Column: When will the NFL and TV networks learn to stop putting the Chicago Bears in prime time?

A bad case of Collinsworth fatigue set in late Sunday during the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bears’ 30-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

A weekend of listening to NBC “Sunday Night Football” analyst Cris Collinsworth and his soundalike son, Jac, will do that. Both are competent announcers but are best used in limited doses. Jac’s ascension to play-by-play man for Notre Dame home games on NBC makes a Collinsworth family weekend inevitable for some of us, and too much Collinsworth is seldom a good thing.

It was almost a given that Cris Collinsworth would spend most of Sunday night talking about quarterback Tyson Bagent, the only Bears player remotely worth discussing. This was a dog game on the “SNF” schedule, one of those unfortunate occurrences that happens whenever some TV executive thinks the Bears have turned a corner.

You would think they have learned their lesson by now. According to Tribune reporter Dan Wiederer, the Bears have lost seven straight Sunday night games by an average score of 31-15. This is not a Ryan Poles problem but a McCaskey thing.

To hammer home the dog matchup, NBC even used a double box in the fourth quarter with an actual dog food commercial on one half of the screen and Bears coach Matt Eberflus walking up and down the sideline trying to fire up his players on the other half.

It was almost as if NBC had a sense of humor about the Bears’ plight, though the network certainly hoped you wouldn’t notice it showing the same ad during every commercial break about an absent-minded dad forgetting to lock his car.

I wasn’t among those offended by the “needle in a haystack” narrative surrounding Bagent, the undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd who was now on the big stage of “Sunday Night Football.” It’s a story we’re all familiar with in Chicago, but not everyone watching around the world follows a team that recently ended a 14-game losing streak.

And I anxiously awaited the meme-worthy graphic showing the number of Bears starting quarterbacks over the last such-and-such years versus the opponent’s much smaller number of quarterbacks over the same time period.

It’s exactly what you get when you put a team like the Bears in a prime-time slot they don’t deserve. This is a team made for rubberneckers only.

No matter the network stuck with them, the general idea for handling a bad Bears team is to stick to the same basic theme — their elusive search for a quarterback — and then speculate that the current one could finally be the answer.

When the “SNF” schedule came out, this game was supposed to be all about Justin Fields and his chances of being The One. But due to circumstances beyond NBC’s control, its first Sunday night Bears game landed after Bagent won his first start following Fields’ right thumb injury.

It would’ve been silly not to highlight Bagent’s story, the only interesting thing about a 2-5 Bears team facing a 2-4 Chargers team. The problem was that after the first play, the Bears looked so inept the network wasn’t able to pivot in time to a new narrative.

So Collinsworth kept talking about Bagent’s promise instead of the possibility the Bears could be awful enough to make another coaching change inevitable.

At one point Mike Tirico and Collinsworth brought up the Bears’ search for a new stadium, and the camera quickly cut to President/CEO Kevin Warren. We were reminded of the great job Warren did getting the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium built.

Since everyone loves the Vikings stadium, surely that means a new Bears stadium would be just as acclaimed. Apparently.

Collinsworth seemed almost giddy over the prospect of a bidding war between local communities, though he didn’t specifically mention scenic Country Club Hills, the latest suburb with a grand plan to host the Bears.

It was almost as if the Bears handed the NBC announcers some extra talking points, knowing the game would quickly get out of hand. But there was no mention of the previous $690 million renovation of Soldier Field, the Crash-Landing Spaceship by the Lake design that has been widely mocked in Chicago as an architectural blunder.

They also didn’t show the “reimagined” domed Soldier Field, the “Hail Mary” play from former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, or the renderings of the proposed Arlington Park plan, which features a domed stadium that resembles anything from a bar of soap to a lid to a deodorant stick. Of course, the Bears told us at the time of its release in September 2022 that it was “just a placeholder and not an actual design.” Rest assured there’s plenty of time to come up with something more ridiculous-looking.

Perhaps the highlight of NBC’s telecast was Eberflus throwing the red challenge flag after the Bears scored a meaningless touchdown late in the game. “The Bears almost negating their own touchdown with a challenge flag is the perfect metaphor for this season,” one fan wrote on social media.

Eberflus naturally meant to throw the flag before the play. But reaction time has never been a strength of his, as evidenced by the Chase Claypool saga. Fortunately there was no video review of the touchdown, so Eberflus escaped viral embarrassment.

The Bears’ next prime-time game is Nov. 9 at home against the Carolina Panthers, a “Thursday Night Football” game on Prime Video that no doubt will discuss the possibility of the Bears getting the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in the 2024 draft. Al Michaels already feels a cold coming on.

Their only other remaining night game is scheduled for Nov. 27 at Minnesota, a “Monday Night Football” affair. Hopefully ESPN already has found a flex game to relieve America of prime-time, post-Thanksgiving-weekend Beardom.

For the sake of Bears fans, it’s the only compassionate thing to do.


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