Bernstein: All eyes on Halas Hall after Bears' meek exit

Clarity on general manager Ryan Pace's future should come in the next few days.
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(670 The Score) So that whole making-the-playoffs thing was fun, huh?

Now we find out if it actually mattered for a Bears team in a familiar spot, if an uncomfortable one. They exist in NFL purgatory of good enough to earn an extra game, only to have that chance expose just how far away they are from contention. It's time for actual decision-makers to draw some conclusions.

The Bears' 21-9 loss to a vastly superior Saints team ​Sunday was yet more confirmation of the fool's gold unearthed by late-season wins over also-rans. Against a real defense, any reinvigorated sense of identity is no match for speed, coverage and tackling. The Bears converted one third down all day, never fooled anyone with the boot actions and misdirection and couldn't make David Montgomery a factor at any point.  Punting the ball away midway through the fourth quarter down three scores was the ultimate, sorry admission that they knew trying to move the ball had become pointless.

Injuries to key weapons didn't help, but "next man up" turned into "next man bad" and then "next man ejected." Of course Javon Wims let a picture-perfect throw from Mitchell Trubisky slide untouched through his grasp in the middle of the end zone so perfectly as to be sorcery, after all the other aspects of the flea-flicker bomb worked to perfection. It might have been the Big Play That Changed The Game but more likely would've come out in the wash of an obvious mismatch.

Anthony Miller was asked earlier this week about the possibility of being instigated successfully by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson after the Saints defensive back got Wims kicked out of the first meeting between the teams on Nov. 1.

"Guys like that do what they do," Miller said. "Your bark can't be louder than your bite, and it's hard to bite, so I'm not worried about that."

He should've been, because Gardner-Johnson baited him into throwing a punch.

And after talking about raising its standards, the Bears defense gave us the same combination of missed tackles and lack of sacks that has now come to define it. Roquan Smith was missed, but his absence didn't keep Khalil Mack blocked or stop Eddie Jackson's feet. It certainly didn't make Jackson jump into the neutral zone on fourth-and-3, keeping a Saints drive alive that resulted in the Latavius Murray touchdown that made it a seemingly insurmountable 14-3 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.

So we're here, again, waiting to learn how all of this is received by Bears chairman George McCaskey, his mother and what we presume to be the other voices on the board of directors and in the building.

Does general manager Ryan Pace get to keep being the highest-ranking football authority? If not, it's a symbolic end, falling to the team in whose image he tried and failed to reshape the Bears.

Will Matt Nagy keep coaching them? Probably, by sheer weight of the inertia powered by both his general likability and the distaste the Bears may have for another search, though his presence would alter the perception of the GM job to potential candidates wanting a clean slate and a less complicated power structure.

But that's not how the Bears operate.

This is the same leadership that 10 years ago gave us a post-season press conference in which Ted Phillips admitted "massive change" was needed while also stressing the importance of "continuity." Such is their world.

Best bet is a similar reframing of the same kind of in-between within the next two days or so, just the newest way of allowing a little bit of fortuitously timed quality to mitigate overwhelming evidence of larger problems.

When the Bears assess evidence and try to learn lessons, history says they usually get it wrong.

Dan Bernstein is the host of the Dan Bernstein Show on middays from 9 a.m. until noon on 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.