In the fallout of the Bears’ Thursday Night Football loss to the Commanders, I saw quarterback Justin Fields take a fair amount of guff for this quote in his post-game press conference.
At the moment, it is hard to imagine someone telling Fields and these Bears that they’re “almost there.” Almost where? Close to what? And hearing it for how long? This new regime hasn’t even been here for 10 full months. It is tough to envision someone in that locker room telling a Bears team that has lost three consecutive games (and four of five) that they’re close to something good.
But it’s happening. And cornerback Jaylon Johnson is the one relaying the message.
“Close to winning,” Johnson said. “I feel like that comes from our coaches and I wouldn’t say they’re lying. I wouldn’t say they’re saying it just to say it. We are doing some things better. But a lot of that is overshadowed by the loss.”
“Considering how we’ve been losing these last few weeks, I think we’re pretty close,” Johnson said. “It’s just executing down the stretch. Like any team, there are things to improve. If we (had) won our close games, I feel like the conversations (about) this team would be different. But we’ve shot ourselves in the foot these last few games (that) we’ve lost at the end.”
When you put it *THAT* way, Johnson is right. And so are his coaches for framing it in this manner.
It’s true. The Bears have been close to winning games. Each of their last three games has been lost by eight points or fewer. In each of those games, late-game fumbles thwarted Chicago’s comeback chances. And in two of those games, a muffed punt was a turning point. These Bears have a small margin for error and can’t afford miscues like muffed punts or fumbles — let alone at crucial moments in the fourth quarter of games. But they happened. Hence, the Bears are on a three-game losing streak. And thus, leaving us searching for silver linings, moral victories, and explanations as to why coaches think the team is close when it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
But for me, Johnson’s quote is less about him pointing out that the Bears were X points away from tying or winning. And instead, it is more about him underscoring that they are doing some things better (but that is being overshadowed by the painful losses). That has to be tough on players. But, perhaps most important of all is that the Bears players feel like they’re improving. And If the Bears players feel like they’re making strides, then it makes sense to feel as frustrated as Fields felt after the loss on Thursday. When you work hard to reach a point, only to get knocked down, there is real pain to be had at that moment when the clock hits all zeros and your team is on the short end of the stick.
There was a real sense of apathy with last year’s Bears bunch when they bottomed out. That this team is still losing stinks. But that it doesn’t have that dark cloud over its head could mean brighter days are ahead. Probably not in the immediate future. But perhaps down the line.
The beauty of the NFL is that everyone gets a week to regroup. Players, coaches, fans … everyone. So when Johnson lays out the thin line between victory and defeat in this way, it has me antsy to see how the Bears bounce back on Monday Night Football against the Patriots.