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Bears need to flip coach Matt Nagy’s script

The Bears enter Week 2 against the Giants on Sunday with a familiar charge: Get off to a fast start, so you don’t need three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to bail you out. 

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) had a 59.6 passer rating in the Bears’ first seven drives against the Lions on Sunday. He had a 139.4 rating in the final four drives as the Bears rallied to win, 27-23.
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

For a team that struggled on game-opening drives in 2019, the start to the Bears’ season opener last Sunday against the Lions was encouraging. A six-yard run by David Montgomery and a three-yard run by Tarik Cohen put the Bears in a third-and-one situation on their opening drive.

Coach Matt Nagy had quarterback Mitch Trubisky try a sneak for the first down. He failed, the Bears punted and the offense was spinning its wheels again.

Even an NFL-caliber running game didn’t give the Bears’ offense the early boost it has been searching for since 2018 under Nagy. Bears running backs — Montgomery, Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson — combined for 55 yards on eight carries in the first quarter, and the Bears still ended up with only three points.

The 55 yards by running backs in the first quarter is monumental for a team that struggled to run the ball and a coach who struggled to use the running game efficiently in 2019. Bears running backs gained only 194 yards and averaged 2.6 yards per carry in the first quarter last season — and that includes a season-high 44 yards on seven carries against Vikings reserves in the season finale.

So the Bears enter Week 2 of the 2020 season against the Giants on Sunday at Soldier Field with a familiar charge: Get off to a fast start, so you don’t need three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to bail you out.

What was once Nagy’s calling card in 2018 — first-quarter production — has become an albatross. The Bears were sixth in the NFL in first-quarter scoring with 85 points in Nagy’s first season in 2018. Last season, they were 32nd and last with 23.

The scripted plays designed to push an offense into an early rhythm by doing what it knows best aren’t as successful as they were in the beginning. The Bears scored touchdowns on their opening drive in three of Nagy’s first four games as their coach. In 30 games since then, the Bears have four touchdowns, two field goals, 19 punts, three turnovers and two missed field goals on their opening drive.

The scripted plays ‘‘are a little bit different every week, based on things that we see,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Usually, it’s the first [plays] that I stick to. You try to get through as many as you can. You try to stay stubborn with it because there’s a reason behind it.’’

Nagy said even the quarterback sneak was part of the script.

‘‘That wasn’t something we tried to shoot off our hip; that was a planned deal,’’ he said. ‘‘To start off the season three-and-out is not really what you want, but we rebounded.’’

Eventually, they did. Trubisky threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to rally the Bears to a 27-23 victory. Trubisky often is at his best in urgent situations like that. The trick is to create that urgency when there isn’t any in the first quarter.

‘‘We’ve gotta get to a point where we just feel [that urgency],’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘I don’t think you want to attack the game [at the outset] like you’re down 17 points. But it’s gotta be somewhere in that realm where we’re being aggressive, but we’re also taking care of the football and doing our job.

‘‘We’ve gotta get in that mindset to start fast, step up as players and take care of business. That’s where we’ll continue to be aggressive and have that attacking mindset and come out, start fast and throw the first punch.’’