Bears lose season finale to Vikings -- but win first pick in draft
The odds of winning Tuesday's $1.1 billion Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350.
While not that long, most Bears fans had to believe there was little, if any, chance that their team would leap over the Houston Texans on Sunday to claim the No. 1 spot in April's draft.
Yet that's exactly what happened after the Bears dropped a 29-13 decision to the Minnesota Vikings and the Texans pulled off a miraculous, last-second 32-31 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The fact that the Bears fell to the playoff-bound Vikings at Soldier Field was no surprise. After all, Justin Fields (hip) was sitting and the defense started two cornerbacks who might as well have come out of the stands.
The shocker came in Indy, where Houston QB David Mills heaved a last-minute 28-yard TD pass to Jordan Atkins on fourth-and-20. A gaggle of reporters inside the Soldier Field press box gasped in disbelief, then watched Mills complete a 2-point conversion pass to Atkins.
So, yes indeed, Bears GM Ryan Poles hit the jackpot.
Feel free to send Texans coach Lovie Smith a thank-you card -- and perhaps a sympathy card if the former Bears coach is fired.
If you're looking for some numbers to play Tuesday, might we suggest: 3 (Bears wins), 14 (Bears losses), 28 (length of Houston's TD pass), 32 (Houston's points), 50 (seconds remaining when that prayer of a TD pass was completed) and a Mega Ball of 1 (the draft pick, obviously).
This will be the first time since 1947 that the Bears have the top selection. If he's smart, Poles will stock his draft cupboard by trading the selection to a QB-hungry team like the Raiders or Colts.
"Oh, high confidence. No question, no question," coach Matt Eberflus said when asked how sure he is that Poles can put together a winning roster. "The first thing in a personnel man is the ability to pick players and he can do that. He's shown that this year already and we look at guys the same way.
"We like long, lean, fast, physical players. ... We're excited about getting that going."
Done properly, the Bears could ascend fairly quickly in the NFC. Not only do they possess the top pick, but they also have gobs of salary cap space to fill gaping holes all over the roster.
The defensive and offensive lines figure to be priorities, but it would be criminal to not seriously upgrade the receiving corps. Cole Kmet (544 yards), Darnell Mooney (493 yards in 12 games), Equanimeous St. Brown (323 yards) and Chase Claypool (14 catches, 140 yards since coming over in a trade) should be back, but Fields needs at least two more reliable weapons for 2023.
Adding someone like the Vikings' Justin Jefferson, who hauled in 128 catches for 1,809 yards this season, isn't exactly realistic. But what about finding a K.J. Osborn, who torched the Bears for 117 yards Sunday? Or a reliable veteran like Adam Thielen, who has surpassed 700 yards six times?
Do that, and now you're talking.
"He's gonna need to add a little more if he's trying to (succeed). Cause we got some guys," said Vikings RB Dalvin Cook. "I don't think one person can change anything, not from my perspective in this league."
"(Fields is) a good player. He played with my little brother (James) at Georgia before he transferred (to Ohio State). So I know Justin pretty good. We know what he brings to the table. So give him some weapons and see what he (does)."
With the season over, Eberflus will turn his attention to player exit interviews and then decide if he wants to tweak his staff. He will join Poles at Halas Hall on Tuesday to address the media for the final time.
The first-year head coach stayed even-keeled all season, and it was no different when he was asked if he was prepared for a campaign like this -- one that included 14 losses and a franchise-record 10-game skid.
"Yeah. I think so," Eberflus said. "You look at results for sure, but you also (look) at a broader view of what you're getting done. And what is that? It's laying a foundation, but it's also developing the young, core players that we have. That was a big goal for us. ...
"As we start to add talent ... (in) free agency and the draft ... it's gonna be up to the coaches to develop those guys and fit them into the scheme so we can play winning football."
Well guess what? The clock -- which you are officially on -- starts right now.