It was the Bears’ offense under coach Matt Nagy in a nutshell: The harder they try, the worse they get.
Nagy’s decision to turn over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor elicited modest expectations at best — inside and outside Halas Hall. And the Bears’ still managed to disappoint.
An ineffective running game, protection issues and quarterback Nick Foles’ failure to rise above the muck left the Bears running in place yet again in a 19-13 loss to the Vikings on Monday at Soldier Field.
‘‘Obviously, we struggled mightily on offense,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We had field position, [and] we couldn’t convert on that in the red zone. It overshadows how well our defense played. Two out of three parts are playing well. That’s been a constant theme for us.’’
Against the 29th-ranked defense in the NFL, the Bears managed a season-low 149 yards on 50 plays. Against the 30th-ranked pass defense, Foles completed 15 of 26 passes for a season-low 106 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a season-low 51.1 rating.
‘‘This has been something that has been going on for most of the season,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘The reason we [switched play-callers] was because we felt we were struggling to get into a rhythm and weren’t taking advantage and were scoring touchdowns too late and weren’t getting them on the front end.
‘‘I think you could see it was repetitive tonight. It was still happening. Not only for the players’ health but for us as a coaching staff, we need to make sure that we’re really, honestly going back now [during the bye week] and saying, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ And where are we at now that we have some time to really see?’’
No matter the play-caller, there’s always something with the Bears’ offense. It took only two plays to exhibit some of the troublesome traits of Nagy’s offense.
On first-and-10 on the Bears’ first possession, Foles’ pass to Darnell Mooney in the flat gained nothing when Anthony Miller, attempting to block, instead was bulled back into Mooney.
On second-and-10 from the Bears’ 27, Foles dropped back and was well-protected, with as clean a pocket as he can expect. But his throw over the middle was behind Miller and a little high. Miller tipped the ball into the air at the Bears’ 45, and Vikings safety Harrison Smith intercepted it at midfield and returned it to the Bears’ 41.
The only difference with Lazor calling the shots is that the offense was worse. The line, which struggled without three starters and two backups last week against the Titans, was fortified with center Cody Whitehair’s return from the COVID-19 list. That moved Alex Bars from center to his more comfortable position at left guard, with Rashaad Coward playing in place of injured backup Jason Spriggs at right tackle.
The Bears were slightly better after that first interception. They even drove to the Vikings’ 7 on their second drive. But every drive stalled with Foles unable to manage constant pressure, and the offense notched only two field goals.
Even then, they had a chance for redemption after Miller’s 32-yard punt return to the Vikings’ 46 with 5:01 left in the fourth quarter. Foles connected with Patterson for a 10-yard gain and a first down at the 36. But the drive fizzled. Foles’ quick hitter to Allen Robinson on third-and-five from the 31 lost four yards. And on fourth down, Foles stepped up under pressure and overthrew Miller at the 5 for an incompletion that all but settled the matter.