LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The crushing reality for the Chicago Bears (3-9) is that Sunday’s opponent, San Francisco, is further along in their rebuild after 12 games than the Bears are in almost three years under general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox.
The Niners’ 15-14 victory at Soldier Field will forever be remembered as the Robbie Gould revenge game, but something far more significant happened for San Francisco on that afternoon.
The 49ers learned that their quarterback of the future -- Jimmy Garoppolo -- is the real deal.
Garoppolo didn’t pass for a touchdown against the Bears, but he showed enough (26-of-37 for 293 yards and one interception) to convince the Niners’ locker room that their search for a franchise quarterback is over.
When a team has the right quarterback -- everything else tends to fall into place.
Think of how much better Garoppolo will be next year after an entire offseason in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have breathed new life into a franchise that had grown stale under reclusive former GM Trent Baalke.
Only one of Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s three top-10 picks played in the San Francisco game (Mitchell Trubisky).
It's too soon to know whether Trubisky is the "right" quarterback for the Bears, but the rebuilding process will be expedited if he is.
Pace's legacy is tied to Trubisky's development and success. If Trubisky lives up to expectations, Pace's mistakes can be more easily forgiven.
But if Trubisky doesn't become an NFL star quarterback...the Bears are in real trouble.
Pace had seven of his draft choices -- still on the team -- fail to dress against the 49ers: Kevin White (injured reserve), Hroniss Grasu (inactive), Leonard Floyd (injured reserve), Deon Bush (inactive), DeAndre Houston-Carson (inactive), safety Adrian Amos (inactive) and Jordan Morgan (injured reserve).
Three of Pace’s picks are no longer with the Bears: Jeremy Langford, Tayo Fabuluje and Daniel Braverman.
Former fourth-round pick Deiondre' Hall spent most of the year on injured reserve but returned on Sunday to play just nine special teams snaps.
As for the Bears’ 2017 free-agent class -- tight end Dion Sims was one of the only members of the group with a multi-year deal that played a prominent role in Week 13. The others -- wide receiver Markus Wheaton (one snap), safety Quintin Demps (injured reserve), quarterback Mike Glennon (zero snaps) and cornerback Marcus Cooper (one snap on defense and 10 snaps on special teams -- have been non-factors lately.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara and receiver Kendall Wright have played a lot but both are just signed through 2017.
Pass-rusher Pernell McPhee, who suffered another shoulder injury on Sunday, is all that remains of Pace’s first free agent class -- Eddie Royal, Antrel Rolle and Alan Ball are all gone.
Linebacker Jerrell Freeman looked like a good signing at the time, but he’s on injured reserve and has another PED suspension looming -- and there are a handful of draft picks that have become serious starters/contributors: Jordan Howard, Eddie Goldman, Cody Whitehair, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Trubisky.
Those players, however, haven’t come close to turning the tide -- yet.
The Bears had almost three years (12-32) to identity and fix many of their issues, but Chicago’s football future is as murky as ever.