by Lorin Cox
There is no such thing as a legitimate excuse for an NFL team that goes 3-13 in the second year of the same regime that went 6-10 in the previous season, as the Chicago Bears did under John Fox and Ryan Pace.
The type of historically bad season that this franchise had in 2016 should be unacceptable to Bears fans, and the two leaders of the team said as much in their post-season press conference on Wednesday, before they hypocritically blamed injuries as the excuse for their regression.
Bears fans are quick to point to the 19 players on injured reserve and give this team a pass for their first-ever 3-13 season, but if you really dig deep into this season and this team, injuries are not a valid excuse for total failure.
Take a look at specifically who those 19 players are and the number of games they spent on injured reserve, listed below.
OT Nick Becton (16 games)
CB Brandon Boykin (16)
DL Ego Ferguson (16)
CB Kyle Fuller (16)
C Hroniss Grasu (16)
LB Danny Mason (16)
QB Connor Shaw (16)
OLB Lamarr Houston (14)
WR Kevin White (12)
WR Marquess Wilson (12)
QB Brian Hoyer (9)
G Kyle Long (7)
DL Will Sutton (7)
TE Zach Miller (6)
QB Jay Cutler (5)
LB Danny Trevathan (5)
WR Eddie Royal (5)
OT Mike Adams (4)
NT Eddie Goldman (2)
Fuller, Grasu, Houston, and White were the only four players who were expected to be starters or major contributors that missed more than half of the season on injured reserve.
Then you have players like Long, Sutton, Miller and Trevathan that were all big injuries, but they all went down when the team was already 2-7, 2-8 or 2-9, and the season was lost before any of them got hurt.
Meanwhile, you have five guys on there (Becton, Boykin, Ferguson, Mason and Shaw) who were all bottom-of-the-roster players that weren't even guaranteed a 53-man roster spot.
Pace was actually smart to stash them on I.R. and keep them around, but they shouldn't count as lost talent that was hurting the Bears this season. You can throw the late season addition of Mike Adams in there too, who only played in a game and a half.
Yes, the Bears had a ton of other injured players who missed a lot of games not on injured reserve, but when you really sit down and go loss-by-loss through the season this year, it's hard to chalk up 13 of them to injury.
A season of disappointments
I'm willing to chalk up the first three losses of the season to the Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in consecutive weeks as the direct result of injuries and the lack of talent. From there though, that excuse really starts to run out.
The Bears won in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions, proving that they can actually win games against playoff teams, even with injuries and a backup quarterback, when they run the ball consistently and their defense makes some plays.
That is what made the loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the next game hard to swallow and impossible to dismiss as an injury-plagued contest. Brian Hoyer led the Bears on a 96-yard touchdown-scoring drive to give his team the four-point lead with seven minutes left in the game.
That was followed by the brilliant coaching decision to leave Jacoby Glenn matched up in single coverage against T.Y. Hilton, and the Colts torched the Bears down the field to retake the lead.
Hoyer still had another opportunity to drive down and take the lead, but Indianapolis keyed in on Dowell Loggains' predictable play calls and route concepts, and Chicago fell short.
The same thing happened the next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bears were up 13-0 after three quarters. Injuries did not blow that lead over a team that would finish equally bad at 3-13.
The Bears abandoned their running game and their defense completely folded.
The Week 7 loss to the Green Bay Packers is one that injuries definitely caused. Hoyer went down, and Aaron Rodgers torched the Bears' banged-up secondary. No arguments there.
Then the Jay Cutler-led Bears, who already had 11 players on injured reserve, took down the 5-2 Minnesota Vikings, showing once again that injuries were not a reason that kept them from winning decidedly against a quality opponent.
The loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the bye week is a tough one to nail down because of the turnovers, but it's still hard to say the Bears fell short in that one due to injuries because it was the healthiest they had been for quite a few weeks, and they beat the Vikings a week earlier with a more banged-up squad.
That game was followed by the Week 11 loss to the New York Giants, yet another game where the Bears were up seven at halftime, failed to adjust, abandoned the running game, and blew their lead in the third quarter before failing to come back. Injuries didn't make the team worse in the second half.
The next week against the Tennessee Titans, somehow and someway, Matt Barkley brought the Bears back in the fourth quarter, and Loggains continued to trot out wide receiver Josh Bellamy, who could not hold catch the ball.
He was not "forced" to play anyone. Pace can find receivers off the street who can catch the ball. Yet the inability to assess their own talent and field the best possible players for success kept them from getting the win, even with their third(!) starting quarterback of the season.
That was followed by a decisive win over the San Francisco 49ers that showed Barkley was capable of leading his team to victory in spite of injuries.
Then came another blown fourth-quarter lead in Week 14 to the Detroit Lions. That banged-up Bears' defense got a pick-six and held Matthew Stafford's offense to only 20 points. Injuries didn't stop Barkley from overcoming a first-half deficit, and injuries didn't prevent him from finishing off yet another comeback.
Discipline, personnel use and coaching did.
The same thing happened in the next game against Green Bay. Barkley threw three interceptions and still brought his team back from a 17-point deficit to tie it in the fourth quarter. Overtime was within reach, yet Fox's clock management gave Rodgers another shot, and they blew it again.
The last two losses to the Washington Redskins and Vikings were clearly because the team was too banged up and didn't have much fight left in them in a lost season.
Injuries only go so far
So where does that put the Bears season? The first three and the last two losses of the season were definitely talent and injury issues. Throw the first Green Bay loss and even the Tampa Bay loss in the same category, and you have seven losses that can be blamed on injuries. That's fine.
That still leaves you with six games (Colts, Jaguars, Giants, Titans, Lions, and Packers) that the Bears were in position to win (or at least send into overtime), and they blew it.
Injuries did not prevent the team from getting in position for success in each of those games, so you can't blame injuries for taking them out of position for success. If the Bears could overcome them for three quarters, why couldn't they for the fourth?
The common denominator was coaching decisions.
No one is asking this coaching staff to take a roster with 19 players on I.R. to the playoffs. That's an unreasonable expectation. That said, it is reasonable to expect more than three wins, especially when the team was in position to win several games down the stretch.
This regime has to work internally to solve the bigger issues that really forced this team to take a step back in 2016; issues that go beyond just missing players.