The Minnesota Vikings will play their third prime-time game of the season when they head into Chicago Monday night looking for their eighth win in their last nine division games. They are going up against a Bears team that is 1-6, but isn’t as bad as that record would indicate.
Like the Vikings, the Bears have been beset by injuries on both sides of the ball. On offense, quarterback Jay Cutler is returning from a thumb injury that has sidelined him since Week 2, replacing Brian Hoyer, who suffered a broken arm and is out for the season. Running back Jeremy Langford is also expected back after the last four games and being replaced by rookie Jordan Howard.
Big things were expected from second-year pro Kevin White, a first-round pick in 2015 who missed his entire rookie season due to a leg injury. White caught just one pass before going on injured reserve.
Up front, the Bears have suffered significant injury losses. Center Hroniss Grasu was placed on injured reserve and both starting guards – Kyle Long and Josh Sitton – are question marks heading into Monday’s game. Long didn’t practice all week with a triceps injury and is listed as doubtful to play, while Sitton has been limited the last two practices with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable.
The same is true on defense, where injuries have taken an equal or greater toll. The team has already lost defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, linebacker Lamarr Houston and their top cornerback, Kyle Fuller, to injured reserve and they have even more walking wounded.
Starting nose tackle Eddie Goldman hasn’t practiced all week with an ankle injury and is ruled as doubtful for Monday. Linebacker Pernell McPhee has been limited in practice with a knee injury and is questionable, as is cornerback Tracy Porter, who has been limited all week with a knee injury.
The injuries Chicago has sustained have taken a toll on their 2016 season, but just as many of their problems have been self-inflicted and consistent throughout the season.
In the regular-season opener against Houston, the Bears led 14-10 at halftime and dominated the flow of the game, only to be outscored 13-0 in second half to come away with a loss.
The same script followed them against Philadelphia in Week 2. Chicago trailed 9-7 at halftime, but was outscored 20-7 in second half, allowing Carson Wentz to open up a big lead on his way to a 29-14 win.
Perhaps the most frustrating loss came in Week 5 against Indianapolis. Once again, the Bears had a lead in the second half – ahead 23-19 with four minutes to play, but allowed the Colts to score 10 points in the final four minutes to lose 29-23, dropping the Bears to 1-4 and taking them out of the playoff discussion.
If the Colts loss wasn’t hard enough to take, what happened at home against Jacksonville in Week 6 was even more disheartening. The Bears led 13-0 after three quarters and 16-7 with less than six minutes to play, but lost 17-16, allowing Jacksonville to score twice, including a 51-yard touchdown to Arrelious Benn with 2:49 to play.
Last week, the Bears opened the Week 7 schedule and the same scenario played out. The defense played well for a half and then collapsed. Chicago trailed just 6-3 at halftime, but was outscored by the Packers 20-7 in second half for a 26-10 blowout loss.
With the return of Cutler and the expected return of Langford, it is hoped that can provide a consistent scoring spark that has been missing from the lineup. If there has ever been a desperation game for a team in Week 8, it is this week for the Bears. Nobody can survive dropping to 1-7 and expect to make the playoffs – even if they run the table.
What may be the next question mark if things don’t improve is whether or not John Fox will keep his job. His hiring raised a few eyebrows because he brought with him the first 3-4 defense the Bears have ever run, which created its own set of problems. The Bears have always been a classic 4-3 defense and have drafted as such for decades and used free agent money to sign players that fit in that scheme. When Fox came in, he simply didn’t have the personnel to play that style – early last year, the Bears made headlines by getting rid of five defensive players on the same day, including Jon Bostic and former Viking Jared Allen.
The Bears are a team that should be better than 1-6, but have seemingly been snake-bit all season. With the Vikings coming off their first loss and looking to get back on the winning track, the Bears would appear to be an ideal opponent, despite their recent struggles at Soldier Field – losing seven of the last eight games played there.
Every season it seems there are a couple teams that are good enough to win games but don’t close them out and leave their fans frustrated and ownership contemplating heading in a different direction. It would appear that in 2016 no team exemplifies that frustration more than the Chicago Bears.