The Bears were rarely in punching range and stumbled on both sides of the ball.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — This is the time of year when you start to get the truth from the Bears. They won’t tell it to you directly, of course, but Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald have a way of extracting it on the field.
You can go all offseason claiming everything’s fine, as Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace did, and no one can disprove it — until the games start. And when the first game pitted the Bears’ delusion against the Rams’ reality, the decisive loss in the opener Sunday can’t be a surprise to anybody who has been looking at them with clear eyes.
Welcome back to another season of nip-and-tuck offense as the Bears’ offensive line somehow remains a perpetual work-in-progress despite mountains of resources being thrown at the problem.
Welcome back to another season of the quarterback bracing for impact the moment he touches the ball, another season of Nagy calling plays that defenders anticipate as if they’ve been sitting in on his meetings and another season of the window closing on the Bears’ defense.
None of this would be as exasperating if the Bears had conceded this as a rebuilding season, moved forward with Justin Fields at quarterback and geared everything toward being a legitimate contender down the road. That would’ve been the prudent path after going 16-16 the last two seasons, watching age and financial decisions erode a once-elite defense and having major questions to answer at quarterback and on the offensive line.
But the Bears refused. George McCaskey kept Pace despite the team’s 42-54 record under him — his teams have scored the fourth-fewest points in the NFL during that span — and kept Nagy despite his offense constantly tripping over itself and none of his quarterback expertise seeming to translate.
It sent them both into desperation mode, disregarding future salary-cap cramps and diminished draft classes, and the result was the Bears pouring everything they can into a season in which the ceiling is — hopefully — sneaking into the playoffs as a mediocre team like last season.
On their way to selling that dream, the Bears declared the offensive line fortified, new quarterback Andy Dalton a game-changer, the secondary still staunch despite saying goodbye to Kyle Fuller and Nagy a changed man after seeing the light on his play-calling glitches.
They asked for trust at left tackle, in particular, as they went into a season with zero experienced left tackles — even counting college games — on the roster. It’s hardly shocking to see that backfire.
Plan A was second-rounder Teven Jenkins, a longtime right tackle. Plan B was 39-year-old Jason Peters, who exited before halftime after hurting his quad. Plan C was fifth-round rookie Larry Borom, who was out even quicker with an ankle injury.
They landed on Elijah Wilkinson, whose unreliability seemed to prompt the Peters signing in the first place.
The Rams undressed every lie Sunday.
The Bears’ mirage lasted about three minutes as Khalil Herbert’s 50-yard kick return, David Montgomery’s 41-yard run and Justin Fields’ eight-yard pass got them to the Rams’ 3-yard line.
Then Dalton threw an interception in the end zone to no one in particular.
Then Matt Stafford burned the Bears for a 67-yard touchdown. He hit them again for a 56-yarder early in the first half for a 20-7 lead that always feels insurmountable for this team.
It was predictable that the secondary fell apart. Without Fuller, the Bears had reason to be confident in Jaylon Johnson as their No. 2 cornerback, but looked lost in the search for a second corner on the outside, let alone a nickel to cover the slot. Their best guesses at the answer have been former fifth-round pick Kindle Vildor and journeyman Marqui Christian.
And the four-year, $58.4 deal they gave Eddie Jackson meant he better be worth every penny because they’ll be relegated to bargains like Tashaun Gipson at the other safety spot.
Rams receiver Van Jefferson lost Johnson on the 67-yarder, it appeared Gipson was out of position by not being deep enough to help him and Jackson coasted past Jefferson when he fell, allowing him to get back up and run to the end zone.
On Cooper Kupp’s long touchdown, he beat Christian early and ran free without any threat of being picked up by Jackson or Gipson.
Along the way, there were flashes by Fields, Montgomery and Marquise Goodwin, but the Bears couldn’t stay within punching range. That’s why Nagy got pressured into going for a fourth-and-15 at the Rams’ 30 as he trailed 27-14 with more than 10 minutes left.
Dalton, the guy who was supposedly the key to an offense that had been locked up the last two seasons, played the same game that earned Mitch Trubisky his exit. It’s well past time to go to Fields.
This is what it’ll look like when the Bears play good teams. Because regardless of what they tried to say in the offseason, they aren’t one.