As the walls have closed in on the Bears over the last three weeks and they’ve dropped from first to eighth in the NFC, coach Matt Nagy has been determined to keep his team upbeat.
Upbeat, but not oblivious.
The Bears know what’s at stake after a three-game losing streak dropped them to 5-4 heading into their game Monday night against the Vikings.
Nagy wants them to draw on the experience of fighting through a four-game losing streak last season, which only ended when they got to games against some of the worst teams in the NFL, but he also hopes the lesson of that slide sticks with them. Once they bottomed out at 4-6, there was little shot of salvaging the season, and they were eliminated in mid-December. Their season is already on the line.
“You can definitely feel right now a positive motivation to go out and win,” Nagy said. “That is probably the best way to put it. I don’t know if it is a sense of urgency.
“Every week that goes by now it becomes more and more important, obviously for a lot of different reasons.”
One of those being that a loss to the Vikings would allow them to catch the Bears.
Once looking left for last place at 1-5, the Vikings bounced back with wins over the Packers and Lions as the Bears dropped. After their visit to Soldier Field, the Vikings have an opportunity to keep climbing with games against the Cowboys, Panthers and Jaguars. It’s imperative that the Bears head that off with a win.
This is also the start of nearly all the Bears’ NFC North games. They close the season with five in the final seven games.
“We talk about how important the division games are and for us,” Nagy said. “We talk about the biggest part: Control what you can control. And right now, we put ourselves in this position, being at 5-4.
“This is not something where their attitudes are changing for the negative. We know that we have each other in this building, and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Those inside Halas Hall might be the last few who believe the Bears can make something of this season. They’re a home underdog (again) against a Vikings team they’ve beaten four consecutive times.
The biggest cause for pessimism is the offense, which is Nagy’s operation. The Bears are 31st in yards per play at 4.8. That means only the winless Jets get less out of their offense on each snap.
Nagy has been under fire for the feeble offense since last season, but it finally reached the point of pressing into his play calling over the past month. He has been asked repeatedly about whether his calls are part of the problem and backed off his initial insistence that that wasn’t the issue.
The only consistency is that he’s adamant about making sure no one outside the building knows what’s happening.
“That’s something I’m going to keep internally right now with us,” he said. “We’re talking through all that.”
It’s highly unlikely they’re still trying to decide that this late in the week.
The play-calling drama is one of many weaving through the Bears’ preparation. They’re still waiting on Nick Foles to play at least league-average at quarterback, their offensive line was very much makeshift for practice Thursday and two of their top skill players — wide receiver Allen Robinson and running back David Montgomery — are injured.
That makes it all the more difficult to turn this around. But the one thing that’s never been questioned about Nagy is his leadership, and he’s doing everything he can in that regard. He’s perpetually convinced that the Bears are about to turn the corner, and he needs to be right about that Monday. Otherwise, at 5-5, with a visit to Green Bay next, the season will slip from his hands.