By Greg Gabriel-
(CBS) With the Bears coming off two straight wins at home against the Vikings and Bucs, there was a feeling heading into Thursday's game against the Lions that just maybe this team could turn the season around and maybe challenge for a playoff spot. Also in Chicago's favor was that it was playing a Detroit team that had lost two in a row. Play aggressive, mistake-free football and a victory could be had.
Yet what was worrisome to me about the Bears' recent play was the lack of consistency not only game to game but also from the beginning of the game until the end. In the losses to New England and Green Bay, there was no consistent effort. In the win against the Vikings, the Bears came back to play perhaps their best game since beating the Falcons. They played with emotion, limited mistakes and took control of the game. Being that they were playing their former boss last Sunday in Lovie Smith, I thought we would see that same effort against the Bucs. We did -- in rallying for the win in the second half after the team failed to show up in the first half.
Anytime an NFL team plays on a Thursday following a Sunday game, it's tough to prepare. The linemen, especially, don't get their usual recovery time, and preparation time is more than cut in half. Having to play on the road makes it even more difficult.
As I mentioned on the 670 The Score Bears pregame show Thursday, while many were under the assumption that Detroit usually played well in the annual Thanksgiving Day game, that hadn't been the case in recent history. While the Lions beat the Packers easily in 2013, they lost their three previous Thanksgiving games.
I also mentioned that in order for the Bears to win, they had to get off to a quick start and get an early lead. If that happened, Detroit -- which has a history of being an undisciplined team -- could fall apart.
I was right on the first part, but it ended there. The Bears forced the Lions into a three-and-out with their first possession and then went downfield for a quick score. A little later in the quarter, with the Bears holding a 7-3 lead, Jared Allen forced and recovered a Matthew Stafford fumble at the Lions' 5-yard line. It took the Bears all of two plays to score and go up 14-3. I was feeling good about my pregame thoughts.
Unfortunately, it ended there. The Bears defense that had been playing with aggression all of a sudden was becoming passive, and we saw no emotion. Football is an emotional sport, and in order for a team to succeed in any game, they have to play with emotion and a high intensity level for four full quarters. The Bears' emotion ended after their second touchdown, and the Lions dominated from there in a 34-17 win.
That has been the story of this season, and what we have to ask ourselves is why? On paper, this is a talented Chicago team. Sure, injuries have had an effect on the team, but that happens to every team, every year. The good teams learn how to overcome injury.
Last year we saw a team that was probably the most efficient offensive team in recent memory. The feeling was that with all the key offensive players back and this being the second year in coach Marc Trestman's offense, the offense would be one of the better units in the NFL.
In 2013, most of the problems with the team were on defense. While the offense could score, the defense couldn't stop anyone. In the offseason, the Bears went about trying to rectify that problem. Gone were the players who weren't playing up to expectations. Changes were made to the defensive scheme so it would be more to coordinator Mel Tucker's liking, and new players were brought who could be productive in the new scheme.
Almost all the new players acquired in free agency and the draft were on defense. The thinking was, "We fixed the offense last year, this year we fix the defense." I agreed with the philosophy, and I bought in. I had done a lot of tape work on the new defensive players, and I agreed that these players were the right guys to help turn the situation around.
The problem is, it hasn't worked.
The offense isn't close to what it was a year ago, and while this year's defense is giving up one fewer point per game, it's been worse for long stretches. There's an obvious disconnect between the players and the coaches. Good NFL players don't play with the lack of emotion that the Bears players have shown, unless there's some sort of disconnect.
Right now, the players on this team are going through the motions. A lack of leadership in the locker room is part of the problem, but there seems to be no leadership coming from the coaching staff either. Not only are the players showing no emotion with their play, the coaches are showing no emotion on the sideline. It's almost as if they have all given up.
That 's completely unacceptable.
If the players aren't buying into the coach's philosophy, so what? They are obligated to themselves and their employer to play at 100 percent all the time. When I was with the Bears, I had a conversation with Olin Kreutz about the player/coach relationship. He said to me that he may be old-school, but it was his belief that regardless of whether you liked, respected or agreed with a coach, he was the coach, which made him the boss. You did what he asked you to do, and you do it with max effort every play.
"That's the only way I know how to play," Kreutz told me.
That conversation stuck with me. It also told me that there was no excuse for poor play. If you play the way you are expected to play and play all out, most games should be close and winnable. Granted, this Bears team doesn't have anyone like Kreutz to lead them, but that doesn't mean the players are any less obligated to play all out. They owe it to themselves.
With four games remaining on the schedule, things look bleak. Three of the four remaining games are against clubs still fighting for a playoff berth. The Bears could play the role of spoiler, but the way this team has performed this year, I have no confidence that will happen.
When this season ends, some tough decisions have to be made in Halas Hall. Going forward, we have to hope that the decisions made are the right decisions. I just hope money doesn't play a role in making those right decisions.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who has been an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.
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