travel. They hang with us,” said Fox of the fans, who’ve watched his teams go 9-22 over the last two years. “Better days are to come. We see improvement. It’s not in our record but I think we are closer than people think.”
Is there evidence that this is not just hyperbole? Sure.
Jordan Howard (1,178 yards) is approaching the Bears’ rookie rushing record after his sixth 100-yard game on Saturday. While injuries have slowed him a bit, including Saturday’s setback with concussion-like symptoms, 2016 first round pick Leonard Floyd has seven sacks on the season while steadily improving.
2nd round pick Cody Whitehair has been a solid addition at center his rookie season. Meanwhile linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard, safety Deon Bush and cornerback Deiondre’ Hall have made steady progress on defense.
Free agents signings this year have had hits (DT Akiem Hicks, LB Jerrell Freeman, LB Danny Trevathan) while others have been misses (OL Ted Larsen, OT Bobbie Massie).
“It’s a process for an organization to be built the right way,” said Pace. “I think to do that you’ve got to draft well and we’re doing that and I think we’ll deliver a team that they can be proud of.”
Translation: Have a little faith.
Will Bears fans return the favor? Perhaps they’ll be a bit silent on their answer for now.