I try not to live in the past, as a rule, when watching Bears games. I don’t like it when the ‘85 Bears are frequently and needlessly mentioned. And I dislike when bad, effectively repressed memories, are resurfaced.
But you’ll forgive me for a moment if I recalled former Bears coach Marc Trestman’s decision to go for a 47-yard, game-winning field goal against the Vikings in 2013 — on second down — rather than run at least another play to move the ball closer.
Current Bears head coach Matt Nagy made a similarly perplexing decision in Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Chargers.
Nagy “settles” for 41-yard field goal attempt
As the Bears were driving with under one minute to play in the fourth quarter, Mitch Trubisky executed one of his best plays of the game. Sensing a closing pocket, Trubisky scrambled out of trouble and rushed for 11 yards and a first down.
I sensed I felt what most Bears fans did at this point: there are 43 seconds to play and the Bears have one timeout, meaning they can run at least a couple more plays to make this a chip shot for kicker Eddy Pineiro.
Imagine my surprise — you probably don’t have to if you felt the very same way — when the offense came out in victory formation and Trubisky kneeled to wind down the clock.
Rather than “risk fumbling the ball” — a peculiar, scared way to approach the situation — Nagy felt confident they were well within Pineiro’s range.
They were, of course, from a distance perspective. But Pineiro hooked it wide left and the Bears lost the game.
In showing confidence in Pineiro, Nagy showed no confidence in the offense
Nagy was in no mood after the game to be second-guessed.
“Yeah, I’m not even going to get into that,” Nagy told the press. “I have zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football.”
How about passing it?
“Throw the football right then and there, what happens if you take a sack or there’s a fumble?
“I’ll just be brutally clear: Zero thought of throwing the football, zero thought of running the football. You understand me? That’s exactly what it was. It’s as simple as that.”
Offensive linemen love to be tasked with picking up some hard-earned yards. That is their livelihood. And skill position players, likewise, thrive on the opportunity to make plays.
For Nagy to essentially say, “Sorry, but I fear that you’re going to screw up,” it does not send a good message to his offense. And Nagy’s postgame comments, clearly unintentionally, sent a direct message of doubt to each member of the offense.
You can’t coach or play scared
Stacey King, former Chicago Bulls player and current broadcaster, has a line he uses quite frequently:
“If you’re scared, go buy a dog!”
In sports, as in most any situation in life, you can’t allow fear to dictate what you do — or don’t do. It is disconcerting that “the fear of fumbling” caused him to take a knee with enough time to run at least two plays to get in closer field goal range.
Trubisky turned over the ball twice, on consecutive drives, in the fourth quarter.
Nagy had no confidence in him to protect the football and make a play.
The offensive line, despite a huge day from running back David Montgomery, has played poorly this season.
Nagy had no confidence in them to prevent a sack or loss of yardage.
If you look at mere percentages, Nagy’s argument doesn’t even make sense.
NFL kickers have made 96 of 135 attempts (71%) between 40-49 yards this season. Which means they’ve missed on 29% of attempts.
Are you going to tell me that on 29% of plays from scrimmage, there is a turnover? If that were the case, that means of the 77 total plays the Bears ran on Sunday, 22 of them would have resulted in turnovers.
If Trubisky threw an interception, Montgomery fumbled, or the offensive line got blown up, I guarantee the chatter around town this morning would have centered around the players. It would not have been: “Why didn’t Nagy take a knee with 43 seconds to play?”
I like Nagy. Let it be known where I stand. But I strongly disagree with his decision on this one.
Trubisky showed signs of progress
Trubisky did not play winning football from start to finish. Let that sink in first before I get down to some positives. Those two fourth-quarter turnovers were both brutal and poorly timed. (Then again, when is a turnover properly timed?)
But Trubisky did orchestrate a good two-minute drill at the end of the game, and successfully put his team in position to win.
What was most encouraging about Trubisky is that he saw the field better, read the defense, and actually threw some more accurate passes down the field.
Obviously, issues with accuracy remain. The overthrow to Taylor Gabriel that missed a surefire touchdown was the most egregious.
But in all, he made technical improvements. Not enough to win the game, and still not where he needs to be in his overall development. But improvement nonetheless.
Stop with the “must-win” jargon
I do not expect the Bears to make the playoffs. That’s another preface I need to state so that you know where I stand on the issue. But now that you know that, I need to rip apart this “must-win” mumbo jumbo.
For the five hundred seventy-third time: a “must-win” game is one in which a loss ends a team’s season — or mathematically eliminates them from postseason contention.
The Bears are 2.5 games out of the wild card race, but they have 9 to go. They clearly need to make up ground, but they’re not anywhere near being “mathematically eliminated” from playoff contention.
Again, I do not expect them to make the playoffs, but just drop this “must-win” until math actually comes into play.
Bears face gut check time
The absolute worst thing that could happen to the Bears at this point in the season is an emotional — followed by a physical — letdown.
We get to see exactly what kind of head coach that Nagy truly is. Can he keep his players focused in the midst of failed expectations, poor play, and a bleak outlook?
Whether the playoffs are a realistic possibility or not, we need to see the team continue to improve, both as individuals and a collective unit. The players need to continue trusting in Nagy, and the organization needs to self-scout and see what can be salvaged moving forward.