LAKE FOREST – Two years ago, there was hope that a up-and-coming group of players from the Windy City might be able to take a promising season and make it historic.
That’s how much of a groove the Bears were in when the entered the playoffs in January, 2019 after a 12-4 season. With the best defense in football and an offense that showed some creative sparks as they were growing, the NFC North champions were a dark horse Super Bowl candidate.
It didn’t pan out, as a slow offensive performance and an unfortunate kick sent the Bears home after just a couple of hours of playoff football.
Now in 2020, the feeling is quite a bit different when it comes to the Bears as they enter the playoffs. Unlike 2018, they didn’t get into the postseason on their own, needing a loss by the Cardinals in Week 17 to get in after a loss to the Packers.
Inconsistency was the buzzword for this group, who started 5-1, lost six-straight, then won three of their last four games to squeeze in at 8-8. It’s not exactly created a buzz in Chicago as the Bears head to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, facing the second-seed Saints in New Orleans on Sunday.
Yet Matt Nagy has done what he can this week to emphasize that his group earned the spot in the postseason, pointing to their turnaround in the final corner of the season. Enthusiasm might not be the thing right now for this Bears’ team, but the opportunity is there, just as it was in was a magical 2018 campaign.
“Did we want to have a better year? Absolutely. Did we want to win a division? Absolutely. We’d love to do that every single year, and have a bye,” said Nagy. “But we don’t, and every year is different and these guys found a way to get to it, and now you go through this whole week of practice, and now we’re going to have an opportunity to see what we’re made of on Sunday.”
Should they pull off the upset, which would be one of the bigger ones in the playoffs in a while, it would reinvigorate those outside of the team who remains skeptical of where this franchise is headed. An 8-8 season in 2019 quelled the enthusiasm of the season before, and an uneven season has made this playoff appearance unlike any in franchise history.
It is worth nothing, however, that the last time the Bears had a less than stellar record heading in the postseason, the pulled out a victory. The 1994 team lost three of their last four games to get in at 9-7 yet went on the road on New Year’s Day and stunned the division champion Vikings in the Metrodome.
Maybe that can happen again, and anything can happen in the postseason. The Bears know that and are trying to grasp that mindset heading into Sunday.
“Finished the season off strong, wish we’d finished little stronger, but you know how it is. We got a little help, we’re in the playoffs. It’s a new opportunity, it’s new life,” said offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. “We starting this thing 0-0, all teams are, and if you don’t have that mindset, then you’re crazy. Whatever you did in the regular season does not matter.
“So we’re about to go in there and try to be 1-and-0. That’s all we’re gonna do.”
Getting the chance to do so is the thing in a bizarre 2020.
See more on the Bears on Chicago Football Weekly with Jarrett Payton and Lauren Magiera on Saturday at 6 PM on WGN-TV.