Bernstein: Bears' Success Clouded By Mystery

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(670 The Score) The first quarter of the 2019 regular season is already in the books, and the Bears' 3-1 record has them on the same winning pace their 12-4 mark in 2018. After falling on their faces on opening night, the Bears have now reeled off three victories in a row to lead into a very winnable game against the Raiders in London on Sunday before their off week.

Nothing has been quite as expected, but they'll take it.

That the Bears have one of the NFL's top defenses comes as no surprise, while the relative success and stability of their placekicking has been a pleasant one indeed, moving that offseason silliness to the backburner for now. But their injury luck from 2018 has regressed toward the mean, with six starters missing from action by the middle of the first quarter Sunday, already testing their roster depth at multiple positions. What matters at the moment, though, is what the Bears don't know on a pair of fronts -- or what they know and can't or won't say.

Mitchell Trubisky is out with an injured left shoulder, reported to be either a separation of some degree, a tear of the labrum or both. Chase Daniel will likely start Sunday, but coach Matt Nagy seems set to wring every last drop of gamesmanship from the uncertainty, still refusing to declare Trubisky out. Daniel's competent performance in the win against the Vikings only highlighted the ongoing inconsistency from the Bears' starter, whose development has remained uncomfortably non-linear for a contending team. It's not so much about what Daniel himself is but what Trubisky can't yet be as reliably as once expected.  
And then there's the curious case of Roquan Smith, the explanation of which made Nagy's obfuscation about Trubisky sound downright candid. The Bears are unwilling to offer any clarity at all outside of "personal reasons" to explain why their starting inside linebacker was officially downgraded to doubtful just before the game Sunday and then didn't play. They gave no indication as to whether the absence was either medical or punitive, choosing to invite only more questions as they prepare to leave the country.

Covering something like the Smith situation is never easy, because we must remain sensitive to any number of possibilities in play. One ESPN report about some erratic behavior means it could be a mental health issue of some kind, one that would deserve to be understood as equally real as any tangible physical problem. But the Bears have also refused to take some kind of legal issue off the table when given a chance to do so, meaning there could be other parties involved as well. Notable too is their lack of outright statements of support for one of their players that usually accompany even ambiguous events. With no such guidance yet regarding such a high-profile player, we navigate deliberately.

It makes this current moment a strange one. The Bears are a good team, one with a genuinely great player at the peak of his powers and a surrounding cast currently in injury upheaval. The outcomes to this point have turned out fine, even as little about their trajectory now seems predictable.
Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.