Whoever is looking down from above on the Bears’ kicking derby — and it’s not a traffic helicopter spying on Cody Parkey’s practice tries, we don’t think — has a sense of humor.
How else would Elliott Fry end up trying The Parkey Kick — 43 yards, toward the north goalpost, after a timeout to ice him — as the first half expired in the preseason opener Thursday?
The only difference was the hash mark from which he kicked.
And, of course, the stakes.
Unlike Parkey, Fry made the field goal, providing the highlight of the Bears’ 23-13 exhibition loss to the Panthers. A crowd of 45,823 offered the loudest cheer of the night.
“It was a 43,” Fry said after his first-ever NFL preseason game. “Obviously, that number’s been ingrained into my memory.”
Same for everyone else at Soldier Field.
“You could certainly feel it,” coach Matt Nagy said. “You could sense it from everybody, all the fans, and I looked over after the completion and they spotted it. I realized it was 43. And then coach [Ron] Rivera goes ahead and pops a timeout, too.”
The last time the Bears tried an in-game field goal, Parkey double-doinked the team out of the playoffs. The first time they did Thursday, the Bears missed again. Eddy Pineiro, whose strong leg and 2018 preseason experience gave him a slight edge over Fry, hooked a 48-yarder wide left.
Here’s how bad the Bears wanted Pineiro to try a long field goal: Coming out of the first half’s two-minute warning and facing third-and-six, Nagy called a handoff to fourth-string running back Ryan Nall, who gained one yard.
“It’s not fun to miss,” Pineiro said. “You want to make every single kick. But I’m going to learn from it, bounce back.”
Pineiro got a second chance midway through the fourth quarter and made a 23-yarder.
“I want to see, is this a deal where now it’s gonna be another miss coming up, or do they come back and bang it and get three points?” Nagy said. “How is he gonna recover mentally? How strong are you mentally in practice coming back from that, and then the next time you come back out there?”
“Those results, I don’t know yet.”
Fry converted the extra point after rookie running back David Montgomery ran over left tackle for a seven-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The third-round pick was the Bears’ most impressive regular, rushing three times for 16 yards and catching three passes for 30 more.
He had little competition, as Nagy sat most of his starters. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky started, handed the ball off three times and put on a baseball cap. Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson and Allen Robinson were among the 15 regulars who didn’t play. The only four defensive starters to begin the game played one series and were done.
The Panthers — who didn’t play Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly or Greg Olsen — got their two touchdowns from a famous name: undrafted running back Elijah Holyfield, the son of boxer Evander Holyfield. He caught a seven-yard touchdown in the third quarter and iced the game in the fourth, running 11 yards for a score with 1:41 to play to go up 10.
As if either kicker needed reminding, the preseason opener reinforced how they’re competing with each other — and every other kicker in the NFL. The Bears will be watching the waiver wire on cutdown day to see which kickers lose their team’s competition.
The Panthers’ Joey Slye aced his audition. With veteran Graham Gano getting the night off, the 23-year-old Virginia Tech alum made a 42-yarder and then a 55-yard kick with about five yards to spare.
In Baltimore, backup Kaare Vedvik — stuck behind the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, the league’s best kicker — made field goals of 55, 45, 29 and 26 yards in a victory against the Jaguars.
Whether the solution to the Bears’ kicking woes comes from without or within, it’s still weeks away from being settled.
“When your job’s on the line,” Fry said, “every kick’s pressure.”