EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was a relatively benign punishment on the surface, especially considering most NFL starters gladly would skip a preseason game, but Bears coach Matt Nagy made his point.
Not only did Nagy bench right guard Kyle Long on Friday against the Giants, but he left him home after Long lost his mind during a wild fight at practice Wednesday. Being singled out and separated from the team is a meaningful consequence, and it cost Long more than just a trip to New Jersey.
This would sting any player.
It was the first significant disciplinary issue in Nagy’s year-plus as a head coach, and he made the right call. Fighting in practice is common in the seemingly endless slog through the preseason, but Long took it too far.
‘‘It was a little bit of a different level,’’ Nagy said.
Long’s scuffle with rookie defensive end Jalen Dalton turned ugly when Long got hold of Dalton’s helmet and began beating him with it — out of line by any standards — then hurling it as far as he could.
Nagy ejected him from practice, then decided to send a more serious message by shredding his boarding pass the next day. The Bears held out 26 players against the Giants, but 25 had a good excuse. The rest of their starting offensive line enjoyed the game from the sideline.
Dalton stayed in that practice, by the way, and played Friday. Nagy can tolerate some pushing and shoving, maybe even a punch. Long and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks got into it Sunday, then cornerback Prince Amukamara and receiver Javon Wims tangled Tuesday. Nagy let those go.
The sticking point for Long is that the rage he showed Wednesday certainly would have gotten him thrown out of a regular-season game and likely would have gotten him suspended. That’s something Nagy can’t abide.
‘‘It’s handled,’’ he said, trying hard to push this out of the news cycle. ‘‘Kyle’s handled it, we’ve handled it and we have a plan going forward.’’
Nagy declined to give many details about the incident. He implied that Long already had dealt with the fallout in the locker room and that the team is ready to move forward.
It wasn’t a total surprise that Long, who has a reputation for being a hothead, had an outburst on that scale. As a rookie in 2013, he started kicking at a Rams player during a fracas, and who knows what would’ve happened if his brother Chris hadn’t run in from the opposing sideline to pull him away? He has had a few skirmishes in practice over the years, too.
But the fight with Dalton was the first time he had done something egregious under Nagy, and he learned the hard way that his coach’s ‘‘Be You’’ mantra has its limits.
By taking this stance with one of his best and most prominent players, Nagy set a precedent that will resonate.
It was a smart and reasonable penalty, too. Remember when the Browns laughably made receiver Antonio Callaway play a preseason game as punishment? That’s foolish. That, by unnecessary risk of injury, had the potential to hurt the team as a whole.
Nagy took a more prudent path with Long, who will get his next chance to practice Tuesday. He probably will be a bit more levelheaded by then.
The whole team should come back refreshed and a little calmer after getting a few days off, and the Bears probably need that. Training camp was sailing along peacefully until they had three practices in a row interrupted by tussles, culminating in Long vs. Dalton. This will get their minds back where Nagy needs them.