THE MORNING AFTER: A season over the course of four playoff quarters

Bears

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 10: Mitchell Trubisky #10 of the Chicago Bears walks on the field ahead of the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 10, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS – It was 16 weeks of insanity condensed into three hours of football inside a dome with a couple thousand people in the “Big Easy.”

That nickname wouldn’t be fitting for the Bears for the 2020 season, and to be fair, any team in the NFL. They’ve all had to deal with the increased protocols and changes that made it possible to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But fans here in the Windy City had a different kind of pain when it came to their team. It’s one where hope for success was constantly countered with despair, as the things that were feared could plague the team this season came to pass.

That’s how it was during a 5-1 start, then a six-game losing streak, then three consecutive wins followed by a season-ending loss to the Packers. Encouragement and disappointment were there every step of the way, fittingly ending in another 8-8 season.

So can you blame anyone for not being psyched for this particular playoff run? Everyone knew all too well what could happen, and that exactly what did in the NFC Wild Card game against the Saints.

After losing their “mojo” the last month, the defense found it to deliver a strong performance despite missing Roquan Smith, Jaylon Johnson, and Buster Skrine. Pressure came at Drew Brees like many had hoped it would all season, they forced a turnover and nearly had another if Duke Shelley could have gotten his hand just a little more under the football.

New Orleans, the fifth-best scoring offense in the league, had just seven points late into the third quarter.

Full of hope? Thinking 5-1 and three-game winning streak? We’ll hear comes the figurative six-game losing streak – the offense.

Maybe it would have been different if Javon Wims didn’t drop arguably one of the best passes thrown by Trubisky in a Bears’ uniform on one of the best play calls of the season. But it slipped through his hands, just as another opportunity for the offense to show their improvement did.

They were 1-of-10 on third down and had just 140 total yards of offense until their final 99-yard drive padded their stat lines. So much for those four-straight 30 point games as the Bears scored just 25 in their final two games against elite NFL teams.

If they just could have gotten anything at all going, if that pass would have stayed in Wims’ hands, maybe things are a little different. At times painstakingly close to a break through, the Bears ultimately let their true selves show, which is that of an 8-8 team.

The last four months only bring more questions and fewer right answers for a team that seems stuck desperately in the middle. Arguments could be made to dismantle from top down or add here and there, but the championship window many hoped for after 2018 has shut.

Maybe Jimmy Graham had it right to just catch his final touchdown and just run off the field. Many who watched through it in 2020 and into the first two weeks of 2021 are doing the same as they get away from a season that taunted with home yet finished in despair.

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