Matt Nagy’s Bears managed to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs just to sleepwalk through their wild-card game Sunday.
Such play would typically reflect poorly on a coach, but that same coach just led his team to the postseason. Of course, that came after the same coach oversaw a team that went from 5-1 to 5-7 in the middle of the season. So how do we judge Nagy’s performance in 2020? And should it affect his job security going forward, especially after his Bears didn’t produce much resistance for the Saints?
“We haven’t gotten into any of that in regards to that stuff,” Nagy said after Chicago’s 21-9 loss to New Orleans. “Like I told y’all at the beginning of the week, we’ve been so focused in on this game, and then the same thing goes with the staff. It’s probably not just our staff, it’s probably a lot of staffs; whether it’s promotions or demotions or whatever, there’s always change, that’s just how it goes.
“So, that’s something that tomorrow for us, as a team, we’ll do all of our exit interviews and all of that stuff and talk to the guys, but that’ll be down the road. I’m just at a point right now where I could literally say I just appreciate the fight of these players and tomorrow we’ll discuss the other stuff.”
Chicago went 1-for-10 on third down and didn’t actually convert that third down until the final few minutes of the game, when it was already decided. The Bears gained fewer than five yards per play, rushed for a total of 48 yards and punted seven times, with five coming on three-and-out possessions. It’s no surprise that they lost the time of possession battle by a wide margin (38:58 to 21:02), and neither was New Orleans’ success rate on third down (64.7 percent).
Receiver Anthony Miller was ejected after getting into a spat with C.J. Gardner-Johnson, hitting the Saints DB in the facemask and drawing a penalty that ended his Sunday early. His departure undercut Chicago’s already-struggling offense even further, robbing it of a potential playmaker while already facing a deficit.
By the time the Bears finally found the end zone — on a 19-yard pass to Jimmy Graham as time expired — the recipient of Mitchell Trubisky’s lone touchdown pass was so disgusted, he dropped the ball and immediately trotted into the tunnel.
“Making the playoffs is great, but what we did today has to be a lot better,” Nagy said. “And so, how do we do that? Every year is always gonna be a little bit different, that’s just a simple fact. Matter of fact, Jason and I just told the guys in the locker room that for us to get better and to be the team that we need to be, that’s something that we’ll do here in the offseason is make sure that wherever there’s a weakness, we make it a strength, and that’s gonna take everybody.
“So, today wasn’t good enough. You look at a team like the Saints that has been there, done that, on the coaching side, player wise, I think that’s a start for us, to realize hey, you want to go ahead and do damage in the playoffs. You can see situationally, discipline-wise, all that kind of stuff how we got to be better. So, we have to better in a lot of different areas and that’s my job, is to make sure that that happens. We gotta learn from that.”
The answers to Chicago’s questions begin at quarterback, where neither Trubisky nor Nick Foles proved to be the answer in 2020. It’s fair to expect the Bears to be looking elsewhere in the offseason.
But who makes that decision also isn’t entirely certain, not after a season of tumult that would’ve likely been much worse had Chicago not featured a stout defense. Will Nagy and/or general manager Ryan Pace be back to attempt to improve this team, especially after it became clear — recent run of slightly improved play aside — his No. 2 overall pick was a flop?
Typically, a playoff-qualifying team isn’t answering questions about its staff and front office, but 2020 wasn’t a typical season for these Bears, who tossed their 5-1 start out with the bathwater with incredible mediocrity. Nagy will have to prove he has an answer for his offense’s struggles, which made the Bears nearly unwatchable during their six-game losing streak before they rebounded in time to sneak into the playoffs.
A lot of soul searching awaits those returning to Halas Hall. We’ll see if Nagy and Pace retain their offices in the facility in the weeks ahead.
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