In the aftermath of one of the worst defensive seasons in Bears history, the fate of coordinator Mel Tucker remains uncertain.
Call it twisting in the wind, being hung out to dry or whatever phrase best describes a man standing on a trap door hoping it won't open, but that's Tucker's situation.
General manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman both sent mixed signals regarding Tucker's job security in Thursday's autopsy of an 8-8 non-playoff season.
Trestman was effusive in his praise of the job done by Tucker and the defense in the first three games of the season before injuries knocked a leg out from under an aging group. But the head coach added: "What I saw on the field in the first three games was not what I saw in the last three games."
Emery said: "Obviously, we need to improve as a defense. We had a lot of tough days defensively, and we had a tough season. There are no excuses for it."
That would seem to ignore a spate of injuries that landed three starters on injured reserve -- tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins and linebacker D.J. Williams -- before the season was half over. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps) and seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) both played in only nine games.
But Tucker has not received a vote of confidence, only the assurance that Trestman and Emery will do a thorough job of evaluating the performance of the team before any decisions are made.
"I don't want anybody to read anything into what we're doing," Emery said. "Everything is on the table, and we're going through a very thoughtful and methodical process here. We're going to look at everything because we have an obligation to do that."
Trestman said Thursday he had not reviewed film of the entire season and had not talked to Tucker or any of his other assistants but would do so in the coming weeks.
The early evaluations of Tucker will be OK. Through six weeks the Bears were 4-2, and the defense was No. 12 in rushing yards allowed and No. 4 in interception percentage. But even then, the defense was struggling to get to the quarterback (31st in sacks) and it ranked 27th in third-down efficiency.
"Chicago is about defense and playing a certain way," Trestman said. "There's a toughness to the way we want to play, and that's what we did in the first three games (all Bears victories).
"The defensive team that started the season was a Mel Tucker-coached defense that created havoc on the offenses that we played in the first three games."
Because Tucker inherited a predominantly veteran group that had spent a long time and had a lot of success in former coach Lovie Smith's 4-3, Cover-2 defense, he accommodated that by running a similar scheme.
"He really took a back seat to the structure and the defense that was in the year before," Trestman said. "That was part of it is his intelligence level, his ability to learn the language of the defense and then to assimilate it and then be able to coach it. That's not easy to do.
"If you're a coordinator, and you go into a new situation, and you have to put in somebody else's language and learn theirs, that's not an easy transition."
Despite the encouraging start, Tucker's defense finished No. 32 in a 32-team league in yards per play, rushing yards and average gain per rushing play allowed. It was 30th in yards allowed per game, tied for 30th in points allowed, 27th in average gain allowed per pass, 26th in sacks and 25th in third-down efficiency.
Tucker does not deserve all the blame, and that wasn't how Trestman or Emery spun it after the season.
"It starts with me," Emery said. "We had injuries; they are not an excuse. So for me, I have to look at, did we have enough depth to win football games? The answer is no. From a personnel perspective, from my perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth."
That may or may not be enough to save Tucker's job. But it wasn't enough for a proclamation that he would definitely be back.
"We want to be sure we're making mindful decisions," Trestman said. "So don't be reactive to anything I'm saying. I think that what we started out with was very, very good (defense), and we were on our way to being a highly competitive, highly physical, highly disruptive defense."
But it didn't end that way, and before long everyone will know how much of the blame for that will fall on Tucker.