By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The holiday season can’t get here soon enough — if not that, then something just as crass and commercial needs to happen to distract us from the beleaguered Chicago Bears after their once-optimistic season went deeper in the dumps Sunday after a 17-16 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers.
It’s been a remarkable regression for this franchise, who just months ago looked like a potential new and indefinite power in the NFL. At that point, a contentious few spoke up and said this team isn’t what Chicago thought it was, and damn it if those people weren’t right.
Another loss this week featured all three phases having a significant part to play in the defeat. But if there were two “stars” in the defeat Sunday than they were head coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on Sunday. Nothing is scarier in football than having doubts in both your head coach (especially when he is an alleged offensive guru) and your quarterback.
The halfway point of the season is upon us now and with it the Bears sit dead last in the NFC North, a division with two very viable playoff teams and a possible one. Things can still turn around, but they won’t turn around enough for a playoff run this year. Everything moving forward has to have somewhat of a focus on next season. Changes will be coming soon, but the question is how much because a lot is needed. Losing to a 2-5 team at home in a year with such high expectations is not okay.
Sustained success is the hardest thing to achieve in team sports and its particularly hard in the NFL. Not long ago, the Bears felt that they were at that point, but clearly they are far away. Here are the big takeaways from yesterday’s loss.
In many ways the Mitch Trubisky experience is just a sad one, which is unfortunate because he seems like a genuinely nice guy and has traits that can make anyone want to root for him. Its never easy finding a franchise quarterback and it isn’t his fault the Bears picked him too high and mis-evaluated his skill set.
Fellow top QBs from the 2017 draft class, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, will likely leave Bears fans forever wondering what could have been because Trubisky is not the guy. For all the traits and reasons for optimism, associated with him, Sunday’s game was a clear message even to the last holdouts who have been riding with him. The bar has been set so low for the once-Bears franchise player that all in all he had a relatively solid game for himself.
Aside from the two turnovers, Trubisky made some accurate throws downfield and led the offense to multiple scoring drives. But the devil is in the details and that’s why he shouldn’t receive any applause. The two turnovers were bad ones, an interception that was horribly thrown and read. His fumble was simply losing the ball while trying to tuck it away and to make things worse the previous play was an inaccurate downfield throw intended for wide receiver Taylor Gabriel.
Had Gabriel been given a chance to catch the ball with a somewhat accurate throw, he may have scored a touchdown that probably wins the game for the Bears. Later in the fourth quarter Trubisky would take a sack on third down that took them out of field goal range. Sure he set them up for the game winner but Trubisky never punched in on opportunities in the red zone in the first half and made enough mistakes in the fourth quarter to lose the game. Simply cannot have quarterbacks missing opportunities early and making mistakes late.
Trubisky could develop into an okay starter given more time and work but when he make as many good plays as bad plays then the team just cannot progress. No matter what he does for the rest of the year, the Bears need to figure out plans for another quarterback to compete for the starting job next year.
If you are Nagy right now, you must be thanking your lucky stars the Bears were so good last year. Had it not been a good year a season ago then he might be on the hot seat right now with how bad this year has been.
Unfortunately the Bears don’t fire coaches right away if they make the playoffs but man does Nagy look awful right now. After a week of being roasted by everyone for the idiotic gameplan of only throwing the ball against the Saints, Nagy came back this week with even more reasons to question him.
Once again all three phases made critical mistakes in a loss. His unit is the offense and the lone positive was they did commit to running the ball this week, but not in goal to go situations in the first half and not when there was enough time at the end of the game to potentially set up an easier field goal. Nagy’s rationale for kneeling at the end of the game was spotty at best and after wondering if he’s an idiot for not running the ball, now its being an idiot for not playing to win the game. How many times have we seen a team trying to avoid making a mistake end up making a mistake? As game broadcaster Thom Brennaman has famously said, it’s a recipe for disaster.
And outside of these bad decisions the offense wasn’t exactly humming with more of bad plays and bad execution. In the game broadcast the team quoted Nagy when they met with him as saying something too the tune of “the Bears didn’t hire me to run the I-formation.”
This is a somewhat alarming quote assuming it wasn’t taken out of context because a coach should only be interested in running what works for the team to win. The most consistent plays for the Bears on Sunday came out of the I-formation using power run plays.
Yet in the most critical situations Nagy shied away from using those plays. Maybe Nagy is still growing on the job but he better start learning quick because he is costing the team games. Its completely inexcusable for your head coach to be making consistently bad decisions plus the product looks this bad on the field.
Looking forward now, the playoffs are not a realistic outcome to this season. A major turnaround, like the turnaround of turnarounds, would have to happen if the Bears are in the playoff conversation once its December.
And if the losses continue to pile up, odds are that players will start to put themselves in cruise control. The Bears cannot let this happen and allow complacency to settle in. Roster changes happen all the time in the NFL and expect the team to look different especially after a bad year. This team could use improvement all around on offense, defense and not to mention special teams.
Whatever young guys that are hungry to play should be put in if paid veterans are lagging. All off-season the talk has been about the Bears culture but clearly it needs to be built better. Build a culture of accountability where guys aren’t rewarded playing time for the money they are being paid or their draft status. Players need to know that the team is building for next year starting right now which means the coaches are looking for the guys that will be apart of turning things around.
Jobs need to be put on notice across the board within the franchise. Finishing the season strong getting to .500 after all the issues happening during this losing streak is a whole lot better compared to flaming out to a four or five win season. Its going to be a hard work getting this team back into contention. The team needs to start off on the right foot by making players and coaches accountable for the way they go about the rest of the season.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR