Breaking bad? Loss to Lions would test Bears’ culture as season slides away
Once the playoffs are off the table, NFL teams fight all kinds of locker-room trouble. But coach Matt Nagy believes the Bears will keep it together no matter what.
Any NFL team would be on the brink if it had endured a Bears-style first-half flop.
In the midst of a four-game skid, the Bears have seen their Super Bowl hopes shattered. To compound matters, they have to deal with the always-tricky element of the offense sinking what would otherwise be winning efforts by the defense.
When a season goes sideways, locker rooms often slide into every man for himself, blame games and infighting. The same tactics a coach used during high times grow more irritating with each defeat.
The Bears, at 3-5, insist that’ll never happen to them, but a loss to the Lions on Sunday could be a blow to the culture coach Matt Nagy believes they have established.
“The No. 1 thing is making sure that there’s no friction or fracture or separation or segregation between the team,” Nagy said. “When bad things happen, you don’t do all that, [and] it gives you a better chance.
“When you have bad people, me people, selfish people, it can get out of control.”
When a team no longer has the playoffs as motivation, which is basically the case already for the Bears, the situation can become unmanageable. The emphasis shifts from the collective to the individual.
“When you have that, that’s hard to stop,” Nagy said. “But I really believe we don’t have that with our team.”
Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel knows the scenario well. He spent his first two seasons with the Browns, and their 2015 team started 2-10.
Trudging through that miserable environment for months is demoralizing.
“You don’t want to show up to work,” Gabriel said. “You don’t want to be around.
“But we don’t have those types of guys. We have nothing but good guys. That’s why you haven’t seen the finger-pointing. As long as we keep the locker room positive, we’ll be OK.”
It’s to the Bears’ credit that they have avoided a schism.
All it usually takes is one player saying, “Hey, I’m doing my job,” which is true for virtually everyone on defense and several skill players. It would be understandable for defenders to feel as though their performances are being wasted and skill players to lose patience with quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Nagy seems especially vigilant about any potential offense-defense rift, and he should be. The Bears are sixth in opponent scoring and ninth in yardage allowed — impressive when the offensive failures are forcing the defense to play 65.5 snaps per game, 11th-most in the NFL.
“A four-game losing streak isn’t easy, especially when you have a separation of two sides, with the offense struggling and the defense playing really well, you know?” Nagy said. “We haven’t had any of that, and that’s a credit to our players for being so strong.”
There hasn’t been any obvious division, but warning signs are there. Defensive players, keenly aware of the burden on their shoulders, have mentioned needing to get shutouts.
Maybe that’s what they’d say even if things were going fine, but the stressors are stacking up. Imagine how it must’ve felt to go into halftime down 12-0 after the offense mustered nine yards, or the frustration of being gassed on the Eagles’ last drive while playing a season-high 89 snaps.
All the mishaps since the playoff loss in January can wear on players, too.
There was Cody Parkey’s ill-fated ‘‘Today’’ show appearance, followed by the circuslike search for his replacement. Then the hash-mark debacle against the Chargers. Also, Trubisky continues to play poorly but has unconditional job security. And Nagy ran the ball fewer times than any coach in the Bears’ 100-year history in a loss to the Saints, then said he’s “not an idiot” the next day as he touted the importance of a good ground game.
That stuff just doesn’t seem to happen in New England.
The cumulative effect hasn’t broken the Bears yet, but it’s a perilous situation, and a loss Sunday could be the tipping point.