Good call, Coach. Follow his lead, Chicago. This one was as forgettable as it was frustrating.
"Very, very, very little on this game," Nagy answered when asked how long he will spend the next 24 hours of his compressed work week. "Don't care, it's over with."
Even if the Bears didn’t play again in four days, everybody understood why Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky treated the win over the 2-9 Giants at Soldier Field more like a deflating loss. There was no embellishment over imaginary progress, no sugarcoating dumb penalties and or silly mistakes. There was no rationalization by the leaders of a Bears team running out of time and excuses after surviving against a bad opponent that missed two makeable field goals in a five-point game – and that might have been the most refreshing development of the day.
"Not good enough," Trubisky said.
Unfortunately, it wasn't terribly surprising either based on what we've seen from these Bears in 2019. Can a postseason push start with a stumble? Can you declare the Bears back in the playoff hunt if you still don’t trust their quarterback’s aim? Was there anything that happened against the Giants that altered your opinion of the Bears during this season of disappointment? Mathematically, the Bears maintained slim hopes of finishing with the 10-6 record considered a prerequisite for playoff teams. Aesthetically, nothing from a football standpoint suggested they look playoff-bound. The eye test says this Bears team remains in C-minus territory.
The offense finally cracked the 300-yard barrier with 335 but managed only 19 points. The defense created a key takeaway that regained control but gave up another mystifying fourth-quarter touchdown. The coaching left much to be desired overall with wasted timeouts and senseless penalties. There was a – gasp – 13-yard punt from Pat O’Donnell. The best play of the game might have come when Cordarrelle Patterson hustled down to save O’Donnell’s 61-yard punt from entering the end zone and downing the ball at the Giants' 6 with 3:37 left.
"What (Patterson) did today on special teams was second to none," Nagy said.
Every other facet of the Bears showed room for improvement – starting familiarly with the offense. The redundancy started on the opening series, another three-and-out, when the Bears came out in the shotgun on third-and-2. Trubisky hesitated and threw an incompletion to force a punt. Trubisky completed 25 of 41 passes for 278 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 69.0 – a worse statistical day than rookie counterpart Daniel Jones, who hit 21 of 36 passes for 150 yards with two touchdowns for a passer rating of 86.6.
"Not good enough," said Trubisky, whom NFL.com ranked 29th in the league last week.
He's right. On Trubisky’s first interception, he appeared to not see Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree before Ogletree dropped off to pick off the pass intended in the end zone for Allen Robinson. Ogletree made a terrific play, but it was a regrettable throw by a quarterback who has made too many of them, and this one came in the red zone. That this one also came on the same series tight end Ben Braunecker dropped a sure touchdown pass in the open field only made it harder to stomach.
"Ben Braunecker has caught a lot of those in practice," Nagy said.
From Nagy to Chase Daniel, Bears players and coaches describe a Super Bowl contender in practice the public has yet to see in games.
Self-inflicted mistakes again doomed a Bears offense lacking discipline. A 60-yard pass play to Robinson, which would have been the longest gain of the season, turned into third-and-18 due to a hands-to-the-face penalty by center Cody Whitehair, who hit Dexter Lawrence II in the helmet. On the next series, the Giants took advantage of the short field after a Bears punt to score the first touchdown on a three-yard pass to tight end Kaden Smith – who entered the game with one career NFL catch. His second one gave the Giants an unlikely 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
With the Bears down 7-3 at halftime, something happened in the locker room. An agitated bunch of players adjusted and, for the fifth straight game, the Bears scored on the opening series of the second half.
"You’d like to have that coming out of the tunnel in the first quarter," Trubisky said.
Khalil Mack also resurfaced in the second half. With 6:54 left in the third quarter, Mack beat left tackle Nate Solder to create the takeaway the Bears have been waiting for since the Chargers game, a strip-sack and fumble by Jones that Nick Williams recovered at the 3. The quarterback known as "Danny Dimes" delivered with his league-leading 10th lost fumble. Three plays later, on third-and-goal at the 2 amid some pre-snap confusion, Trubisky scored on a designed run around right end that was one of Nagy’s smartest calls of the game.
The compliments turned quickly to criticism for the coach. With the Bears up 19-7 with no compelling need to try the two-point conversion, Nagy opted to go for it anyway but wasted a timeout in the process. That came only minutes after Nagy nearly burned another timeout before Trubisky’s touchdown run. An offensive pass interference penalty on the conversion attempt pushed the ball back to the 15 for Eddy Pineiro to kick the PAT. But a 12th-man penalty moved the ball back another five yards, and Pineiro missed a most unconventional 48-yard extra point – not exactly a good look for the Bears coaching staff. The Bears had just created a takeaway and scored a touchdown, yet the chaotic sequence of events after the score deflated the crowd.
An injury to tackle Bobby Massie created confusion over who was blocking for the PAT, but Nagy knows what impression that comedy of errors left.
"Number one, we don't accept it, so that's the first part is making sure, OK how can we be better in that area?" Nagy said. "So, as a coaching staff, what are ways we can prevent that? Communication in and out of the huddle, and then those guys when we call a personnel, right, when they run to the huddle making sure they communicate it to everybody that's out there so we know who's to come in and who's to come out. I think we all pride ourselves, I know I do, on making sure that stuff doesn't happen."
The Bears were lucky they were playing the Giants, who supplied some late-game drama for those who successfully fought the urge to nap. On fourth-and-18 with 4:17 left, Golden Tate answered Jones’ prayer in the same south end zone that Tate caught the game-winning touchdown pass for the Eagles in the NFL wild-card round playoff game last January. This time, Tate came down with a 23-yard catch over Bears safety Eddie Jackson and Buster Skrine after Jones nicely sidestepped pressure from Bears defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris to make it a one-possession game.
History will record this as the eighth time in 11 games the Bears held its opponent to 17 points or less. The defense, despite some breakdowns, again played well enough to win. As for the offense, the refrain continued to echo.
"We have too much talent, and we're wasting it because we're hurting ourselves," Trubisky said.
At times, Trubisky showed progress. At others, more evidence to search for a new starter in a few months. A 32-yard touchdown pass to Robinson, while wobbly, showed good recognition because it exploited a mismatch. A 47-yard completion hit Robinson in stride and built some momentum – the 104 third-quarter receiving yards were the most by any NFL receiver this season. Trubisky's chemistry with Anthony Miller improved. But Trubisky still proved too prone to the big mistake, such as his second interception on a badly underthrown pass that Julian Love easily picked off as if he were the intended receiver.
The biggest takeaway?
At some point, the Bears must decide how to reconcile the natural conflict between Trubisky’s skills and Nagy’s scheme. Nagy believes in an intricate offense that requires the quarterback to process a lot of information quickly. Trubisky tends to struggle with complex reads and thrive when the Bears go up-tempo and ask him to play faster and freer, a method that accentuates his athleticism. That leaves the Bears with an offensive coach who favors structure coaching a quarterback who excels more by thinking less.
Asked again about looking most comfortable in a hurry-up offense, Trubisky elaborated.
"I can just see the defense not thinking as much, guys are in their spots, worried about the play clock," he said. "You're just seeing space, you're seeing the defense and you're kind of just reacting, and it's something I've been doing my whole life, so it's more natural for me, but I mean, it shouldn't be any different than -- in the huddle -- on the ball, no-huddle and coming out of the huddle if we just have that tempo and urgency and everybody is mindful of doing their jobs, they should have the same result. But I think just the comfort level that we have with our two-minute offense is a strength of our offense right now."
They don’t have many, so Nagy would be wise to build off one of the few positives that emerged on a day lacking them.