Joniak: Bears Receiving Praise At Super Bowl

A handful of analysts and ex-players believe the Bears will make big noise in 2019.

Jeff Joniak
January 31, 2019 - 4:46 pm
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ATLANTA (WBBM Newsradio) -- As the Rams and Patriots prepare to play for the championship Sunday, here are the latest Super Bowl storylines and notes.

First impression

A few days into covering my 23rd consecutive Super Bowl, I'm struck by the impact Bears general manager Ryan Pace, coach Matt Nagy and the cache of their Pro Bowl talent is making on NFL analysts and ex-players. So many have been praising the acquisition of edge rusher Khalil Mack by Pace, the coaching style of Nagy, the dominance of the defense and the intrigue of a developing offense guided by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

And they're talking about the Bears being a Super Bowl contender in the 2019 season.

"They are going to be a force to be a reckoned with in the NFC," CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said. "In the next two to three years, they should be at least in the divisional round, if not the championship round. If Trubisky continues to get better, then who knows? They could be in the Super Bowl next year. They will be one of the odds-on favorites, I think, to come out of the NFC next year."

Second thought

You will always find the best writers buzzing around assistant coaches during media sessions on the Wednesday and Thursday of Super Bowl week. Assistants know a lot about football. The veteran coordinators and position coaches are a wealth of information. You also come to understand why some younger assistants are destined to become future coordinators or head coaches.

Wade Phillips, the venerable 71-year-old Rams defensive coordinator, has been a star attraction. He's fun, witty and full of insight. I asked him about new Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

"Chuck’s a great coach," Phillips said. "He’s always done well as a defensive coach. I can’t say enough good things about Chuck. He’s going to have them playing fast. I know that."

Pagano’s impact on his former players is ever present. Patriots defensive end Lawrence Guy played for Pagano for parts of two seasons in Indianapolis and said his dignified, persistent fight and positive attitude that he used to beat leukemia still resonates with him today.

Third degree

Arguably the top two free agent kickers will be the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski and the 49ers' Robbie Gould, who spent his first 11 seasons kicking for the Bears. A Walter Payton Man of the Year finalist, Gould could receive the franchise tag from the 49ers, which he wouldn't prefer. Short of re-signing with the 49ers, he will hit the market and wants to keep kicking.

Gould's family still resides in the Chicago area as he has played in San Francisco.

"As a free agent, you always listen to what opportunities are out there," Gould said. "I enjoy being a 49er. I enjoy playing on the West Coast, but my wife and my kids are getting to a point where at some point you want to either have stability for more than one year or you are going to want to be at a place as close to Chicago as possible. Maybe one day that will happen, but for right now I don’t know if it will happen or when it will happen and what capacity it will happen."

Kickers have a tendency to struggle at Soldier Field. Gould made 77.8 percent of his field goals as a rookie with the Bears in 2005. He improved from there, hitting at least 83 percent of his field goals nine times in the next 10 seasons. 

Gould led the NFL with 37 field goals in 2017 and with a 97.1 percent field-goal percentage in 2018, when he went 33-of-34.

Fourth-and-short

Brian Urlacher’s post-football life is busy. It has especially been that way since he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the Super Bowl last year. 

After a week in Orlando at the Pro Bowl hanging with the seven Bears who were there, Urlacher is now in Atlanta for United Airlines and Special Olympics making the rounds on radio row. He's enthusiastic about the Bears' current direction.

"Tough way to end the season, but I am super excited about where we’re going," Urlacher said.

Urlacher was in attendance for the Bears' 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the wild-card round at Soldier Field on Jan. 6 but had to leave late in the fourth quarter to get to the airport for a flight. He was listening to our WBBM Newsradio call when kicker Cody Parkey missed the potential game-winning 43-yard field goal in the final seconds.

"I heard your call," Urlacher said laughing. "It was sad. It was really sad, man."

I can't disagree.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.​​