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Bad plays testing Matt Nagy’s positivity

Bears coach stands by his players, but admits to being irked by mental lapses — like Anthony Miller’s fumbled handoff. “These are great kids. They mean well. But we’ve got to lock in. ... When we do that, I think we can be pretty scary. We didn’t do that this year.”

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears
The Bears had six negative plays against the Chiefs on Sunday night — including three sacks. They were able to overcome one of them for a first down — when Mitch Trubisky threw a 20-yard pass to tight end Jesper Horsted on a third-and-17 play in the fourth quarter following a holding penalty on Charles Leno.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears opened on a modest roll against the Chiefs on Sunday night — five positive plays in their first six offensive snaps that netted two first downs. And coach Matt Nagy felt good enough to throw a little bit of a wrinkle in there.

By 2018 standards, an end-around to Anthony Miller was pretty tame, actually. But the Bears couldn’t even get that right. Miller botched the handoff from quarterback Mitch Trubisky and quickly fell on the ball for a 10-yard loss.

Two plays later, including an eight-yard loss when Trubisky ran out of bounds on third down, and the Bears punted.

Miller’s misplay was an all-too-typical gaffe that again ruined Nagy’s best-laid plans. And at the end of a season in which Nagy has kept his cool, and resolutely supported his players and his team through a series of mishaps that have put him on the spot, at least for a moment he felt your pain.

“Were you watching me on the sideline?” Nagy said when asked if the Miller play tested his positivity. “Yeah, it tests me. These are great kids. They mean well. But we’ve got to lock in. We’ve got to be really good in those situations.

“We were moving the ball. We were getting positive yards. We were getting five, six, eight, two, four, and all of the sudden minus-10. And then you get to third-and-13, minus-eight with a sack . . . That’s what we were doing early in the season, not starting fast. It was always a penalty or a negative play. Well, we had that [Sunday night] offensively. So those are the things that we’ve really got to lock in on.”

Plays like Miller’s that usually are a matter of focus and discipline have been part of a general indictment of Nagy’s offense all season. Simple mistakes of concentration and/or discipline have been robbing Nagy’s offense of what it needs most — rhythm, momentum and a series of positive plays that fuels an offense and puts the defense on its heels.

Nagy, in fact, has been lamenting these lapses literally from the first offensive snap of the season — when running back Tarik Cohen dropped a too-tight pitch from Trubisky for a four-yard loss against the Packers after the Bears’ starters had not played in the preseason. A Packers penalty on that play gave the Bears a first down, but the damage was done.

“If we hold onto that ball, that might be down the sideline for 40 yards,” Nagy said after that game, a 10-3 loss at Soldier Field. “It was blocked up like a gem. So we didn’t and that’s just how it goes.”

The Bears can overcome negative plays. They’ve had 11-or-more yards to go 52 times this season and have converted for a first down 23 times (44.2 percent). Nagy implied that the onus is on the Bears to avoid the bad plays in the first place.

“We’ve got to lock in,” Nagy said. “When [those plays] hit, they’re good. When they don’t hit, they’re bad. So when you’re running the ball, you’re running the ball, you’re running the ball, boom — you hit them with a misdirection. But it’s a poor misdirection because it’s a fumble.”

The issue of focus and discipline is particularly tricky for Nagy because it’s so abstract. There’s no easy solution.

“None of this is criticism on the players, but we’ve got to learn from this,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to understand that this is the ‘why’ part that we talk about. We’ve all got to lock in — I’ve got to lock in better; our coaches need to lock in better; our players need to. When we do that, I think we can be pretty scary. We didn’t do that this year.”