Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sounded an awful lot like Michael Jordan after outscoring the Bears 18-0 in the final frame of a 28-19 win Sunday at Soldier Field.
“The fourth quarter,” Rodgers said, “is winning time.”
The Bears had again proven the inverse, losing their sixth-straight game and ninth in 10 tries. Six of those have come by one score or less. Sunday might as well have been — until the Packers followed Christian Watson’s fly sweep with Rodgers’ two-point conversion pass to take a nine -point lead with 1:51 to play.
“I can’t even count on my fingers anymore how many close games in the end we’ve lost,” rookie tackle Braxton Jones said.
The Bears have been saying for two months how crucial it would be for the development of their young players to win a close game. That they haven’t is cause for concern, even as one acknowledges the team is rebuilding.
The Bears’ offensive improvement ends at the start of the fourth quarter. Entering Sunday’s game, the Bears were last in the league in fourth-quarter passer rating and fourth-quarter yards per pass. Sunday’s fourth-quarter drives ended in a missed field goal and two interceptions.
“The wins are going to start coming …” quarterback Justin Fields said. “I just can’t wait until they start coming. They’re going to start rolling in here soon, so [we] just gotta keep working and keep getting better.”
A defensive backfield missing four of its five starting defensive backs allowed the Packers to average 10.3 yards per play in the fourth quarter, not counting two Rodgers kneeldowns at the end.
“This is the NFL,” safety DeAndre Houston-Carson said. “That’s what it’s always gonna come down to — you gotta find a way to do it.”
The Bears have 14 rookies and four second-year players on their active roster. There’s no evidence they know how to win in the NFL. They’re also on perhaps the league’s worst roster — one constructed with little regard for the final score in 2022.
After trading Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn in October, the Bears are paying 43.7 percent of their salary cap to players no longer on their team, per Spotrac. Safety Eddie Jackson and receiver Darnell Mooney going to injured reserve last week meant the Bears are paying another 11.7 percent of their salary cap to injured players.
They took the field Sunday with 40.5 percent of their salary cap in uniform. The Packers had 77 percent. They’re not supposed to win regularly that way — but shouldn’t they win more than one out of 10 games?
“We have big plays, we’re driving, we’re doing good things,” Jones said. “I’m pretty sure all day we looked fairly unstoppable until we make a mistake.
“Good championship teams don’t say they shot themselves in the foot.”
No one will mistake this team for one. The 3-9 Bears became the second team to be eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, joining the Texans — one of three teams they’ve beaten this season.
With the league’s most salary cap space available in 2023 and a high draft pick — they’d draft second if the season ended today — the Bears will spend the offseason hoping to add winning pieces.
Until then, the Bears have four games to find out if their young players — not to mention their first-time head coach and first-time offensive coordinator — can find ways to win. Doing so would hasten their development, even if it costs them draft position.
“You have to find ways to get that done,” Eberflus said. “You have to find ways to close games out. We’re excited about these next four games to be able to get ourselves in position to do that.”