(670 The Score) Losing to the Packers historically falls into a different category for the Bears.
From Halas to Ditka to Lovie to Nagy and every coach in between, it just does. It always has.
So the Bears getting pummeled by the Packers on Sunday night at Lambeau Field did more than drop their record to 5-6. Did more than give coach Matt Nagy the first five-game losing streak of his tenure. Did more than frustrate a fan base sick and tired of seeing their beloved Bears embarrassed one more time on national television.
More than anything, a resounding 41-25 defeat that didn’t feel that close revealed how much the gap has widened again between the Bears and Packers, a disparity that tends to interest ownership more than most football matters. Imagine 97-year-old team matriarch Virginia McCaskey traveling into Wisconsin in the midst of a pandemic to see the team her family proudly owns compete so poorly that, after a Packers touchdown run with 1:12 left in the third quarter, NBC analyst Tony Dungy remarked, “This is the Bears defense basically giving up.”
That’s telling. That’s troubling. That’s coaching.
Responded Nagy: “I’ll never question our guys quit. I’d disagree with that.”
How much longer will Nagy’s vote count? It was six years ago on the same field that a 55-14 blowout by the Packers on Nov. 9, 2014 compelled the Bears to make the kind of sweeping organizational changes that the McCaskeys must at least consider now. If they still care about accountability.
On a scale of 1 to Trestman, how pissed off is Mrs. McCaskey after this midseason free fall? George McCaskey, the chairman supposedly in charge of his mess, needs to find out sooner rather than later.
You can correctly point out the Bears have a generous schedule that still offers them a backdoor into the postseason, a rationalization Nagy figures to welcome with the Lions next. You can point out the false positives implied by meaningless fourth-quarter touchdowns after America had turned the channel and the Packers flipped the off switch. You can ignore the obvious if you wish, but that won’t change the truth that the Bears look much further away from the Packers than Chicago is from Green Bay.
“It was embarrassing,’’ edge rusher Khalil Mack told reporters. “Obviously, it wasn’t acceptable.’’
It has become so starkly unacceptable that the first question Nagy was asked postgame wondered if he was worried about his job.
“No, I’m not,’’ Nagy said. “We understand where we’re at, and when you have games like this, you’ve got to soul search. You’ve got to be able to stop the bleeding. There are a couple directions you can go. But my job as a leader is to make sure they understand that …The one reason why I’m here is to fight and to lead, and that’s what I think is most important during these times.’’
How did the distance between these two teams grow so far so fast?
The 12-4 success in Nagy’s first season now looks like it was the exception instead of the rule. The Bears offense hasn’t worked since the middle of 2018, partly because of bad play-calling and partly because of poor talent. The defense gives the Bears a chance to win almost every game but, without a complementary offense that Nagy never prioritized or developed, fell apart against the Packers without injured defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in the middle of it.
Hicks’ absence Sunday meant more to the outcome than quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s much-publicized return.
Without Hicks, the Bears gave up more points in the first half – 27 – than they had in any game this season. Without Hicks, the Packers controlled the line of scrimmage early and often, running the ball effectively for 182 rushing yards and protecting Aaron Rodgers. At times, Rodgers had enough time in the pocket to count all 51 career touchdown passes against the Bears. Rodgers completed 21 of 29 passes for 211 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, effortlessly finding the mismatch and moving the chains in a MVP-like performance. On 29 dropbacks, the Bears failed to sack or hit Rodgers. If not for COVID-19 protocols, you wonder if he would need to launder his jersey.
In contrast, Trubisky, starting his first game since Week 3, often looked like a guy who hadn’t played in months. In the end, Trubisky starting instead of Nick Foles amounted to little more than Bad replacing Worse on the Bears depth chart. True, Trubisky enjoyed his share of good moments, but he also experienced too many bad ones, throwing two interceptions and losing one of three fumbles. He still too often resembled a developing quarterback instead of a player making his 45th NFL start. The numbers say Trubisky completed 26 of 46 passes for 242 yards for three touchdowns and two interceptions, but the videotape will say the numbers are deceiving.
Trubisky sounded edgy last Friday in admitting he felt “blindsided” by his demotion and brought that edge into the game. He came committed to taking more chances, being more aggressive and attempting throws that reflected a quarterback without as much to lose. That approach led to Trubisky’s first interception.
Early on, Trubisky re-established the rapport he enjoyed with receiver Allen Robinson and made several throws with authority. Then, down 13-3 and looking to make something happen, Trubisky reverted to the quarterback the Bears benched. The play called for rookie speedster Darnell Mooney to make a double move to get deep against a Packers zone coverage. Safety Darnell Savage never strayed from the hash mark, and Mooney wasn’t open. But Trubisky threw it anyway, as if he was executing a scout-team play in the middle of a Wednesday practice. But on Sunday night with the NFL world watching, Savage leapt high and came down with the gimme interception.
An experienced quarterback must know the difference between taking a shot downfield and shooting yourself in the foot, a decision requiring football nuance that Trubisky consistently lacks. Trubisky’s second interception, which came into triple coverage, only reinforced that idea. In between those picks, Trubisky lost the ball on a strip-sack by Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith returned the fumble 14 yards for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 27-3 lead with 3:20 left in the second quarter. The first half was so bad for the Bears that Mason Crosby missing a PAT was one of the highlights.
In search of consistency, Nagy tweaked the offensive line. Sam Mustipher returned to play center, moving Cody Whitehair to left guard and Alex Bars over to right guard. That shifted Germain Ifedi over to right tackle, replacing Rashaad Coward. The combination finally gave the Bears some semblance of an NFL offensive line. The one lineman unaffected – left tackle Charles Leno Jr. – struggled mightily. Collectively, the line improved its run-blocking enough to spring David Montgomery for a 57-yard run during the first drive on his way to a 103-yard game. Individually, the Bears still experienced too many breakdowns to get too carried away to consider a 25-point output progress. Tight end Cole Kmet and Robinson each had opportunities to turn 50-50 balls into touchdown catches on the opening series, for example, that underscored that this offense needs playmakers as badly as it needs a difference-maker at quarterback.
Not that the problems end there for the Bears. That would be the night’s biggest mistake, to reduce the differences in the outcome to simply Rodgers outplaying Trubisky and believe it would be different if only the Bears had a quarterback. Clearly, the list is much longer than that and the problem much harder to solve.
After a bye week, the Bears were non-competitive in what they like to consider the NFL’s most competitive rivalry. The talent deficit has grown, as have the doubts. Five straight losses since the Bears' last victory on Oct. 18 isn’t a losing streak as much as mounting evidence in the public case of football malpractice against Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. Nagy dropped to 1-4 against the Packers. Pace now has watched his team lose nine of 11 games against the Packers since he arrived in 2015.
Which man is most responsible for the Bears falling so far behind their archrivals?
The time has come again at Halas Hall to start asking the hard questions.