Mediocrity is the worst place to be in sports. It’s paralyzing. It’s a trap. The best teams win championships, while the worst fire everybody and get to start over with the first pick in the draft.
The Chicago Bears were 8-8 last year, and after barely beating the mediocre Minnesota Vikings 33-27 Sunday, they are 7-7 this year.
The Bears are stuck. People talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. No one talks about the confusion in between, which is much worse. It’s possible that in 13 days, the Bears will finish their season and say goodbye to general manager Ryan Pace, coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Or they could beat rival Green Bay, get into the playoffs and welcome everybody back. The answer to whether the Bears are good or bad is this:
They’ve been very good the past two weeks. They were terrible for a month and a half before that. Progress? No. The arrow just points up and down at the same time.
It suddenly looks like Trubisky, Pace and Nagy aren’t good enough to keep their jobs, but not bad enough to fire. That’s the paralysis of mediocrity.
To me, they’re all bad enough to fire, especially Pace. Team president Ted Phillips, too, whatever he does. And if it were possible to fire the Halas/McCaskey family ownership, I’d be all for that too. Or maybe they could hand over management. I’ve suggested former Cubs architect Theo Epstein. He thinks big, sets goals.
The McCaskeys never think big.
Here’s what I mean: No one has been worse this year than the New York Jets. Their fans were celebrating the terrible season because an 0-16 record would finally land them their next Joe Namath: Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence who, everyone knows, will go first in the draft.
Then, the Jets beat the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, 23-20, and ruined their perfect season. Because the Jets spent just three hours being mediocre, Jacksonville is going to get Lawrence now.
Mediocrity is a fungus. It just tricks you at times by masking as greatness. So the Bears started this season 5-1, then went 0-6. Now, they’ve won two in a row and will beat Jacksonville next week. Probably.
On Sunday, Trubisky was — gulp — excellent. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. He rallied his team before the game and was comfortable during it. Nagy had him rolling out of the pocket, meaning he had to manage only half the field. And when there was room, Trubisky would run, which completely messed up the Vikings’ defense.
A few weeks ago, behind immobile quarterback Nick Foles, the Bears managed 149 yards of offense and lost to the Vikings. On Sunday, they had 397.
At one point late in the second quarter, Trubisky could have gone to the QB slide around the 5-yard line. Instead, he put his head down and rammed into the defense trying to score. He was tackled at the 1. Believe me, his teammates noticed.
Trubisky is playing much better since he came back from being benched, and Chicagoans are wondering if he’s finally developing. Are they going to end up having suffered through his developmental years and then watch him become Patrick Mahomes somewhere else?
That’s exactly the type of question mediocrity makes you ask.
And the Bears have been better overall since Nagy started making changes. He reconfigured his offensive line, gave the play-calling job to his offensive coordinator, and stopped letting Trubisky stand in the pocket, where he’s terrible. And after 2½ years of saying every week that the offense has got to run more, Nagy finally figured out how to hand the ball off. David Montgomery ran for 135 yards Sunday.
Did we suffer through rookie-coach Nagy’s developmental years? Will Chicago now let him go to another team, where he’ll turn into Bill Belichick?
Remember, Chicago: It took Nagy 2½ years to decide to run. Belichick would call that a halftime adjustment.
Trubisky gave the Bears the reminder they needed. Just as he was about to put the game away, he threw a terrible interception into coverage in the endzone. It almost cost the Bears the game, which would have cost them the season.
Don’t be fooled. Sneaking into an expanded playoffs to get crushed in the first round is not meaningful progress. If Trubisky beats Aaron Rodgers to make that happen, Chicago will not see it that way.
But everyone still needs to go. Trubisky is never going to win a Super Bowl. The Bears do not have the beginnings of a Super Bowl team.
In this era, you can rebuild in two or three seasons. It took Pace six years to go 8-8, then 7-7. It took Nagy 2½ years to make an adjustment.
The paralysis of mediocrity is not a destination. Believe me, even when the glass is half full, it’s still always half empty.