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Column: At a landmark moment in Chicago Bears history, team leaders need to raise the bar above ‘good enough’

The time was ticking away Sunday at Lambeau Field. On the third quarter. On the Chicago Bears season. On the opportunity to punctuate a late-season run of success with a statement upset of the rival Green Bay Packers.

This was it, a seemingly momentous game for the Bears. And here, in the season’s penultimate quarter, was another moment inside that moment, a potential Bears response drive that had moved toward midfield.

On second-and-4 from their 44-yard line, Justin Fields and the offense had an opening to be bold, a chance to reclaim momentum. A potential shot play was dialed up, with wide receiver Velus Jones in single coverage against rookie cornerback Carrington Valentine and streaking up the right sideline on a go route.

But the ball was never thrown. Perhaps feeling pressure from linebacker De’Vondre Campbell or perhaps skittish about letting one fly to Jones or perhaps worrying about a drive-killing turnover, Fields hitched, hesitated and then scrambled to his left for a 5-yard gain.

Maybe the deep shot to Jones wouldn’t have connected. Maybe Valentine would have broken it up or intercepted it. But the apprehension on that play seemed notable and familiar — perhaps even symbolic for a Bears team whose pursuit of excellence soon might require everyone within the organization to become just a little bolder, a little more daring.

That possession didn’t derail with Fields’ scramble, which produced a first down. But three plays later, after Fields was sacked on third-and-7 by spying linebacker Quay Walker, the Bears punted, still trailing by eight points and facing a steep climb in what ended as a dispiriting 17-9 loss.

So here we all are now, on the bridge away from another unfulfilling season — the Bears’ seventh in the last 10 years with at least 10 losses — and waiting for clarity and explanation from the top of the organization on what’s next. Monumental decisions are needed, a few likely coming very soon to push this team onto its desired path toward sustainable success.

Perhaps, for Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren and general manager Ryan Poles, this is their shot play, their opening to be bold, their chance to reclaim momentum for the franchise.

The waiting game

As of early Tuesday evening, there had been no word one way or the other on the job security of coach Matt Eberflus, who seems to be in good standing with Poles but hasn’t received assurance he will be back for his third season.

As much as Poles has lauded Eberflus for his steady leadership, his ability to build team chemistry and his character in handling extreme turbulence this season with tone-setting composure, perhaps the Bears higher-ups have been eager to at least scrutinize what the team actually achieved the last two years.

Eberflus, it should be noted, hasn’t led his team on a winning streak longer than two games and has a .294 winning percentage. The Bears are 2-10 in the NFC North under his guidance and 2-12 against teams that made the playoffs.

Progress from a resurgent defense counts as a plus for Eberflus. So do the energized late-season vibes inside the locker room — though those also took a dip Sunday in Green Bay. There’s a justifiable case for keeping continuity, for believing Eberflus can continue to get his team to climb. Maybe that’s the bold conclusion the Bears will come to and announce publicly this week.

But the organization, with Warren hired last winter as the main overseer of football operations, also owes it to itself to redefine what qualifies as accomplishment while beginning the heavy lift to raise the bar at Halas Hall.

At some point, things that have registered as “good enough” have to be viewed as inadequate, particularly at a landmark moment in team history in which the Bears have a rare opportunity to do just about whatever they want in the name of improvement this offseason.

Over the last 20 seasons, the Bears are tied for 26th in the 32-team NFL with five playoff appearances, ahead of only the Browns, Raiders, Dolphins, Jets and Lions. (Three of those teams, for what it’s worth, will be playing playoff football this weekend.)

The Bears’ last run of at least three consecutive winning seasons, meanwhile, ended when Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” topped the Billboard singles chart in 1988.

The Bears haven’t won a playoff game in 13 seasons and counting. They remain the league’s only franchise — and a charter franchise at that — never to have had a 4,000-yard passer. And that’s at the end of Season 104, one in which 10 NFL quarterbacks accomplished that feat, including Houston Texans rookie C.J. Stroud and first-year Packers starter Jordan Love, who both excelled in season-on-the-line games last weekend and propelled their teams into the postseason.

Level up

Perhaps nothing triggers the “Are the Bears OK with settling?” debate more than the ongoing evaluation of their quarterback situation. The court of public opinion remains polarized in assessing how good Fields is now and ultimately can be.

Fields’ most passionate supporters are drawn to his highlight-reel playmaking ability and mature leadership, with both seen as reasons to stay the course and keep building around the current QB1. That temptation is real.

Critics, meanwhile, see a quarterback who has been irrefutably inconsistent in some of the most critical aspects of the position. They acknowledge a massive risk in the Bears betting on “eventually” with a player who has averaged 174 passing yards over 38 starts and has missed more games (11) in three seasons than he has won (10).

The debates around Fields and the Bears’ future will only multiply and amplify over the next few months. For those with high blood pressure, Amazon has a deal on earplugs.

But inside Halas Hall, the chief decision makers must chase greatness with every internal discussion and every move they consider.

Which swings us back to Eberflus’ status and whether he can sell Warren and Poles on a vision to take whatever quarterback the Bears choose to roll with and launch the entire organization to new heights.

Will Eberflus go into his third season rebooting at both coordinator positions? And if so, who are his targets for that role on offense?

Will that inspire hope? Or should Poles and Warren embrace the idea of bigger change and find the best possible leaders to create a higher level of quarterback play — and, by extension, unlock the extended run of championship contention the Bears are shooting for?

Sure, that could mean living in the middle tier of NFL mediocrity for another season or perhaps even taking a small step back next fall. But if anyone watched all 17 Bears games this season through a critical lens and advocates making decisions with a “Must strike in 2024″ mindset, their focus is much too narrow.

For the Bears, this shouldn’t be about trying to squeeze through another rapidly closing window. They tried that before. Many, many, many times. And more often than not, they wound up like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner.

This crucial moment in team history, filled with opportunity, should be about finding the right combination of standouts at the most important spots — coach and quarterback, first and foremost — with the strength to hold that window open for a decade or longer.

Sounds appealing, right? That’s the goal. That’s the mission. It may require significant daring and boldness. And it most definitely requires the kind of deep, detailed discussion that’s ongoing inside Halas Hall.