INGLEWOOD, Calif. — This is the time of year when you start to get the truth from the Bears. They won’t tell it to you directly, of course, but Rams defensive stars Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald have a way of extracting it on the field.
You can go all offseason claiming everything’s fine, as coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace did, and no one can disprove it — until the games start. And when the first game pitted the Bears’ delusion against the Rams’ reality, the decisive 34-14 loss in the opener Sunday can’t be a surprise to anybody who has been looking at them with clear eyes.
It seemed to sink in for Nagy.
”That was real football for everybody,” he said, hinting at how different the Bears looked sparring against themselves in practice, as opposed to tangling with a superb opponent.
”When you become one-dimensional against this team, look out.”
Well, sure, but that’s true against anyone. And saying his team was one-dimensional implied it at least was doing one thing well, which was a dubious claim on a night in which the Bears managed exactly two plays of 15 yards or longer and scored on two of their eight possessions.
Welcome back to another season of nip-and-tuck offense as the Bears’ offensive line somehow remains a perpetual work in progress, despite mountains of resources being thrown at the problem.
Welcome back to another season of the quarterback bracing for impact the moment he touches the ball, another season of Nagy calling plays that defenders anticipate as though they’ve been sitting in on his meetings and another season of the window closing on the Bears’ defense.
None of this would be as exasperating if the Bears had conceded this as a rebuilding season, moved forward with rookie Justin Fields at quarterback and geared everything toward being a legitimate contender down the road.
But the Bears refused. Chairman George McCaskey kept Pace despite the team’s 42-54 record under him — his teams have scored the fourth-fewest points in the NFL during that span — and kept Nagy despite his offense constantly tripping over itself and none of his quarterback expertise seeming to translate.
It sent them both into desperation mode, disregarding future salary-cap cramps and diminished draft classes, and the result was the Bears pouring everything they can into a season in which the ceiling is — hopefully — sneaking into the playoffs as a mediocre team, like last season.
On their way to selling that dream, the Bears declared the offensive line fortified, new quarterback Andy Dalton a game-changer, the secondary still staunch despite saying goodbye to cornerback Kyle Fuller and Nagy a changed man after seeing the light on his play-calling glitches.
They asked for trust at left tackle, in particular, as they went into the season with zero experience there — even counting college games — on the roster. It’s hardly shocking to see that backfire.
Plan A was second-round draft pick Teven Jenkins, a college right tackle. Plan B was 39-year-old Jason Peters, who exited before halftime after hurting his quad. Plan C was fifth-round rookie Larry Borom, who was out even quicker with an ankle injury.
They landed on Elijah Wilkinson, whose unreliability seemed to prompt the signing of Peters in the first place.
The Rams undressed every lie Sunday.
The Bears’ mirage lasted about three minutes, as Khalil Herbert’s 50-yard kickoff return, David Montgomery’s 41-yard run and Fields’ eight-yard pass got them to the Rams’ 3-yard line.
Then Dalton threw an interception in the end zone.
Then Matthew Stafford burned the Bears for a 67-yard touchdown pass. He hit them again for a 56-yarder early in the second half for a 20-7 lead that always feels insurmountable for this team.
Along the way, there were flashes by Fields, Montgomery and Marquise Goodwin, but the Bears couldn’t stay within punching range. That’s why Nagy got pressured into going for a fourth-and-15 from the Rams’ 30 while trailing 27-14 with more than 10 minutes left.
He went for it on fourth down four times, and the Bears didn’t convert any of them. On one of those, Nagy was certain his call sprung a man free, but Donald snuffed it out with a sack.
Those would-be and almost-were plays are a recurring theme.
”If that doesn’t happen, maybe we have a guy [open] and we get him down the sideline,” Nagy said.
But something always happens.
And even with Fields, the brightest spot on this team, Nagy self-sabotaged. He said afterward he wasn’t gauging how well it worked because he was locked into the plan of using him in isolated instances, regardless of whether he got any momentum going or whether it disrupted Dalton.
This is what it’ll look like when the Bears play good teams. Because regardless of what they tried to say in the offseason, they aren’t one.