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Bears coach Matt Nagy despondent over offense after 26-23 loss to Saints

In a lot of ways, it was one of the Bears’ best offensive games of the season. Maybe that’s what hurts the most for Nagy: It might not get any better than this.

Matt Nagy is 25-15 in three seasons as Bears head coach.
Matt Nagy is 25-15 in three seasons as Bears head coach.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

This was actually progress for the Bears’ offense. It’s the nicest and meanest thing to say about them.

A game in which they were wildly inconsistent and probably still had more boneheaded mistakes than splashy successes might have been their best performance of the season. It wasn’t enough, however, as they fell to the Saints 26-23 in overtime.

At the end of a week in which coach Matt Nagy railed against all the negativity coming at his team, he was despondent. His offense has suffered one gut-punching failure after another, and he hit a new level of exasperation.

Yes, the Bears had their third-highest scoring and yardage totals of the season, but what’s crushing Nagy is the chasm between what he thinks this offense could be and how often it falls far short of that.

‘‘That’s what it is,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s hard for me to try to figure that thing out.’’

There’s a list of things Nagy can’t figure out. And each week in which solutions evade him, the Bears slide further away from being the contenders they imagine themselves to be.

Speaking of which, that’s a total fantasy, no matter what defensive lineman Akiem Hicks says.

‘‘We’re an elite team,’’ Hicks said after the loss. ‘‘We’re an elite team, and we can play at a high level. The consistency behind that is something we need to improve throughout the course of the game.’’

No part of this team is elite at the moment. The defense is very good, but the standard for being elite is what it delivered in 2018. And offensively? Mere adequacy feels like too lofty a goal.

There was one electric drive in the second quarter that was so shockingly uncharacteristic of the Bears that it’s hard to begin to make sense of it.

Quarterback Nick Foles launched a beautiful rocket deep down the middle of the field to receiver Darnell Mooney for 50 yards, then followed it two plays later with a 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Allen Robinson for a 10-3 lead.

Someone who had watched only the Bears their entire life would have thought plays such as those were illegal.

Immediately afterward, they sunk back into that familiar lull of the usual Bears offense, with Foles throwing to running back Cordarrelle Patterson for a loss of four yards, then throwing a couple of incomplete passes for a three-and-out. It really helped everyone calm down after that bizarre outburst the series before.

The Bears worked their way up to a 13-3 lead before starting their spiral to a 23-13 deficit. Only because of Cairo Santos’ 51-yard field goal with 13 seconds left did they force overtime.

That drive was sad in a way. The Bears needed 12 plays to claw 35 yards for a desperate field-goal try, converting two fourth downs to get there.

In total, they converted only five of 15 third downs, managed 329 yards of offense — all but five NFL teams average more than that per game — and squeezed a 92.7 passer rating out of Foles. And all of that was pretty good for the Bears.

Think how much better it could have been if the offense didn’t self-sabotage with mindless penalties and overall sloppiness.

‘‘There’s issues there,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘That’s what bothers me and that’s what pisses me off. There is that issue still going on. Excuse my French.’’

There are plenty of issues, but the one that triggered that response was Foles committing a delay-of-game penalty on third-and-four from the Saints’ 32 in the third quarter. The radio communication between Nagy and Foles went out, so Foles was running to Nagy and then calling plays off his wristband and couldn’t do it before the play clock ran out.

Third-and-four became third-and-nine. And after Foles took a sack that he should have avoided with a throwaway, the Bears dropped out of field-goal range and punted.

‘‘You know, we’re reading it from a wristband,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I just — I’m struggling with that right now. It’s getting you into a hole. That has to change.’’

Maybe that’s the part that eats at Nagy. Between the personnel deficiencies, his own battle with play-calling and the ongoing mistakes, this is about the best the Bears’ offense can do against good teams.

At their peak, when facing good opponents, the best the Bears can hope for is to be in a coin-flip game like this or the one against the Buccaneers. In that game, Santos won it with a 38-yard field goal. In this one, the Bears came unglued in overtime and watched Saints kicker Wil Lutz end it from 35 yards.

‘‘I did feel better about a lot of stuff,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘But none of that matters because you want to win.’’

He has been saying victories are all that matters and holding the Bears’ record up as a rebuttal to anyone who points out this season clearly isn’t trending the right way. As the record slips from 5-1 to 5-3, his counterargument is disintegrating in his hands.