Bears’ recovery starts with Matt Nagy

The second-year head coach needs to regain the touch that guided the Bears through challenging waters in 2018.

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Chicago Bears v Oakland Raiders

Matt Nagy has the Bears 3-3 after six games just like last season, when they finished 12-4. But he knows the challenge is much greater this time.

Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Has Matt Nagy lost his touch? 

As a rookie head coach last year, Nagy made his mark as a leader of men more than as an offensive genius. While his offense was only intermittently successful, Nagy’s ability to lead was an impressive constant. 

Whether it was responding after a loss, avoiding a letdown after a win, playing on a short week, playing three division games in 11 days, playing in a marquee prime-time game or not overlooking a weaker opponent, Nagy had a fine touch in guiding his team through challenging waters. Even defensive players mentally tethered to Vic Fangio often followed Nagy’s lead — crediting him with providing the right leadership from week to week. Nagy’s impact was undeniable. 

But this year? Not so much. The Bears lost a division game against the rival Packers at home in their opener. They responded with a victory the next week — but the walk-off win over the Broncos was not nearly as impressive as the Week 2 romp over the Seahawks last season after the opening road loss to the Packers.

No doubt, the 16-6 victory against the Vikings in Week 4 was a classic Nagy production — with the defense overcoming the loss of two starters and Chase Daniel competently guiding the Bears to victory in place of injured quarterback Mitch Trubisky. 

But that’s about it. Since that Vikings game, the Bears have flopped twice in challenging situations that Nagy seemed to guide them through a year ago — the logistically problematic London trip to face the Raiders (a 24-21 loss as 6½-point favorites) and the post-bye response to that loss against the Drew Brees-less Saints (a 36-25 loss at Soldier Field).

Now, after two disappointing losses as favorites, the Bears are 3-3 and at a low point in the Nagy era, with an offense and a quarterback trying to halt a regression instead of picking up steam to take a giant leap. Nagy’s leadership powers are more vital than ever. But like everyone else at Halas Hall, he has a lot to prove again. 

Considering the circumstances, Nagy has had a pretty good week. From the start on Monday (“the sun came up”), he has struck the right tone, acknowledged reality and given every indication he sees the same game — and the same quarterback — we see. 

He acknowledged that this year’s 3-3 isn’t the same as last year’s 3-3. He acknowledged that running seven times in a game is unproductive and on him (“I’m not an idiot.”). He knows the two garbage-time touchdown drives mean nothing. And he knows that telling us how accurate Trubisky is in practice isn’t convincing evidence he’ll be that accurate in a game. 

“We can sit here and say everything we want throughout the week, but in the end, what happens on game day?” Nagy said. “We had a hell of a practice the week of Green Bay. We had one of our best practices in my year-and-a-half [tenure]. And we didn’t play that way [in the game]. Offensively, we didn’t play well, and we had a great practice.

“So I could sit up here today and say we had a hell of a practice this week. It doesn’t matter. You have to play well on game day.”

For what it’s worth, Nagy was as comfortable as ever in the most uncomfortable week of his NFL coaching career. But he knows that that’s like a good week of practice. You’ve got to do it on game day.

“We’re being tested right now, and I kind of like it,” Nagy said. “We’ll see how we end up with this.” 

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