Any realistic hopes of the Bears turning around their incredibly disappointing, once-promising 2019 season died on the vine at Soldier Field Sunday with their 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.It’s not that their 3-4 record is impossible to recover from — the Dallas Cowboys were 3-5 just last season before winning five in a row and seven of their final eight to make the playoffs.
The reason that appears impossible for these Bears is, until Sunday, they were losing because players weren’t playing well enough to win, which is fixable with a renewed focus on detail and effort.
But the Bears’ loss to the Chargers Sunday occurred mostly because head coach Matt Nagy too often put them in spots where they were as likely to fail as they were to succeed.
The defense played one of its better games of the year.
Against big-time talents, like Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry, the Bears held L.A. to just 231 yards (36 rushing), 2-10 on third down and 17 points – seven of which came after a Bears fumble at their own 26 – with 62 yards of that offense coming on just two plays.
The offense actually had its best game of the year, breaking the 300-yard barrier for the first time this season, with 388 yards, including a suddenly potent ground attack that yielded 162 yards on 38 carries.
Yes, Mitch Trubisky has to take better care of the football, and Eddy Pineiro has to make clutch kicks.
But 16 points weren’t enough because 11 plays inside the 10-yard line on three first half possessions yielded just five yards of total offense and nine points.
In large part, the Bears failed inside the 10 because in spite of the spark unveiling the I-formation gave their ground game, nine of those 11 plays were run out of the shotgun, only four were running plays and at least in real time it appeared there were no open receivers for Trubisky to miss in all the congestion the Bears formations created.
Then, trailing late by the final 17-16 score, Trubisky drove the Bears 44 yards to the Chargers 21 in just 51 seconds.
With 43 seconds to play, the clock stopped, and a timeout in their pocket, the Bears had more than enough time to run several plays — runs or passes — and still try a game-winning field goal, rather than kneeling and settling for a 41-yard Pineiro attempt.
Asked after the game why he didn’t attempt to put his team in a better position to win, Nagy was defiant.
“Yeah, I’m not even going to get into that. I have zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football.
“They know you’re running the football, so you lose three, four yards, so that wasn’t even in our process as coaches to think about that.
“Throw the football right then and there, what happens if you take a sack or there’s a fumble?”
Instead, Nagy chose to go into victory formation and take a knee, still losing a yard and a half, and the game was lost, too.
Given a chance to trust his players and let them win a football game, Nagy doubted them and set them up to lose.
Which brings us to my misgivings about the rest of the season.
Nagy’s choice now is to let his young quarterback and kicker take the heat or put it on his own shoulders.
I have seen enough over the past 24 games of the good and very good in Nagy to believe he can still be a successful NFL head coach.
Right now he is not, he and his players are floundering and in many ways it appears to be his stubborn resolve that is causing him and his team to fail.
He is surrounded by an outstanding array of head coaching experience in Chuck Pagano, Brad Childress and Mark Helfrich.
If ever there was a time for Nagy to take a step back and give those assistants a chance to run the show, even temporarily, and show him what they think his offense can and should look like — just like Andy Reid did for him almost two years ago — it is now.
If he doesn’t, the price in addition to this season could be his future as coach of the Bears.