Matt Nagy’s Chicago Bears sneaked past the hapless Detroit Lions after a week that ‘was definitely different.’ But now what? – The Mercury News
Who knows what the Thanksgiving traditions are in Matt Nagy’s household? But it’s a good bet that once the Chicago Bears coach returned home from Detroit on Thursday evening, he found his way to the liquor supply and poured himself a drink. Extra stiff.
What a freaking week, right? And the tumult may be just getting started.
After the Bears suffered a brutal home loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday and then followed with three days of commotion centered around the coach’s job security and grip on the locker room, Bears players regrouped just enough Thursday to sneak past the miserable Lions 16-14 at Ford Field.
The victory itself was far from impressive. Miles from it actually, merely earning the Bears an “At least you’re not the Lions” medallion.
But at the very least, it ended the team’s 45-day stretch without a victory, snapped a five-game losing streak and allowed Nagy some much-needed relief as he headed into a long weekend.
“This is about the team,” Nagy said during a 10-minute postgame news conference. “Those guys are the ones out there practicing every single day trying to fight like hell to get a win.”
For those looking for significance in Thursday’s late escape, perhaps that lies in the pluck and mental toughness of the 44 Bears players who contributed. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 317 yards, 123 of those to budding receiver Darnell Mooney. Robert Quinn provided a sack and Trevis Gipson a well-timed punchout for the defense’s lone takeaway in the first half.
Kicker Cairo Santos ended the afternoon with a walk-off 28-yard field goal as time expired, capping an 18-play, game-winning drive that drained the final 8 minutes, 30 seconds off the clock.
“There’s some relief for sure,” Dalton said.
With a deep appreciation for one another, Bears players vowed to stick together and lock in as best they could.
“We love each other,” Santos said. “We root for each other. We don’t want anybody to fail.”
Added Nagy: “There’s a joy in that locker room, and they’re allowed to have that. They’re going to have a great Thanksgiving because they earned it. And they fought like hell.”
As for his current understanding of his job status?
“My understanding is what it has been since the day I signed to be this (team’s) coach,” Nagy said. “It’s to win as many games as I can possibly win and do it the right way.”
Still, with his team at 4-7 and going nowhere, Nagy wasn’t about to run from the chaos of his topsy-turvy week.
During what one league source described as a tense Tuesday afternoon meeting between Nagy, general manager Ryan Pace, Chairman George McCaskey and team President and CEO Ted Phillips, Nagy said his superiors assured him a Patch.com report that indicated his firing was certain this week was erroneous.
“(They told me) that it was not a true report,” Nagy said. “It was false.”
Pace, in his customary pregame interview on WBBM-AM 780, said he identified the report as incorrect when he first read it.
“Honestly,” Pace said, “my first thought was, ‘Hey, that’s an inaccurate report.’ But I think we did a good job just focusing on what’s happening inside our building and blocking out that outside commotion.”
The outside commotion, however, had already infiltrated the building Tuesday as Nagy, three coordinators and three players were left to field questions about the viral report with little clarity on where everything stood.
Later, after Nagy canceled Tuesday afternoon’s meetings, players found themselves confused in their efforts to sort reality from rumor.
“I’m not going to lie,” tight end Cole Kmet said, “it’s tough. You don’t know what’s true, what’s not.”
It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that McCaskey addressed the team in an attempt to provide some clarity and peace of mind.
Asked directly whether he wished his bosses had put out Tuesday’s fire far sooner and in a much more direct manner to limit the puzzlement within the building and slow the outside embarrassment, Nagy shook his head.
“I don’t wish anything,” he said. “I just know I was there that day to go out and lead those guys in practice and to try to focus and do everything we could do to win this game (Thursday).”
That assertion, though, didn’t account for why Nagy canceled team meetings Tuesday after the second walkthrough. Many players departed the facility that evening with more questions than answers. Even Nagy acknowledged the whole saga made for a much more challenging week.
“Again, it’s a distraction you have to deal with,” he said, “but if you make it too big of a distraction, it can affect you. And it didn’t. … If I couldn’t handle it, I would’ve never signed up to take this job.”
Still, to characterize Thursday’s win as invigorating or heartening would be a massive stretch. It’s quite possible the Bears couldn’t have beaten any of the other 30 NFL teams with their performance.
The running game never really got going. Dalton threw a costly interception in the end zone in the first half. And Santos badly chunked a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter that could have given the Bears a two-score lead.
Seven minutes later, they were trailing 14-13.
But the Lions are still the Lions. They committed 14 penalties with the Bears accepting 10 of those for 67 yards. Included in that log of ineptitude were six holding fouls, two false starts by center Evan Brown, a 12-men-on-the-field violation during an extra-point attempt and, yep, a defensive delay-of-game infraction with 1:54 remaining when coach Dan Campbell tried to call consecutive timeouts without a play being run.
Campbell explained that the Lions were in a coverage confusion and would have gotten beaten for a touchdown had he not called the second timeout. That turned a third-and-9 for the Bears into a third-and-4 that they converted with a 7-yard Dalton pass to Damiere Byrd. And with the Lions out of timeouts, the Bears were able to run the clock down to 1 second before turning Santos loose.
After a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Josh Reynolds provided an early 7-0 lead, the Lions averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt on their final 20 passes. On two occasions — one in each half — the Lions committed three penalties in a row and found themselves facing third-and-32.
Inside a home stadium with many empty seats, Campbell’s team was booed off the field on just about every possession.
Amazingly, the Bears still needed a last-second field goal to sneak by. And with their next two games coming against the top two teams in the NFC — the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) and Green Bay Packers (8-3) — there’s little evidence to suggest Nagy’s team is on the verge of a meaningful resurgence.
Instead, all signs point to major changes being needed at season’s end, if not sooner. Nagy’s seat remains scorching hot. Pace’s future should be directly connected. Who knows what McCaskey and Phillips will decide at season’s end?
Six games remain and the Bears will have to find deep reserves of concentration and give-a-damn to prevent another lengthy spiral and more hullabaloo. Their encounters with chaos likely aren’t finished for the year.
Thursday’s win may have offered a brief and welcome mental break. But Nagy is aware of why all the commotion began.
“When you lose five games in a row and when you’re 3-7, you know what territory you can get to,” he said. “And that comes with the job. I knew that four years ago when I took this (position), and so here we are.
“Every week is a little bit different. And this one was definitely different.”
On Thursday night, Nagy was entitled to a drink. What happens from here is anyone’s guess.