(670 The Score) Two years ago this December, it seemed the Bears had arrived.
The Bears captivated a national audience with their dominant defense in a primetime win against the Rams, returned to Soldier Field to clinch the NFC North crown against the rival Packers a week later and then closed out the regular season with a road wins against the 49ers and Vikings.
Even after their 2018 season ended suddenly with Cody Parkey's double-doink kick and a heartbreaking 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the wild-card round, the Bears had hope -- or so it seemed.
The Bears had a defense that was elite, a young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky who seemed to be on the rise and a coach in Matt Nagy who appeared set to guide Trubisky's development forward. Nagy also helped instill a tremendous culture early on, and it all seemed so promising.
The Bears had structured their roster around the rookie contract of Trubisky, signing talented players -- often on the defensive side of the ball -- through a window of contention that seemed wide open. Everything was set for the Bears. All they had to do was win.
Not even the most jaded Bears fans imagined how the team would bottom out like this. The Bears have lost six straight games to drop to 5-7, proving that their 8-8 campaign of 2019 wasn't a bump in the road. It was a warning sign.
Nobody inside Halas Hall imagined it -- and certainly not Nagy.
"When you have that immediate success like we had, jumping out of the gates at 12-4, winning the NFC North, the Club Dub, everything is so great that first year," Nagy said as he reflected recently. "And you love that. But it takes a little bit of time to get through and continue what you want to build here.
"You look at those two-and-a-half years and then all of a sudden, boom, you hit this six-game slide and the world is coming to an end. So you think about, OK, how did it get to this, where could it go, all that stuff and there’s a lot of depth to that. There really is and I can go on and on and on. Trust me. All day about that one.
"We’re now at 5-7 and so a big wave has hit us. It’s hit us. And we got to make sure that we’re able to be able to see the sunshine after the wave and be able to fight through that."
Nagy is as frustrated as anyone in Chicago with the demise of the Bears. He's also the most perplexed.
Club Dub has collected cobwebs this season. It was the celebratory concept brought in by Nagy during his first season as head coach, an idea he formed with the help of then-Cubs manager Joe Maddon. For Nagy and the Bears, it was a sign of a winning culture that he thought would remain in Chicago for a long time.
Nagy was hired by the Bears just shy of his 40th birthday. At the time, he could've imagined living in the Chicagoland for a while. He has a family that includes four boys, and he found immediate comfort in this new home.
With Nagy's job security now in question, he must ponder what's next. Bears general manager Ryan Pace also is facing the potential end of his tenure after six seasons that has only included the one playoff berth in 2018. Another loss for the Bears (5-7) when they host the Texans (4-8) at Soldier Field on Sunday would only push Chicago closer to change.
In the final weeks of the regular season, Nagy will have to keep answering questions about his tenuous job security and will feel his hot seat burning up. Through it all, he's stunned it has gotten to this point.
Two Decembers after it seemed the Bears had arrived, they look ready to move on.
Open field: Montgomery making an impression
Finally, the Bears are giving running back David Montgomery a fair chance to produce.
That often wasn't the case in Montgomery's first 26 NFL games, as he couldn't find rushing lanes because they weren't there behind a poor offensive line. Montgomery's best asset as a runner -- his ability to break tackles -- had to be activated far too soon on plays in which he was quickly swarmed in the backfield.
Recently, the Bears have found some stability with a reshaped offensive line -- moving Cody Whitehair to left guard, starting Sam Mustipher at center and his former Notre Dame teammate Alex Bars at right guard.
Montgomery has rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries in two games behind the revamped offensive line. Even if you take out his 57-yard run against the Packers on Nov. 29, he's still averaging 4.4 yards per carry over the last two contests.
"He wants to be a 1,000-yard back every year, and I can respect that," Bears veteran Cordarrelle Patterson said. "The hard work he puts in each and every day, it’s crazy, man. He’s one of the harder-working guys at his position. He’s going to do whatever it takes to help this team win. Every time he’s out there, just give him the ball. He’s going to make something happen."
As the Bears head into an offseason sure to feature transition of some sort, Montgomery is showing that he can be an asset to the offense.
That was in question for much of his first two seasons -- but to no fault of his own. Montgomery struggled to make much happen behind the Bears' struggling offensive line. He's averaging 4.1 yards per carry this season, a mark that's surpasses his 3.8 average as a rookie in 2019 but one that still needs to improve.
Montgomery should have no problem becoming the 1,000-yard back that he wants to be if the Bears can give him a solid offensive line next season.
1.) 'That narrative'
Trubisky didn't ask for any of this. He didn't draft himself at No. 2 overall in 2017 or foresee what would follow over the course of four years in Chicago.
Trubisky simply wanted to be the best player he could be, and it hasn't worked out. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson have proved themselves as superstar quarterbacks and the leaders of once-middling franchises in Kansas City and Houston, respectively, after being selected in the same draft class. Trubisky's struggles have left Chicago to wonder what's next.
But Trubisky has struck the right tone when asked about the comparisons to Mahomes and Watson, including earlier this week with Watson and the Texans visiting town Sunday.
"I don’t control that narrative," Trubisky said. "I don’t control what people say about it. It is always going to be a story just because that’s the draft class we came in. It was me, Deshaun and Pat. We were picked where we were, and now it’s up to us to make the most out of our opportunities. They’ve done a great job with theirs and I’m still trying to write my story here.
"My opportunity is to go out and lead my team this week and try to get a win. I’m excited about that. I’m also happy for their success as well because obviously they’ve earned it."
Trubisky knows his story in Chicago is likely in its final chapter. A fresh start elsewhere could be of benefit. He's better off escaping that narrative and starting over somewhere else.
2.) Mack attack slowed
During his three seasons in Chicago, edge rusher Khalil Mack has never been one to make excuses.
That's again been the case in a year that has proved to be difficult for him. Mack has been stuck on 6.5 sacks since Nov. 1 and might struggle to surpass the 8.5-sack mark that frustrated him so greatly a year ago.
Mack has been dealing with injuries this season. First it was a knee issue that lingered from training camp in August into October, then a back ailment that flared up recently and now a shoulder problem that has his status for Sunday in question.
"He's had some (injuries), but he plays through it," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "I'm not saying that it doesn't bother guys. Other than the first day of training camp when you show up, you're never going to feel that good. Not until the season's over, you got time to recover and get your body back right, then it starts all over again. But it happens because he plays so damn hard, so relentless.
"He gets himself right by Sunday, goes out there and does it all over again, and then finds himself a way to get healed up and go out there next Sunday."
3.) Century mark in sights
As top receiver Allen Robinson and the Bears remain in a standstill in their contract talks, part of the reason why is that the front office wasn't previously sold on him sustaining top-tier production.
Robinson is showing that his 2019 campaign wasn't a fluke. A year after hauling in 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns, Robinson has 77 catches for 904 yards and five scores. He's on pace to surpass his catches and yards totals of 2019.
For the first time in his seven-year NFL career, Robinson could eclipse the 100-reception mark in a season. And it would come right before he's set to become a free agent.
"I want to finish strong this year no matter what the circumstances are, contract or no contract," Robinson said this week.
"I feel like I’ve been able to put together a couple decent years, and I want to finish this as strong as I can."
4.) BoJack shut out
Why does safety Eddie Jackson still have zero interceptions this season? Pagano doesn't see it as a lack of performance. He believes it's because opposing offenses aren't throwing in Jackson's direction.
"They're staying away," Pagano said. "I mean, if he's over here, they're going over there. If he's over there, they're going over here, that type of deal. If we got him on somebody man-to-man, he's such a good man cover guy, they see that and they go somewhere else. But it's not a lack of where he's at, the positioning and all those kinds of things. It's just one of those deals."
Quote to note
"What we have in front of us and how we need to finish -- that's the only thing that we can do. And that's exactly what our job is to do, and that's why we're here right now is to do that. So we need to do it."
-- Nagy on his tenuous job security with the Bears
OLB Khalil Mack (shoulder) -- This is the third injury for Mack this season, and each has affected his play. If he's out there Sunday, you wonder if he's even at 80%.
WR Allen Robinson (knee) -- Robinson dealt with this same knee issue last week, when he hauled in seven receptions for 75 yards. He'll be good to go.
CB Buster Skrine (concussion) -- Skrine has until 10:30 a.m. CT Sunday to be cleared, but it's possible the Bears rule him out before then.
OT Charles Leno (toe) -- Leno's injury appears to be merely a case of maintenance at this point. He has played through the toe ailment the last two games.
TE J.P. Holtz (knee/shoulder) -- The Bears will be monitoring the health of Holtz, a key special teams presence.
LB James Vaughters (knee) -- The reserve linebacker Vaughters is likely to miss his second straight game.
Prediction (8-4): Texans 28, Bears 27
As if wasn’t bad enough for the Bears after six straight losses, here's Watson ready for revenge at Soldier Field. Chicago loses this one late -- again.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.