The Bears' roller-coaster season ended in disappointment Sunday.
After recovering from a severe midseason swoon, the Bears rebounded to sneak into the playoffs. Their reward was a 21-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints, a team they had taken to overtime earlier in the season.
For coach Matt Nagy, the offseason will require an honest appraisal of the 2020 campaign.
"What we need to do in the next couple weeks is really start figuring out, 'OK, where are we? How do we get better?'" said Nagy. "We know this isn't good enough. What we need to do is do everything we can to be able to win a Super Bowl. That's the goal. The goal is not to make the playoffs."
Nagy pointed to the team across the field as the organization to emulate. He drew attention to the Saints' discipline and execution.
To accomplish that goal, the Bears will have to grapple with several questions about the 2020 season. Why was a 5-1 start followed by a six-game losing streak? Why did the defense lag as the offense gained steam? Why did the team finish 1-7 against playoff teams and 3-8 to end the season?
"We clearly went through some growing pains during that time, during that six-game skid, but we figured it out," said tackle Charles Leno Jr. "We showed some resilience, and we bounced back, found a way to make it to the playoffs. Things just didn't go our way."
After the game, Leno made a point of telling each player in the locker room that he appreciated him. The seventh-year tackle could take solace that his unit performed above expectations for the last six weeks of the season.
However, the offense managed only 140 yards against the Saints before a 99-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes when the game was out of reach.
"I think identity-wise as an offense," said Nagy, "you guys could see we felt like we created an identity. But how do we learn from that? Well, part of it is you see that in games like today, no matter what your identity is, you've always gotta be able to run the football."
Nagy clarified that the offense didn't need a 150-yard performance from running back David Montgomery every game. Still, the running game needed to be better to put the Bears in more manageable down-and-distance situations.
Montgomery finished the day with 31 yards on 12 carries.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky completed 19 of 29 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown. While his future in Chicago was in doubt for much of the season, he said he could see himself returning to build on some of the progress from late in the year.
"We'll see," said Trubisky. "There are a lot of things that have to happen and a lot of decisions that have to be made, and that's out of my control, but I can see [me returning]."
The coming days and weeks will be filled with evaluation from the coaching staff, with Nagy admitting that big decisions may be on their way.
"I just told the guys in the locker room that for us to get better," said Nagy, "and to be the team that we need to be, that's something that we'll do here in the offseason is make sure that wherever there is a weakness, we make it a strength, and that's gonna take everybody. Today wasn't good enough."
The Bears vaunted defense also faces a crossroads. Since the dominant performance of 2018, the unit has regressed in several areas. Despite heavy investment in the pass rush and secondary, the Bears tied for 16th in sacks and 25th in forced turnovers.
Seven players who started eight or more games on defense will be over 30 years old by the beginning of next season, including defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.
Hicks was dismissive of the idea that the defense has missed their window to lead the Bears to the Super Bowl.
"Whatever you think about," said Hicks, "whatever you believe in and how you talk about yourself, they tend to all be true. I tend to talk positively to myself, and I tend to believe there's always another opportunity. I sort of force myself into a positive state. I don't believe a window is closing. I don't believe that my opportunity is lost."
Hicks shared that defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano often says to players, "I'm not the man I want to be, but I'm better than the man I was today." Hicks has taken the saying to heart.
"When it comes to windows," said Hicks, "and when it comes to opportunities for this game, I realize where I'm at as far as being in my ninth year. But I also believe that I also have a lot of fight in me. I also believe there are better days to come."