THE MORNING AFTER: The painful playoff reality in perspective

CHICAGO – If you’re lucky, and sometimes you can be, you’ll find a picture that fits a particular moment perfectly. That’s the case even when the desired result was less than perfect.

It’s much easier to get this photograph in a high-profile sporting even like an NFL playoff game, where photojournalists fill up the sidelines.

Indeed that was the case on Sunday, when Jonathan Daniel of Getty Images captured the snapshot of a painful afternoon for the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

It’s running back Jordan Howard and offensive guard Kyle Long, embracing in sadness at the stunning end of their season. A missed kick in the final seconds gave the Eagles a 16-15 win, and suddenly a breakthrough Bears’ season had come to such a sudden end.

There is sadness, shock, and despair in Howard and Long’s face as they walk toward the tunnel at Soldier Field. They’re holding onto each other not only because of the enormity of the moment, but also a sign of the unity of this unique team.

Together Jordan and Kyle win, and the same goes for losing. This also goes for learning about the unforgiving nature of the professional football postseason, where a turn of fortune can mean the end of the season.

“It’s really tough right now,” said Long, who played his first career postseason game on Sunday. “I’m going to go home, get some good sleep. I don’t know if I’ll watch the film.”

Most of Matt Nagy’s team is probably feeling that way – and it’s new for this group of relatively young players who were taking part in their first playoff experience of their careers. A healthy amount of players took part in “Win or Go Home” games in high school, but only some have done it since then in college.

Coming to the NFL, with such pressure, in such a high stakes environment, then to lose the way they did on a blocked field goal, there is nothing to prepare a player in the immediate moment.

“There’s a very crazy, like, finalizing thing about football when you come up short, but you’ve got to be proud of all the work we put in and how we struck together and the guys in that locker room. There’s a lot of love for all the guys on the team,” said Trubisky on the sudden end to the year. “It was awesome to be a part of, so just shocked right now.”

It overshadows, for the moment, the incredible turnaround of the franchise. They won 12 games, captured the NFC North crown and a playoff berth for the first time in eight season. After being mired in a half-decade of mediocrity, the team is now front and center again in the Chicago sports landscape.

They’ve done so not just with their success on the field but the way they’ve won as well. There are the creative plays on offense, an aggressive defense with a knack for impact plays, and, of course, the dancing.

From endzone celebrations to “Club Dub,” there was no lack of charisma with this entertaining group.

“I wouldn’t say it diminishes the season but we had a great season,” said Howard when asked if this loss takes away from the good of the season. “We brought a lot of hope to Chicago, they believe in the team again. I feel like we did a good job with that.”

Yet there is Sunday. There is that picture of the running back with Long walking off the field in despair. It’s the part of growing up as a team that’s the most painful, and the Bears are in the middle of it.

“We grew so much in this year that it’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to let it hurt a little bit. But we’ve got to use this now to be better,” said Nagy. “We set the bar — I think anybody can say that we all felt like we grew as the year went on. We did get callused, we did get stronger, we did become a tighter family.

“So now — every team is different from here on out, so there will be I’m sure new players, new coaches. It’s always a little bit different. Those guys understand it. But we’re going to rally together. We’re going to stick together. We’re going to be a family.”

We’ve got the photographic evidence to prove that’s already happening as they painfully look ahead to training camp in July.