Bears need to move past feeling of life-or-death field goals

The first step for coach Matt Nagy is getting over the trauma of the double-doink and re-establishing normalcy.

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[Brian O’Mahoney/For the Sun-Times]

If Eddy Pineiro gets to run out for a field goal in the Bears’ season opener against Green Bay — and that is a massive if — the tension will be like nothing he has ever encountered.

It’ll be his first NFL kick. He’ll probably wonder whether it’ll be his last.

It will be a while before field goals become ordinary again in Chicago, and they’ll carry more weight than just three points. There’s no way Pineiro or any yet-to-arrive replacement could line up without sensing that his job is on the line, seeming like they’re one shank away from unemployment.

Matt Nagy doesn’t want that and disputed that the climate has escalated to such a point, but how could any kicker not feel that way?

“That’s not really the case with him,” Nagy said of Pineiro. “I really don’t believe there’s a kicker out there that never misses in practice and in the games. It’s how you respond to it.

“Does he think that if he misses a kick he’s out of here? No, he doesn’t think that because I told him, ‘Just go kick, worry about the next kick, the next play.’”

Nagy can say that, but no one could blame Pineiro for being skeptical after a selection process that stopped just shy of making kickers play Hunger Games for a roster spot.

Two weeks ago, Pineiro watched Carolina backup kicker Joey Slye hit a 55-yarder at Soldier Field and said he hoped it didn’t give the Bears any ideas.

When he beat out Elliott Fry on Sunday, it was hardly time to celebrate. As he put it, “they’ve got us on thin ice here,” and that’ll still be the case if he survives the next two weeks.

Some of this is merely a day in the life of any kicker, where it’s always a cruel game of musical chairs with more qualified candidates than roster spots, but the Bears ratcheted up the intensity after Cody Parkey’s miss at the end of their playoff loss to the Eagles.

Most of their kicker derby played out in public by design, like when Nagy had eight of them try “The Parkey Kick” on the right hash from 43 yards. More details, including a confusing scoring system for evaluations and allegations of bias by Bears kicking consultant Jamie Kohl in favor of his former clients, emerged in a Sports Illustrated story published Wednesday. A lot of the criticism came from players who were dismissed.

Nagy did not read the article, which is a circus-like portrayal of how the Bears handled this, before talking to reporters but defended the process.

“I feel great,” he said. “We felt like ... when we brought in a bunch of kickers, we’re going to test them all out and see what they can do.

“Is it exactly the perfect science? I don’t know that. Maybe not ... I just really like how we’re going through this thing.”

There was a moment of introspection, though, and give Nagy credit for not being strident. This is his first head-coaching job, and kicker issues have never been within his purview before.

He thinks he has done this right, but he seems like someone who’d be willing to admit it if he goes too far. Maybe in time he’ll arrive at that conclusion, maybe not.

For now, he acknowledged it’s difficult to stay sane any time the Bears try a field goal, even in practice. He said upon arrival in Bourbonnais he was moving past the Double Doink, then said it again after Pineiro lit it up in their practice at Soldier Field, but it won’t go away.

Sure enough, a few days later, Fry stepped up to a 43-yarder into the north end zone. Nagy knew the exact yardage the moment the ref whistled the previous play dead. The entire stadium seemed to know it, and the noise rose steadily before bursting into a roar when Fry made it.

Every made kick is irrationally ballooned into vengeance for the Double Doink.

Every miss makes you question everything.

“It’s really easy as a head coach of the Chicago Bears, as a fan of the Chicago Bears, as a media of the Chicago Bears, as the team of the Chicago Bears, to just destroy every missed kick,” Nagy said. “We have to keep those things in a little perspective and not get too crazy over a missed kick here or there.”

When asked if he’s had trouble maintaining that perspective since January, Nagy said, “Yeah, no doubt. ... We all lived through what happened last year and now we’re getting past that. We’re working past that. But it’s the center of attention for all of us.”

Pineiro avoided some of the madness because the Bears traded for him after the rookie minicamp weekend when they brought in nine kickers and weren’t sold on any of them, but now he — or whoever they pick up on a waiver claim — ventures into wilder territory.

It’s easy to be patient in the fake drama of the preseason, but no one inside the organization or around it will tolerate much come September. Pineiro’s fate might not hinge on a single kick, but one bad game might be enough.

If he misses a game-winner, will the Bears hold a mid-season tryout where eight guys try The Pineiro Kick? Will they shuffle through kickers throughout the season? How far is too far?

If the Bears want normalcy, they have to start acting normal. Let a field goal be just a field goal, nothing more. Otherwise, it’s a hard way to live.

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