Emma: Observations from Bears-Saints

The Bears' uninspiring playoff exit was another reflection of an average team.
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By 670 The Score

(670 The Score) The Bears bowed out of the playoffs in uninspiring fashion Sunday, losing 21-9 to the Saints on Sunday in a wild-card round game in New Orleans.

Here are the observations from Chicago's season-ending loss.

Average at best
At the beginning of the regular season, I wrote the following in my Tailgater column:

One way or another, the Bears need to find clarity in this 2020 season.

The Bears need to either be a playoff team and fulfill their potential for sustained success or fall short of expectations and enact organizational change. This needs to be a season of reckoning for them.

Perhaps I should've been more specific, as I didn't leave room for the outcome that took place. The Bears did reach the postseason -- but only by backing in by virtue of winning a tiebreaker to land the NFC's first ever No. 7 seed in an expanded field. In the loss to the Saints, they then played the same disheartening football that was on display for much of the season.

The Bears' season wasn't a success. They meandered to 8-8 in the regular season by beating bad teams and losing to playoff teams. Including Sunday, Chicago went 1-7 against opponents who made the playoffs.

Against a top-five defense Sunday, Chicago posted just 239 yards of offense -- a figure that was bolstered by going 99 yards in garbage time and scoring with zeroes on the clock. The Bears struggled to sustain drives, going 1-of-10 on third-down conversions. And their defense couldn't get off the field, allowing the Saints to go 11-of-17 on third-down conversions and amass 385 yards of offense.

The Bears dreamed of pairing a high-octane offense under the direction of coach Matt Nagy with a dominant defense. Instead, Chicago was 22nd in scoring offense and 14th in scoring defense in the regular season, when the Bears outscored foes 372-370.

All along, the Bears were the definition of an average team. They got outclassed by a true championship contender Sunday, confirming what we watched during the course of this season.

Take a chance
During the CBS halftime show Sunday, Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher called out the Bears for a far-too-safe game plan offensively.

"Way too conservative of an offense," Cowher said. "Give Mitch Trubisky -- throw the ball down the field, throw the ball on first down, give him a chance."

Cowher spoke for so many Bears fans frustrated by what they saw, as the disconnect between Trubisky and Nagy was showcased again.

The Bears had "nothing to lose," Trubisky had said leading up to the game, but Nagy certainly didn't get the message. The game plan was vanilla, failing to take many chances against a stifling Saints defense.

Take away the Bears' 11-play, 99-yard final drive against a Saints defense in soft coverage and Trubisky averaged 5.6 yards per pass attempt. Sixteen of Trubisky's 29 passes were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Bears took a chance with the trick play, but receiver Javon Wims dropped a would-be touchdown. The offense went conservative from there.

Nagy coached not to lose instead of playing to win -- right down to a his decision to punt with 7:45 remaining in the fourth quarter as the Bears trailed 21-3. He didn't trust Trubisky enough to avoid a catastrophic mistake.

The Bears actually won the turnover margin by two but lost the game by 12, in part because they didn't play aggressively.

Packing more punches
The Bears spent 15 minutes of a meeting last Wednesday to review the antics of "a particular player." That was Saints cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson, a known agitator who gets under the skin of opposing players and even had an incident with his own teammate Michael Thomas earlier this season.

Gardner-Johnson incited Bears receiver Javon Wims to throw multiple punches and get ejected in the Saints' win at Soldier Field on Nov. 1, despite Wims getting a warning from receivers coach Mike Furrey right before the incident. With that as context, Bears receiver Anthony Miller maintained last week that his team would just play its game against Gardner-Johnson and the Saints.

Then Miller threw a punch at Gardner-Johnson during the third quarter, becoming the second Bears player to get ejected because of an altercation with him this season.

Miller and Wims should both be off the Bears' roster for 2021.

Extra points
-- Wims' drop in the end zone will live in Bears infamy. If he catches it, it's a different game.

-- Rookie tight end Cole Kmet said he had never been called for a personal foul at any level of football prior to Sunday, when the officials deemed he "egregiously" threw the football at Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and flagged him for a 15-yard penalty. Jenkins told Kmet later in the game that the Saints got away with one, according to Kemt. The flag shouldn't have been thrown in that spot.

-- The Bears trailed 7-3 when they got the ball back with 1:49 remaining in the second quarter. They had a chance to capitalize on back-to-back possessions, as they were set to receive the ball to open the second half. But Nagy had no confidence in his offense, calling three conservative plays to bleed the clock and then punting.

-- Every game should have a simulcast on Nickelodeon. The slime cannons in the end zone were sick, as well as the SpongeBob field goal nets.

-- The Bears did everything they could to lose that football game.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.