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the No. 1 draft pick – Boston Herald


A buzz began to grow in the back of the Soldier Field press box as the Minnesota Vikings wrapped up their 29-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Some reporters ditched their bird’s-eye views of Bears players exiting the field after their 10th straight loss to huddle in front of a TV.

About 180 miles southeast of the Chicago lakefront, Lovie Smith was making his latest contribution to football in Illinois. His Houston Texans, with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft within their grasp if they lost for a 14th time this season, were refusing to concede to the Indianapolis Colts.

On fourth-and-20 in the final minute, with three Colts defenders closing in, Texans quarterback Davis Mills launched a 28-yard pass that somehow found tight end Jordan Akins in the end zone. Mills’ 2-point conversion throw also landed in Akins’ hands.

And with it, the Texans pulled off a 32-31 victory, Bears fans got to end one of the worst seasons in franchise history with a celebration and reporters scrambled to type up what it all means.

For the first time since 1947 and just the third time in franchise history, the Bears will own the No. 1 draft pick on April 27.

The loss left the Bears at 3-14, in possession of the worst record in the NFL along with the most losses ever by a Bears team. The Texans victory gave them a 3-13-1 record — with a previous tie also to the Colts, the former team of Bears coach Matt Eberflus. Smith told reporters postgame that coaching his team to a win was always his goal.

“This is the option I had. You’re saying, ‘Hey, guys playing this last game, all that you’ve been working for all your life, you play to win. Forget that. Lose the game on purpose?’” said Smith, who coached the Bears for nine seasons and Illinois for five seasons.

“I think that would be a hard one to get by. They wouldn’t expect me to say that. I didn’t. Each week our game plan has been to win the game. And that’s what we followed through on today.”

The dueling games to decide the top pick, coupled with Bears quarterback Justin Fields sitting out because of a hip strain, made for an odd experience at Soldier Field.

Many Bears fans in the stadium cheered when backup quarterback Nathan Peterman hit Cole Kmet for an 11-yard touchdown pass to cut the Vikings lead to 23-13 in the third quarter, either not knowing about the stakes or simply unable not to cheer for a touchdown. But many on social media tensely followed each score change in both games.

Afterward, Bears players and coaches still were clearing their heads from yet another loss, unable to share many thoughts about the pick and what this offseason could hold for general manager Ryan Poles. Eberflus said he didn’t have a reaction, noting he was worried about exit interviews for his players Monday.

Bears rookies Jaquan Brisker and Braxton Jones said they weren’t even aware the team got the top pick until talking about it with reporters.

“Upper management, I’m sure they’re very stoked about that,” left tackle Jones said. “But for me, I had no idea. I’m just out there trying to win the game, protect the quarterback, protect the runner.”

“It’s not like we’re going in, we want to lose, we’re going to get picks,” safety Brisker said. “It’s not that type of energy. We talk about winning every week, try to get better, try to prepare us for next year, try to lead us to a ‘W’ for next year. That was the first time I heard about that.”

There is, of course, no guarantee the No. 1 pick will give the Bears a franchise-altering player or even a better selection than the No. 2 pick they would have landed if the Texans had lost. The Bears’ other two No. 1 picks — halfbacks Tom Harmon in 1941 and Bob Fenimore in 1947 — combined to play 10 games for the franchise.

But in a season with so much loss, the Bears front office walked away Sunday with a draft victory: the choice of how to handle the top of the draft.

Eberflus said he has “high confidence” that Poles, with more draft capital and salary-cap space, can help build a team the coach can win more games with.

“The first thing of a personnel manager is the ability to pick players, and he can do that,” Eberflus said. “The place where he came from (in Kansas City, and) he has shown that this year already. And we look at guys the same way. We like long, lean, fast, physical players. We’re excited about getting that going.”

Perhaps when core Bears players decompress, they’ll also be able to dream about a future that doesn’t include fans cheering for a loss in the final game.

“Whoever comes in, we’re going to change things around, so (he should) have his mentality right,” Brisker said. “Whoever we get — hopefully it’s somebody great — it’s time to turn it around. We really don’t want to be on the side of having the No. 1 pick, but since we’re here, it’s that time to make the team better, get the organization better and change this thing around.”



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