Lincicome: Caution, please. The Bears actually looked like a football team Monday night.

  • Coach Matt Nagy talks to an official during the second half of the Bears' loss Monday night in Pittsburgh.

    Coach Matt Nagy talks to an official during the second half of the Bears' loss Monday night in Pittsburgh. Associated Press

Updated 11/9/2021 4:07 PM

On camouflage night in Pittsburgh the Bears came disguised as a football team. Not a great football team. Not even a good football team for most of the game. A losing football team in the end, but yet a respectable football team.

Imagine that.


This is what passes for progress, a sliver of encouragement that the Bears are not the bungling doormats they seemed to be. And now they have an open week to reflect on how they nearly won a game with everyone watching, how their kid quarterback finally held his own against a future Hall of Famer.

"It's never good to go into a bye week on a loss," said Matt Nagy, the coach, as if losses are measured by the time it takes to get to the next one.

This is now four losses in a row for the Bears, if clearly the seat-squirmingest best of them. Given a national spotlight -- though it seemed more aimed at the hometown Steelers -- the Bears did not shame themselves.

This column comes with caution. The last time the Bears looked this adequate, forcing praise and encouraging expectation, they immediately dived face first under passing Bays named Green and Tampa.

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And memory is foggy on the last time the Bears rallied to scare the swagger out of a team that thought it had already done enough to win.

So it is possible that from here on out the Bears will be as unexceptional as they were briefly competent for one quarter Monday night. Trailing 20-6 the Bears scored on a gimmick run, managed to return a fumbled punt for a touchdown and then drove 75 yards for a touchdown the way teams with ambition often do.

And, just like that, the world was right side up.

For more than a whole minute. Typical of the evening for the Bears, they had one more stupid trick to harm themselves. They left Ben Roethlisberger, that 39-year-old overstuffed coat rack, too much time on the clock.

The kick is up. The kick is good. The kick is up. The kick is short.

"We were real close," said running back David Montgomery, "but I get tired of close."

The Bears lost not because they couldn't make a 65-yard field goal at the end, but because too often they kept stepping on their own tongues, rolling around in spaces only officials could see, because a happy linebacker danced badly, looked silly, taunted silently, or violated some sacred rule of joy.


"I've been celebrating my whole career," said Cassius Marsh, though we only have his word for that because one thoughtless moment is all we've seen of his career. "I got butt-checked by the ref. That was incredibly inappropriate."

You know the Bears are becoming the Bears again when penalties -- deserved or imagined -- are part of the conversation. And when Justin Fields shows authentic growth as an NFL quarterback.

Heretofore, Fields' mistakes have been scoffed at, adjusted by Matt Nagy and eager apologists to an approval of Field's short memory. His successes, few as they have been, are exaggerated.

Fields has been appreciated for his willingness to shrug off blunders, always a scratchy compliment since it assumes there will be more blunders.

But I must admit his learning curve is now a wavy line, and getting straighter each week. When he actually wins a game, the applause can get real.

"We are on the brink of being a great offense," Fields promised.

Fields' memorable moments are increasing and accumulating into a worthwhile highlight reel. Nagy and Ryan Pace can have it ready when they are called in to be replaced.

"Look at this," they will say. "We did this."

For now the Bears need not spend the next two weeks congratulating themselves on nearly doing the expected, beating a team wandering around with problems of its own.

To say that this is the way it is supposed to be, this is the way it will be, that these are the real Bears and those earlier chumps were not, to say that this is the genuine Fields and that the earlier one was some nervous intern is something I am not going to do.

However, in the spirit of eager empathy I do say to the Bears, not bad. But ditch the camo.

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