PHILADELPHIA – It popped on the television broadcast for about 35 seconds, but it was a nostalgic trip back to a better time.
It was an advertisement from the NFL meant to encourage proper tackling among younger players featuring Bears linebacker Khalil Mack. He was blowing past potential blockers for a big sack of a tackle for loss that became a calling card of his first season with the Bears.
One might say that it was a different time and a different era, even if it was only a year ago.
There were celebrations and production from Mack’s actions, and there were victories. In fact, there were 12 of them, and a division title, and a home playoff game. There was a dominant defense, creative offensive plays that lent the belief that a better future for that side of the ball, finally, was coming to Chicago.
There was “Club Dub” and a fan base re-energized after a decade of either close misses or complete incompetence. The Bears were simply a fun group in 2018, one that looked to present a new vision of the franchise entering another century of football.
But seeing that commercial on Sunday and then seeing the team as they played 60 minutes of uneven football in a loss to the Eagles makes fans of the Bears wondering if the 2018 season was just a dream.
Through eight games, it seems like it.
Matt Nagy’s second Bears team is 3-5 on the season and they’ve been a far cry from a year ago. The hope for the offense is dwindling, even with a strong late third and early fourth quarter that got them back into a game at Lincoln Financial Field they’d end up losing 22-14.
They gained nine yards in the first half. Just think about that for a second.
That’s taking a toll on the defense, who is already missing Akiem Hicks in the middle. They allowed two long drives after two three-and-outs by the offense, saving touchdowns when they shut down the Eagles in the shadow of the endzone.
Being on the field for over 40 minutes made for a tired unit on Philadelphia’s 8:14 drive to seal the game in the fourth quarter, which the defense allowed three-straight third down conversions.
Then there was the bobbled kick catch by Adam Shaheen that led to a turnover and the fifth loss of the season for the Bears.
If last year was the dream, this is the nightmare. So which one is a reality?
All of the positive moments have been countered by something negative from this season. If you remember the “Willy Wonka” or “Santa’s Sleigh” plays from last year, you then think of the opening night struggles or the inability to get touchdowns in the red zone.
Defensive big plays, a hallmark of the group from a year ago, have been few and far between, even if the unit has mostly done what they could to keep this team in games.
So as the Bears sit at the midway point, what are fans to make of what this Nagy era will be? Was it that 2018 dream year of the 2019 struggles? Is this coach one for the long-term for the Bears future or does he follow a Dick Jauron or Marc Trestman path.
Remember that former led the Bears to an improbable (and if you remember somewhat miraculous) 13-3 season in 2001 before two-straight losing seasons that led to his firing. A near NFC North title in the latter’s first season in 2013 was followed up by a 5-11 disaster that led to his ouster and a franchise rebuild.
There are eight games left for this team to find the magic again and maybe even make a playoff run. But this second half of the season is mainly for Nagy to prove which era for the team is closer to the reality fans will see in the coming years.
Right now, frankly, it’s hard to tell.