A day later, Sunday’s bitter 16-15 playoff loss to the Eagles didn’t sting any less. But it will serve as motivation for a Bears team that enjoyed a resurgent 2018 season.
That was the general consensus expressed by players who spoke to the media Monday after cleaning out their lockers at Halas Hall. They conceded that while it will take some time to get over the wild-card defeat, they’re very positive about the future.
“I don’t think much has changed since yesterday,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara. “The reality is what it is: we’re out. We weren’t looking forward to this day and we didn’t want this day to come, but I would say one thing: A lot of guys are optimistic and we’re definitely excited and proud of ourselves for what we’ve built and we’re looking forward to next year. But I would say a lot of the guys are still a little heart-broke from what happened yesterday.”
After four straight last-place finishes, the Bears went from worst-to-first in Matt Nagy’s first season as head coach, winning the NFC North for the first time since 2010 with a 12-4 record. It was the Bears’ best mark since 2006 when they went 13-3 en route to winning the NFC championship.
Knowing what they’re capable of, players will return in 2019 hungrier and more confident than ever.
“I’m always optimistic about the next chapter, the next step,” said defensive back Sherrick McManis. “That continues. It didn’t end like we wanted it to. It hurts our heart a little bit. I’m very positive with what’s to come. Just like any other year, you’ve got to put in the work to get in that position. I know we’ve got the guys in this room [that will].”
The season came to an abrupt end Sunday when Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright and the crossbar before bouncing back on the field of play with :05 remaining, enabling the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles to escape with a one-point victory.
Although you couldn’t tell by perusing social media, Parkey clearly was not the only reason the Bears lost. The offense generated only one touchdown, settling for three Parkey field goals on its only three red-zone possessions, and the defense yielded a 60-yard drive that ultimately resulted in the winning TD with just :56 left in the game.
“It sucks, man, because I knew we had the team to really get far in the playoffs, and losing last night really hurt,” said outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. “But I know what we’ve got now on defense and our offense. So I’m looking forward to us coming back next season even stronger.
“Just getting that taste of the playoffs, everybody wants to get back to the playoffs and make a big push, so next season we’ll have that mindset of getting back to where we were at and finishing.”
Players who helped the Bears win their final four regular-season games and nine of their last 10 never expected to be cleaning out their lockers Monday.
“To wake up and to not have a game this week is pretty crazy,” said receiver Allen Robinson II. “Even sitting here talking about it now, it’s pretty crazy. With this team it was never a thought where we didn’t think we could go all the way. That’s the biggest thing; when you [have] Super Bowl goals, to come up short is tough. It wasn’t like we were a team going into Week 17 knowing it was our last game. We thought we had four more weeks left.”
“Anybody who loves football, if you don’t get an opportunity to go out and practice and play the following week, it’s a tough one,” said guard Kyle Long. “Being that we were in the playoffs last night, it’s a little bit tougher.”
Long perfectly summed up a fun and exciting season that didn’t end the way anyone in the Bears locker room wanted it to or expected it to.
“We made tremendous strides as a group,” he said. “We formed an identity. And we left some unfinished business out there.”