CHICAGO – The Week 18 matchup at Soldier Field between the Bears and Vikings felt and looked like a preseason game.
Nathan Peterman and Tim Boyle suited up at quarterback for the Bears. The offensive line rotated players. The starting cornerbacks were Harrison Hand and Greg Stroman Jr. For the Vikings, Kirk Cousins and many of the starters played just a half.
Empty seats were scattered throughout Soldier Field. The tailgating scene was bare.
In the regular season finale, the Vikings handed the Bears their 14th loss of the season with a 29-13 victory. A few minutes later, the Houston Texans defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 32-31, which gave the Bears the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
There will be plenty of time to speculate and debate what general manager Ryan Poles should do with the pick, but for now, here is how the current players reacted to the news and what their initial reactions were to the 2022 regular season.
Kmet led the Bears in receiving with 57 yards against the Vikings and he scored his seventh touchdown of the season on an 11-yard pass from Nathan Peterman. Along with leading the team in receiving touchdowns this season, Kmet also finished first on the team in receiving yards with 544.
Kmet showed some positive strides individually, but it was still a long season for the third-year tight end.
“I mean, tough, three wins … is not good,” Kmet said. “There is a lot of work to do in the offseason, and I think everybody knows that, so guys will heal up here and kind of take some time off. A lot of work before next season kicks off.”
Still, Kmet is hopeful for what the team can do moving forward. The Bears will have the most cap space and the No. 1 overall pick, but those factors really aren’t on Kmet’s mind as he approaches the offseason.
“I mean that is for upstairs to do,” Kmet said. “I’m not going to concern myself with that. For me personally, it’s just about this offseason getting myself better for this team, this upcoming year. Yeah, I mean I’m sure, you know, they’re excited upstairs. I’m sure about that and all of that stuff, but me personally I got to take my own responsibility and do the things I need to do in order to be the best tight end for the Chicago Bears come next season.”
Gipson will be the first to tell you this season wasn’t his best.
After finishing his second season with 39 total tackles and seven sacks, the third-year defensive lineman took a step back in Alan Willaims’ defense – finishing with 31 total tackles and just three sacks.
“Personally, you know, things could’ve went different this year, most definitely,” Gipson said.” You know it’s a different scheme so I can’t compare this year to last year, but there are a lot of things I noticed that I can get better at. You know, change of direction, speed to power on my pass rush. There are a bunch of things, but I know this offseason is going to be one for the books, most definitely.”
When Gipson reflected on his favorite moment of the season, one game stood out above the rest.
“Honestly man that Patriots game,” Gipson said. “The Patriots game was outstanding. I’ve never seen a defense fly around and play the way we did that game. That’s really encouraging, especially for the future.”
And like Kmet, Gipson has faith the organization will make the right move with the No. 1 overall pick, but he said, regardless of who is selected, that player wll have to come in and work.
Every time the offense has stepped onto the field, Jones has been there. The fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah didn’t miss a single offensive snap his rookie season.
Jones saw his availability as a personal accomplishment.
“Yeah, I try to be as durable as I can,” Jones said. “Even in college, you know, I didn’t like missing games, practices, and so I take pride in that. You know it’s pretty cool, you know, being able to be durable. I think that is the biggest thing so.”
When Jones was asked what his favoite play from this season was, he mentioned the Patriots game and his block on defensive back Jalen Mills that helped spring Khalil Herbert for a 25-yard touchdown. That 33-14 victory over New England was the last Bears win of the season.
With the offseason officially here for the Bears, Jones has one main focus for himself to prepare for Year 2.
“I’m going to take a little bit of time off for myself, but I got to get in the weight room,” Jones said. “I’m going to grind it out. You guys are going to see something a little bit different. I’m going to stick to my word, but pretty much that.”
And like many of his teammates, Jones said he had no idea the Bears secured the No. 1 overall pick, but he said he is sure the front office “is very stoked” about the opportunity.
Despite only having three wins, the Bears broke a lot of records throughout the course of the 2022 season. Some good, some bad. On Sunday, the Bears broke the 1984 team’s 2,975 rushing yards record – finishing the season with 3,014 yards rushing.
Blasingame appreciates everything the rushing attack accomplished this season, and for the college locker room atmosphere that each player helped to create during the course of the year.
“I guess without having time to process everything, I’m proud of the running back room,” Blasingame said. “I’m proud of all the guys, O-line, QB, despite being a three-win team. This locker room is one of the best I have been a part of, man. So that’s a positive.”
Another thing Blasingame wasn’t thinking about it as he entered the final game of the regular season was the possibility of securing the No. 1 overall pick. So for now, Blasingame will take time to process this season and look forward to how he can improve in 2023.
“Individually I always want more opportunity,” Blasingame said. “You know just feel like you always have more to give, so individually always looking to get better and whatever the future holds. Not really thinking too much about that right now.”