Justin Fields

Justin Fields, Matt Eberflus' uncertain future looms over Bears' finishing stretch

Uncertainty about Justin Fields and Matt Eberflus' future will loom large over the final stretch of the Bears' season

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Two things can be true as it pertains to the 2023 Bears.

They are playing the best ball of the Matt Eberflus era, and there's no way of knowing if head coach Matt Eberflus or quarterback Justin Fields will be in Chicago in 2024.

That could put some added pressure on a 4-8 team exiting a late-season bye. The Bears feel that their final five games are winnable and that an unlikely playoff berth could be in the cards if they run the table.

Whether or not that becomes reality, it's no secret that how these final five weeks play out will play a significant role in determining the future of Fields, Eberflus, and the franchise's direction. The veterans on the team are cognizant of that as they prepare for a home stretch that starts with Sunday's visit from the Detroit Lions.

“That is the business we’re in," linebacker T.J. Edwards said Monday at Halas Hall. "I think no matter what, it’s kind of always there. But at the end of the day, we’re here to win games and we’re here to be the best football players we can be. That’s something we have to do. That is our job. That is what we’re here for. I think our team is understanding that these are important games and we know that if we want to do what we’ve gotta do, we’ve gotta win ‘em. And we’re excited about that. We have the right people in here, the right leaders who understand that and to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Tight end Cole Kmet signed a four-year, $50 million contract extension this offseason. The Illinois native is one of the foundational pieces of general manager Ryan Poles' rebuild. Kmet has offered both honest critiques and strong support for the direction the franchise is headed.

To Kmet, there's optimism in the Bears' recent play and how the staff and players overcame the early-season adversity and came through the other side. That has shown up over an eight-game stretch where the Bears went 4-4 but let games against the Lions and New Orleans Saints slip away.

"I think we have been making progress, and I think that’s been showing on tape," Kmet said Monday. "When you kinda take the results aside — it’s a mix of both because it’s a results league — but if you’re being critical about your play, you just kinda look at the tape and look at the silence of the tape, and that’s kinda what you have to look at and go off of. You can see the progression that’s been going on, whether it’s been in our run scheme or pass pro, guys on routes. You’ve seen the steps there on tape.

"The results haven’t been always what we’ve wanted them to be. We’re optimistic that if we keep grinding away at this thing and keep going at it the way we have been, then the results will start to show up."

Kmet has already been through a coaching change and a quarterback swap during his Bears tenure. He understands and has heard the noise that change could be coming this offseason if progress isn't made, maintained, and built on in the right areas.

The best way to make that chatter dissipate is to win.

"I think it’s just taking it one game at a time. You take this thing one game at a time," Kmet said. "If you focus on the things that matter, and I think that’s winning each and every week and making a push here for playoffs, that’s my mindset with it because there’s still an opportunity to do that, you just focus on the main thing. And then at the end of the season, you let the cards fall where they may. But we’re not worried about that stuff right now, and we’re just taking this thing one game at a time."

Eberflus offered a similar answer when asked about his job security Monday, saying he'll just "put his best foot forward" and believes that will deliver the desired results and keep the arrow pointing up entering a critical offseason.

With two top-five picks potentially waiting for them when the season ends, the Bears need to use these final five games as a fact-finding mission as it pertains to Eberlfus, Fields, and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

Should any return? Is it best if the slate is wiped clean? Or are continuity and patience the recipe for success that the Bears should follow?

After facing the Lions on Sunday, the Bears will travel to Cleveland to meet a Browns team leaking oil before returning home to face the lowly Arizona Cardinals and inconsistent Atlanta Falcons. Eberflus, Fields, and Co. will then finish the season on the road at Green Bay in a game that could have playoff implications for the Packers, and, perhaps, the Bears if they can author an unlikely run.

"Obviously I’m treating it like we’re in playoff mode now," Kmet said. "I think five very winnable games here to end the season. Who knows what can happen at 9-8? I’m not looking too big picture — you take it one week at a time. Look, there’s a lot of flux at the bottom of the NFC here, especially for that seven, six spot. You never know what can happen. You gotta take it one week at a time and we’ll see where it goes."

Where it goes over the final five games will likely determine where it heads in 2024 and beyond.

Teams that are 4-8 aren't often playing consequential games in December. That's not the case for the 2023 Bears.

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