At a crossroads, Matt Nagy faces difficult challenge
Is his message still resonating in a difficult 2019 season? He’s confident that it is. “The message is being heard, they’re reacting to it and it could have gone a lot of different ways a few weeks ago.”
A year ago at this time, coach Matt Nagy was doing some of his best work.
When the Bears beat the Lions 23-16 at Ford Field on Thanksgiving in 2018, it not only was their fifth consecutive victory to move them to 8-3, but their third victory over an NFC North opponent in 12 days.
The defense carried much of the load — including Eddie Jackson’s tiebreaking touchdown on an interception return and Kyle Fuller’s clinching pick in the end zone. But Nagy earned much of the credit for guiding the team through a treacherous run.
It was Nagy at his peak — able to inspire his team to a focused performance by instilling themed messages without beating them over the head with them. He had just the right touch.
A year later, Nagy is in the crosshairs of critics and fans for an offense that has regressed so completely, Nagy rates above even Mitch Trubisky as a culprit. And except for a 16-6 victory against the Vikings at Soldier Field in Week 4, the Nagy-induced ability to rise to the occasion hasn’t been there, either. The Bears’ only two victories since that win against Minnesota have been unimpressive — 20-13 over the Lions with Jeff Driskel at quarterback and last week’s sloppy, shoddy 19-14 victory over the 2-9 Giants.
Has Nagy lost that touch? Are those weekly messages still resonating? He says they are, even if the record indicates otherwise.
“They’re different because last year at this time we were in a pretty good spot,” Nagy said. “Record-wise, that is what everybody goes by. But to me in the situation that we’re in right now, it’s revealing a lot about a lot of people. And you learn who people are —everybody, coaches and players. So the message is being heard, they’re reacting to it, and it could have gone a lot of different ways a few weeks ago.”
That’s a fair point. The Bears are wobbly right now, but they’re not tearing apart at the seams. In 2013, Marc Trestman’s fresh messages resonated profoundly at the start. The Bears were 3-0, and the spirit and focus were outstanding. The Bears were so locked in on offense that they had one false start in their first nine games.
But slowly, the impact of Trestman and his messages began to wear off. And before you knew it, the wheels were coming off — on the field and off — and it turned into a disaster.
Nagy’s Bears appear nowhere close to that. The locker room isn’t the happiest place on earth — at 5-6, it shouldn’t be — but it’s holding, and Nagy deserves credit for that.
Now comes the tough part: keeping it all together in what looks like a very challenging last month of the season after Thursday’s game — the Cowboys at home; the Packers at Lambeau; the Chiefs, with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, at Soldier Field; and the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Nagy’s message this week? Beat the Lions.
“What I said to them after the [Giants] game was, ‘Let’s make sure we don’t get complacent,’ ’’ Nagy said. “It feels good to win no matter how you do it. Now we’ve put ourselves in a position to get back to .500. Let’s put together that one game where it feels really good — where all three phases are playing well. And that’s it. We can’t control two weeks from now. We can only control this game. That’s the mentality we have.”