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By the time the week of preparation for Sunday’s game had ended, the Chicago Bears had just about been through it all.
Their defensive coordinator had resigned, their quarterback had to call a second media session to clarify comments made in his initial one, and those were just the off-the-field updates.
It was, in a word, tumultuous.
Yet as he finished up Saturday’s walkthrough, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus lauded his players for how they handled it all and sounded a hopeful tone that this would end up being a galvanizing event for his team. And he was far from the only person in the Bears’ building who spoke of the positive energy the week generated.
“The first thing is, the reason we handled it well is because of the relationships built inside this building leading up this point,” Eberflus told NFL.com before boarding a plane to fly to Kansas City for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. “We have strong bonds with each other and when you have adversity, we pull together. That’s what we did with honest communication. We pulled together and leaned on one another. I think (general manager) Ryan (Poles) and myself did a nice job of really understanding, ‘OK, here is how we’re going to work through this to keep the main thing, the main thing.'”
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That, of course, is football and a game today against the defending Super Bowl champions. A win would quiet a lot of the noise generated not just with the 0-2 start to the season, but with the multitude of issues at Halas Hall this past week. A solid, perhaps freer performance from Justin Fields would hit pause on his storyline, as well.
Based on early returns, the response was what one would hope. A Bears source said the team’s energy has been “incredible,” and Eberflus said Friday’s practice was “really sharp.”
Eberflus explained on Saturday how he handled each incident.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned on Wednesday after not coaching in Week 2, leading to rampant online speculation about why he stepped away. Eberflus, who told reporters on Friday that he will call plays on defense, went from meeting room to meeting room, telling players directly what happened.
“When the news came out and all those crazy things were being said, I felt we needed to clarify,” Eberflus told NFL.com on Saturday.
First the QBs, then the running backs and so on. For the defensive players — who were having a walkthrough on the field — he grabbed them one-by-one to explain.
“I said, hey all those rumors and stuff going on right now, that crazy stuff, none of that is true,” Eberflus explained. “‘Alan is resigning,’ and I said, ‘We’ll be keeping all the same responsibilities on defense and I’ll be calling the plays on game day. Any questions?’ It was better that way, with fewer people in the room. It took me more time, but that’s the way I wanted to do it.”
According to Williams’ attorney Andrew Stroth, there was “no legal or criminal activity. Coach Williams resigned on his own volition, 100%. He’s dealing with personal stuff and health stuff.”
That leaves Eberflus, who rose among the ranks of NFL coaches based on his defensive acumen, as the play-caller. One Bears source described Eberflus as invigorated.
“Oh, I’m very excited,” said Eberflus, who eventually might name a defensive coordinator but hasn’t yet. “I love that part of the game. It was good that first year to be just the head coach and do all the game management stuff. But now that I’ve had the job for a year and two games, it gave me a good foundation to do both.”
Then there was the situation with Fields. During his first news conference on Wednesday, Fields described himself as playing robotic at times, and before offering a longer explanation, he said “coaching” could be one reason why. That truncated version went viral while Chicago was on the practice field.
After practice, Fields sought out QB coach Andrew Janocko and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to explain what he meant. He then quickly called over reporters again to clarify what he meant and that he wasn’t throwing his coaches under the bus. The next day, Getsy and Fields, who are close, shared a hug on the field during the portion of practice open to the media.
That reaction impressed Eberflus.
“I thought what he did after practice, came in and addressed the media right away, I thought that was really good for him to step up like that,” Eberflus said. “I think that showed a lot of courage. When you’re feeling like you need to do right, go do right. That’s what makes a good person and that’s what makes a good leader. Stand up for what’s right.”
Time will tell if Fields will right things on the field. The message for this week’s game has been to play freer, to more successfully blend what he can do with his legs and hit the open guys with his arm. It is a balance plenty of young quarterbacks attempt to find: how much to run and how much to just let it fly.
And if Fields can successfully do that, much of the recent controversy should go away.
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