The day after a brutal loss, some positives for the Bears — no, really
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A group of reporters with eyebrows raised was asking questions of coach Matt Nagy for a mob of Bears fans at home that wanted his blood, not his blind eye.
At that moment late Sunday, no one cared the Bears would learn from an excruciating 24-23 loss to the Packers, as Nagy insisted they would. No one cared there was plenty to build on, a point he also tried to hammer home.
We wanted to know whether he would open up a vein or whether we would have to do it for him.
But Nagy was right, even if his timing wasn’t. There were positives coming out of the game, especially for a franchise that has been so bad for so long.
No one south of the Wisconsin border is going to be able to erase the memory of Aaron Rodgers coming back from a knee injury in the second quarter and throwing three touchdown passes in the fourth. If you’ve forgotten his 75-yard scoring connection with Randall Cobb, it’s because your memory got zapped between then and now. Maybe you put a giant magnet against your cranium. I always advise against that.
But pay attention to what happened in the first half. That’s when Nagy let his players play. That’s when Mitch Trubisky took steps in his development, Roquan Smith formally introduced himself to the league and Khalil Mack did a perfect imitation of Khalil Mack at his disruptive best. What happened in the second half is mostly on the Bears’ overly cautious coaching staff.
Trubisky was good before halftime. He completed passes that big-time quarterbacks complete, he didn’t make many mistakes and he led his team to a 17-0 halftime lead. If you’re searching for positives in the second half, Trubisky escaped Packers pass rushers who were exhibiting homicidal tendencies. We knew he could run, but somewhere in the offseason and training camp, he learned how to better avoid pressure.
‘‘I really, really was impressed with how he commanded that huddle and the things he did kind of stepping up in the pocket and extending plays,’’ Nagy said.
If you think a special quarterback would have answered Rodgers’ big touchdown pass with his own touchdown drive in the waning moments, fair enough. We still are waiting to see something truly special from Trubisky.
But Nagy’s decision to have his offense stand down because of a big lead in the second half was the Bears’ downfall. And their defense seemed to go passive and nonviolent just when an injured Rodgers seemed to be at his most vulnerable. At one point, I was sure a sit-in would take place at midfield.
Everything is a new experience for Trubisky. Nagy needed to give him the opportunity to play with the lead, not hide behind it — especially in a prime-time game, especially against the Packers at Lambeau Field. This wasn’t Joe Maddon pulling Kyle Hendricks after 4 2/3 innings with the Cubs leading 5-1 in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. But it did exhibit the same overthinking with the same lack of true belief mixed in.
Next step for Trubisky: leading a successful two-minute drive.
OK, back to positives. Heading into the game, the expectations for Smith, the eighth overall pick in the draft in April, ranged from dark to fuzzy gray. Would he suffer an injury, thanks to his long contract impasse during camp, or would he spend the game getting the rust out? Neither. The linebacker sacked DeShone Kizer on his first NFL snap, and you could feel the sigh of relief from the sideline. He also had a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry.
Mack had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half. It seemed more of a proclamation than a debut for a player the Bears spent dearly to get in a trade. One half of play told us he has the ability to make opposing offenses look like a pile of Jenga blocks.
The Bears can build on those performances. It still might not be what people want to hear after watching Rodgers rip out the Bears’ heart again, but it’s true.
‘‘I’m really proud of our team; I’m proud of our guys,’’ Nagy said after the game. ‘‘They did a lot of good things. We’re going to learn from it. It’s a long season.’’
The reporters he was speaking to weren’t his intended receivers; the players in the locker room a few doors down were. He wanted them to take the positives from a brutal loss. Next time, though, he might want to know his audience a little better. That would be Bears fans crying over their chicken-wing bones.
Nagy was back in building-up mode Monday, a more appropriate day for it.
‘‘We need to use this,’’ he said. ‘‘We need to go ahead and use this to get better. If you have the negative, pessimistic approach to it, then that’s all wrong. We’re not going to have that. We’re not going to have it as coaches, we’re not going to have it as players. We’re going to learn from it, and it’s my job as a head coach to make sure they learn from it.’’
According to Nagy, the first thing Trubisky said to him on the bus ride to the airport in Green Bay was, ‘‘How can I be better?’’
Well, kid, you can tell your coach not to sit on a 20-point lead in the third quarter. Nagy admitted Monday he didn’t like two screen passes he had called in the second half. Good for him for his honesty. Now he needs to start treating Trubisky like the NFL quarterback he is, not like a young, delicate kid who needs to be hidden from view in the second half of a big game.
That would help. I’m positive.