December 9, 2023

Bears lose but make playoffs. Is there a Mirage Hotel in New Orleans?

Yeah, that’s about right. The Packers spanked the Bears 35-16 on Sunday, the Bears backed…

Bears lose but make playoffs. Is there a Mirage Hotel in New Orleans?

Yeah, that’s about right.

The Packers spanked the Bears 35-16 on Sunday, the Bears backed into the playoffs anyway and everybody’s happy.

The Packers are happy because they clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, meaning opponents will have to deal with the old man (37-year-old Aaron Rodgers) and Old Man Winter (at Lambeau Field).

The Bears are happy because they’ll have the veneer of the playoffs as cover for a strange, empty, 8-8 season.

And team chairman George McCaskey is happy because he won’t have to fire anybody, even though that’s what he should do if excellence is the goal.

It’s not what the more sober among us would call a win-win-win, but I don’t want to get in the way of a party.

‘‘No one’s going to take away what these players did to work back these last three weeks, to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said, referring to victories against the Texans, Vikings and Jaguars after a six-game losing streak. ‘‘And they did that. And there’s no one that’s going to take that from those players and the coaches.’’

His team will go on the road to play the Saints in a wild-card game Sunday. The Saints beat the Bears and Nick Foles in overtime earlier this season. This time, they’ll be facing Mitch Trubisky, who used to be the quarterback, then wasn’t and now is again.

‘‘And now we go,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘These guys believe. And anything can happen.’’

There were at least a few minutes Sunday when it looked as though the unthinkable was a possibility, that the Bears could beat the big, bad Packers. They had a real plan, and if that sounds like faint praise, it’s not meant to be. The only way they were going to beat Rodgers was by keeping the ball out of his hands. So they gave it to David Montgomery, in keeping with the run-the-ball-stupid epiphany they had during their six-game skid. The problem was that, although they dominated time of possession by almost 11 minutes, they had a miserable time scoring touchdowns.

Or, to boil it down to one third-quarter drive, Trubisky had a 53-yard completion to Darnell Mooney (good), but the Bears settled for a 20-yard field goal (bad).

They scored one touchdown in five trips into the red zone, the type of thing that has haunted them for a long, long time.

‘‘You can’t play the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers and kick field goals,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We have to get touchdowns.’’

On the other hand, how about those Cardinals? They lost to the Rams 18-7, giving the Bears an easier way into the bar than by shouldering past Rodgers. It’s kind of like having a fake ID, but . . .

‘‘We’re in the playoffs, and that’s really all that matters,’’ Trubisky said.

If you’re looking for positives, remember that the Packers embarrassed the Bears five weeks ago, taking a 41-10 lead into the fourth quarter. This time, the Bears trailed 21-16 in the fourth. If they could have converted a fourth-and-one from the Packers’ 25 with about 11 minutes left, perhaps things would have been different. They couldn’t.

At some point, Trubisky was going to have to make a play when the Bears really needed him to. He didn’t. Though his numbers were fine (33-for-42 for 252 yards), he threw a bad interception on their next possession, effectively ending the chances of an upset. Winning quarterbacks don’t do that.

It’s not as though this game was on Trubisky, however. Bears defensive backs Eddie Jackson and Kindle Vildor each dropped what looked like sure interceptions. Beating the Packers, the best team in the NFC — and possibly the NFL — requires a few special plays. The Bears didn’t get those.

What the Cardinals gave them was the story of the afternoon. The Cardinals’ loss meant that McCaskey wouldn’t have to think about canning general manager Ryan Pace or Nagy or both — if he was thinking about it at all. (Hint: not even close.)

So you can expect the status quo to be in place next season. Don’t be surprised if that includes Trubisky, who averaged six yards per pass (to Rodgers’ 10).

What matters now is that the Bears are in the playoffs and that the Saints are in the way of their big dream. The Saints finished 12-4. The combined final record of the teams the Bears beat this season was 43-85.

‘‘Anything can happen in the playoffs,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Anything.’’

Well, that’s true.