Home Sports The 10 most significant days of 2022 for the Chicago Bears

The 10 most significant days of 2022 for the Chicago Bears

by staff

The Chicago Bears will hold their final practice of 2022 on Friday afternoon in Lake Forest, then fly to Detroit to ring in 2023 with a New Year’s Day game against the Lions at Ford Field.

At Halas Hall, it has been an extraordinarily eventful calendar year complete with a regime change, a major roster overhaul and a flurry of Justin Fields highlights. After Sunday’s game in Detroit, a Week 18 date with the Minnesota Vikings will wrap up the season.

As the countdown to 2023′s arrival nears, here’s our look back, in chronological order, on the 10 most important dates of 2022 for the Bears.

What happened: The Bears fired general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.

The rundown: A day after closing their 2021 season with a 31-17 loss to the Vikings to finish 6-11, Pace and Nagy exited Halas Hall for the final time, fired after their once-promising union wound up stuck on a disappointing track.

A 12-4 run to the NFC North title in their first season together in 2018 created a wave of hope and belief. But Pace and Nagy struggled to find ways to sustain that success and were done in by their collective inability to unlock the offense or elevate the team’s quarterback play. From 2019-21, the Bears went 22-27 and, for myriad reasons, switched starting quarterbacks 10 times. Pace’s seven-season run as GM ended with a 48-65 regular-season record and zero playoff victories. In announcing the firings of Pace and Nagy, Chairman George McCaskey also announced he would take over the supervision of the new Bears GM — with team President/CEO Ted Phillips asking to move away from those responsibilities in order to devote more focus to the organization’s pursuit of a new stadium.

What we wrote: It seemed to be just another confusing chapter in the Bears’ frustrating existence, leaving an increasingly aggravated fan base with a familiar beatdown feeling.

The Bears don’t get it. They still don’t get it.

With a chance to establish new direction after dismissing Nagy and Pace, with a chance to reinvigorate the masses by expressing a clear and energizing vision, McCaskey instead told the outside world he’s just a fan running one of the most tradition-rich franchises in sports.

So why exactly do the Bears have such unwavering confidence in the structure of their hierarchy?

Quote of note:I’m just a fan. I’m not a football evaluator. As a fan, what I see is a dynamic player with a lot of potential, a lot of ability, a lot of heart and a strong work ethic. We are looking for a general manager and a head coach who can develop not just the quarterback position but the talent around him, establishing a strong defense to help the quarterback and to bring the Bears to success.” — McCaskey, when asked for his assessment of Fields

Advertisement

New Bears coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles pose with a helmet after being introduced on Jan. 31, 2022, at Halas Hall.

What happened: The Bears introduced Ryan Poles as general manager and Matt Eberflus as coach.

The rundown: After the Bears brought in Bill Polian to become the engine of the five-person search committee for a new GM and new coach, the Bears held interviews with 25 candidates for those positions over two weeks. They settled on Poles and Eberflus, who were formally introduced at Halas Hall.

Poles, 36, arrived after a 13-season stint climbing the ladder in the Kansas City Chiefs front office. Eberflus, 51, arrived after 13 seasons as an NFL assistant coach, including the previous four years as Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator. Both expressed excitement for their opportunities and optimism about where they could lead the Bears.

Said McCaskey: “Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus both possess the qualities we’re looking for in our team. Tough. Gritty. Smart. Opportunistic. Winners.”

What we wrote: These gatherings tend to become a little templated by nature. Thus it was no surprise that there were a few pep rally-esque proclamations made. Poles, for example, gave aspiring T-shirt makers their first opportunity to start workshopping ideas when he sent a confident warning to the rest of the Bears’ division: “We’re going to take the North and never give it back.”

Eberflus, meanwhile, not only offered up a foundational acronym HITS. — for hustle, intensity, takeaways and situational smarts — he also stressed his aim to encourage, inspire and challenge his players.

“You have to have the kind of heart and mindset to be able to challenge these guys,” he said. “Push them to places they couldn’t be able to go to themselves.”

Poles promised to run a front office guided by communication and candor. And Eberflus warned his new players to be ready to be gassed: “Get your track shoes on, because we’re running.”

Quote of note: “We’re going to have a relentless approach to fix our weaknesses. We’re going to have great self-awareness of who we are. We’re going to solve problems with open communication and candor. And we’re going to consistently put players in positions to succeed.” — Poles

Advertisement

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack jogs on the field in preparation for a game against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 26, 2021.

What happened: The Bears traded standout pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers six days before the NFL’s new league year began.

The rundown: Mack’s arrival via trade on Labor Day weekend in 2018 became a major catalyst for the Bears’ run to the NFC North championship. But he exited Chicago in much quieter fashion, dealt in exchange for a 2022 second-round pick — which the Bears later used to select safety Jaquan Brisker — plus a 2023 sixth-rounder.

While Poles remained hesitant to use the word “rebuild” as he began his roster reshaping, his actions spoke volumes. Trading Mack was the first indicator that the Bears were shifting their competitive focus toward a future they believe can be brighter.

It’s not that Mack wasn’t productive as a Bear. Over four seasons, he recorded 36 sacks and forced 14 fumbles. But he battled a series of injuries over his final three seasons, wound up on injured reserve with a left foot injury for the final two months of the 2021 season, turned 31 in February and would have had a salary-cap hit north of $30 million for 2022 had the Bears kept him.

What we wrote: If Poles doesn’t believe the Bears roster is positioned for a playoff run right away — and it certainly doesn’t look as if it is — the time to trade Mack was now. Paying a player entering his ninth season near the top of scale for pass rushers wouldn’t make a lot of sense for a team entering a transitionary phase.

Quote of note: “There are a lot of things with analytics, age, play time (that go into it). Then there’s a timing mechanism as well. If you wait (to trade him), what does that look like? If you do it now, what does that look like? We just thought right now it would allow the Bears to have more ammunition to add more players.” — Poles

Advertisement

Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi reacts after an injury during a wild-card playoff game against the Raiders on Jan. 15, 2022.

What happened: The Bears rescinded a three-year, $40 million contract offer to Larry Ogunjobi after failing the free-agent defensive tackle on his physical examination.

The rundown: Poles made his first big swing in free agency by pursuing Ogunjobi and reaching terms on a deal worth $26.35 million guaranteed. Poles believed the 305-pound Ogunjobi could become an engine for the Bears’ defensive rebuilding efforts.

But four days after agreeing to terms on that deal, Ogunjobi didn’t pass his physical exam. He suffered a foot injury in the Cincinnati Bengals’ wild-card-round win over the Las Vegas Raiders in January and needed surgery shortly after. The recovery progress wasn’t good enough for the Bears to finalize the deal, sending both parties in new directions.

The Bears signed Justin Jones as their Plan B the same day. Ogunjobi eventually signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers in June. It was an unfortunate twist as Poles put together his first free-agency class with Jones, Lucas Patrick, Nick Morrow, Byron Pringle and Al-Quadin Muhammad.

What we wrote: What exactly popped up in the physical that the team wasn’t anticipating when they originally agreed to terms with Ogunjobi? And during that three-day span, how might Poles’ approach in the free-agency market have differed if he had known things weren’t going to work out with Ogunjobi?

Quote of note: “We have a process. I’m going to listen to our doctors. I’m going to look at the evidence and go with what I think is right for the organization. The toughest thing I’ve had to go through — it was emotionally draining — was to deny someone an opportunity when you have this verbal agreement. That tore me to pieces. I sat in the back of the car and I had a conversation with the kid and let him know what my job was and from my perspective what we had to do. That was hard. Really hard. Because I was excited about him.” — Poles

Advertisement

What happened: Amid a tense contract standoff, linebacker Roquan Smith made a trade request.

The rundown: Smith’s desire to sign a long-term extension with the Bears included requests that he be rewarded as one of the league’s best off-the-ball linebackers and one of the game’s premier defenders. His hopes of landing a landmark deal with an average-annual value near $20 million and/or a total worth of $100 million or more, though, led to negotiation tension when Poles and the Bears weren’t willing to grant Smith’s wishes.

What began with some minor friction — Smith chose to stage a “hold in” for the first 3½ weeks of training camp — escalated when Smith used NFL insider Ian Rapoport to tweet a 345-word statement in which Smith accused the Bears of refusing to negotiate in good faith and “trying to take advantage of me.” Most significantly, Smith requested to be traded.

Smith and Poles eventually agreed to bury the hatchet — at least temporarily. The linebacker returned to practice Aug. 20, and Poles praised him for his professionalism and preparation focus. But the strain on the relationship was undeniable. And with neither side willing to build a bridge toward a contract compromise, Smith’s requested exit eventually came in late October.

What we wrote: Poles said he is disappointed with where negotiations stand and thought they would be in a better place given his appreciation for what Smith has done on the field over his first four seasons.

Asked if he intends to trade Smith, Poles said: “Right now my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team. And we’re going to take it day by day. At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan Smith’s on this team.”

Quote of note: “My feelings for Roquan haven’t changed at all. He’s a very good football player. I love the kid. I love what he’s done on the field, which makes me really disappointed with where we’re at right now. I thought we’d be in a better situation, to be completely honest with you.” — Poles

Advertisement

Chicago Bears President and Chief Executive Officer Ted Phillips speaks during on a panel on June 9, 2019.

What happened: In an interview with The Athletic, team Presidentand CEO Ted Phillips announced his plans to retire in February 2023.

The rundown: With the blessing of McCaskey, Phillips cemented his decision to retire after this season, signaling the end of an era in which he served in the Bears front office for 39 years, including the last 23 as president and CEO. Phillips, 65, expressed pride in the organization’s efforts to rebuild Soldier Field in the early 2000s and also vowed to continue working on the Bears’ exploration of a potential new stadium in Arlington Heights.

What we wrote: Phillips at least acknowledged that the Bears’ inability to win regularly over the last two-plus decades has been “my biggest disappointment.” Understandably so.

In the most cutthroat sports league on the planet, the Bears have failed to truly grasp how laser-focused, persistent and meticulous the entire operation has to be to even open a door for potential sustained success.

With Phillips in the president’s post since 1999, the Bears have had more seasons end with last-place finishes (eight) than with a playoff appearance (six). The team has only three postseason victories during that span and a truly mediocre 177-192 regular-season record.

The Bears have posted consecutive winning seasons only once — in 2005 and 2006, with that latter season producing a Super Bowl appearance. But that brief high has since been followed by 15 seasons (and counting) of extended mediocrity plus a half-dozen different GM-coach combinations, including the current Poles-Eberflus union.

Quote of note: “The Achilles’ heel of the Bears for many decades has been to have the right quarterback in place who is not only talented but can lead and raise the talent level around him. In my opinion, having the head coach or general manager report differently would not have changed any of that.” — Phillips, to The Athletic

Advertisement

What happened: The Bears opened the Eberflus era with a rain-soaked 19-10 upset of the San Francisco 49ers.

The rundown: In the moment, the season-opening victory felt like a possible catalyst to the start of something surprising. The Bears played with focus, unity and endurance and scored the game’s final 19 points to topple a strong 49ers team that remains a Super Bowl contender.

The biggest highlight was Fields’ incredible off-script 51-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis in the third quarter, the play that ignited the Bears’ comeback. The snapshot moment — and perhaps of the entire season — was the Slip ‘N Slide celebration after the offense’s final victory formation kneel-down during a torrential downpour that turned Soldier Field into a swimming pool. The fun of that moment and the beauty of the images captured will be cemented as part of Fields’ legacy.

What we wrote: Just before the final play, Fields heard a teammate make the suggestion. He’s not sure who said it, maybe an offensive lineman. But the Bears quarterback immediately agreed.

“Oh, yeah, everybody’s got to do it,”Fields told his teammates.

So after Fields took the snap from center Sam Mustipher and kneeled to run out the clock, he popped back up, tossed the ball behind him and raced 20 yards to the Soldier Field end zone.

With left tackle Braxton Jones and tight end Cole Kmet on his tail, Fields dived headfirst across the rain-soaked grass, spreading his arms wide in a Superman pose, a giant smile under his helmet, a spray of water shooting out from underneath him.

Quote of note: “Man, this feels good. Nobody is surprised inside this locker room. Everyone on the outside is way more surprised. We know what we’ve got. We’re going to surprise a lot of people with the way we work. No one works harder than us. And the mindset we have with what we’re building is something special.” — Bears safety Eddie Jackson

Advertisement

What happened: The Bears went to Foxborough, Mass., and blew out Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots 33-14.

The rundown: At the time, it felt like a true signature win, a dominant performance across all three phases against a respected opponent on “Monday Night Football.” The victory seemed to illuminate the Bears as a team on the rise. Eleven nights after their demoralizing 12-7 home loss to the Washington Commanders, the Bears regrouped, made adjustments and went nuts in prime time at Gillette Stadium.

After Patriots rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe came off the bench to lead two first half touchdown drives that gave his team a 14-10 lead, the Bears responded. And never stopped responding. The Bears outscored the Patriots 23-0 over the final 35 minutes. Rookie defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Brisker contributed interceptions to a three-takeaway night. Fields was turned loose on a higher volume of designed runs and contributed 179 passing yards, 82 rushing yards and two total touchdowns to the blowout.

Who would have ever known that would be the Bears’ last victory of the calendar year, preceding what is now an eight-game losing streak?

What we wrote: As the team left Foxborough, none of the Bears players were getting out over their skis with a grander-than-required, big-picture interpretation of the victory. So much more will be needed from this group in the weeks and months ahead to reach any proverbial turning point. But on one night, with the bright lights shining on them, the Bears believe they showcased what they are made of and what they are capable of becoming once they can find consistency.

Brisker, for what it’s worth, had a wide smile as he processed the night.

“If we keep rolling like this with everybody doing their job, we’re just getting warmed up,” he said.

Quote of note: “Our motto this week was ‘finish everything.’ I’m proud of everybody with the way they prepared this week and the way they performed today.” — Fields

Advertisement

Bears linebacker Robert Quinn signs autographs after a preseason game on Aug. 13, 2022, at Soldier Field.

What happened: The Bears traded pass rusher Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The rundown: Two days after their most impressive win of the season — that 33-14 throttling of the Patriots — the Bears again demonstrated their focus on the future by dealing a three-time Pro Bowl player and the franchise’s single-season sacks record holder. Quinn, 32, had contributed only one sack in the first seven games of 2022 and wasn’t going to remain with the Bears beyond this season. So Poles’ move to deal him a week before the trade deadline in exchange for a fourth-round pick was practical and logical, even if it shook the locker room.

It also put Poles in a trading mindset. The following week, he also shipped Smith off, receiving a second-round pick back from the Baltimore Ravens while dealing the Bears’ 2023 Round 2 pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for receiver Chase Claypool.

What we wrote: The move wasn’t necessarily surprising. But it was jarring nonetheless, most notably because of how respected Quinn has been inside the Bears locker room. Reporters learned of the trade while Smith was conducting an interview inside the PNC Center. As the Quinn news fully settled in across the room, Smith broke down, fighting back tears and ultimately cutting his interview session short so he could compose himself.

“Yeah, man,” he said. “Sucks. I have a great deal of respect for that guy. Man. Crazy.”

And that’s all Smith could muster before the emotion got the better of him and he left the room. That represented the human side of a business decision.

Quote of note: “I’ve talked about that a lot — the locker room and what it means and the culture. It sucks to mess with that, to be completely honest with you. But again, my job is to do what’s best for this organization, not only now but in the future. I felt like that was the best move for us to make.” — Poles on trading Quinn

Advertisement

What happened: In the Bears’ 35-32 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Fields rushed for 178 yards, a single-game regular-season NFL record by a quarterback.

The rundown: On his way to becoming just the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Fields delivered his biggest explosion against the Dolphins, breaking Michael Vick’s 20-yearrecord of 173 rushing yards. Fields’ biggest run was a 61-yard touchdown scramble, a bit of off-script magic that electrified Soldier Field.

Three days later, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Four days after that, Fields rushed for 147 yards in a home loss to the Detroit Lions. It was all part of an entertaining, exhilarating and record-setting stretch in which Fields announced he had become one of the game’s most dangerous playmakers.

Fields went on to set the Bears’ franchise record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. He set an NFL career record with three touchdown runs of at least 50 yards — something he accomplished in a four-game span. He established himself as the Bears’ undeniable franchise quarterback and the nucleus of what the team will try to build around.

What we wrote: To Fields’ credit, his abilities as a runner are special and oftentimes breathtaking. There were moments when the Dolphins defenders seemed like third graders trying to catch a rabbit in the park.

“He’s as fast as any skill-position runner,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “Like he is really, really fast. And he can cut and break tackles. There are a lot of running quarterbacks. This one in particular is very elite and adept at that.”

Even in a loss, Fields’ brightest moments kept Chicago’s fountain of hope flowing.

Quote of note: “It was like, ‘Holy cow!’ When he took off past me, it was pretty nice. I don’t know if there’s anybody else in the league that can do that. Really. That was pretty special.” — Tight end Cole Kmet on Fields’ 61-yard touchdown run

Related Articles

Leave a Comment