Bears coach Matt Nagy gave his players Sunday night to “feel like crap” about a 35-16 loss to the Packers. Now, they’re a playoff team.
“When you have guys that care a lot, they could care less about backing in or whatever it is,” Nagy said. “What they care about is that they understand that they earned it.
“Someone the other day said we’re the third team since 1970 to lose six in a row and go to the playoffs, and that’s not easy. Eight and eight — no, it’s not perfect. We understand that. We have a lot of things to get better at, but we can’t worry about that.”
The Bears indeed have a lot of things to get better at heading into the wild-card game Sunday (3:40 p.m., Ch. 2) against the NFC South champion Saints (11-5) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Their offense is struggling to score touchdowns against playoff-quality teams. Their defense just isn’t playing like the elite unit it was in 2018 and can’t provide the takeaways that often fuel playoff upsets. And they have little to no margin for error on either side of the ball, which makes the status of four injured players — inside linebacker Roquan Smith, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine — vital to their playoff hopes.
After scoring 16 touchdowns on 43 drives against the Lions, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars, the Bears gained 356 yards but scored only one touchdown in nine drives against the Packers. It didn’t work against Aaron Rodgers, and it’s not likely to be a successful formula against Drew Brees.
“You have these great quarterbacks you’re going up against and these offenses that are producing points at a high rate, so you have to be able to match that,” Nagy said. “Field goals aren’t going to win you games against the Packers. It’s the same thing in the playoffs. You gotta have touchdowns.”
The Bears’ defense sacked Rodgers once Sunday, was burned for a 72-yard touchdown pass on a blitz and didn’t take advantage of takeaway opportunities — with safety Eddie Jackson, linebacker Barkevious Mingo and cornerback Kindle Vildor missing interception chances.
“You’d like to get at least one of those three,’’ Nagy said, ‘‘and you have to be a little bit opportunistic. Those guys know that. In a win-or-go-home [situation] in the playoffs, we just want to go back to making sure that all our guys are focusing on the fundamentals and techniques and basics.”
With only 10 interceptions and 16 takeaways this season, the Bears can’t lean on their defense to carry them like they did in 2018.
“I have a lot of trust in our guys,” Nagy said. “Now it’s their job — when they get an opportunity to make a play, they gotta make plays. They understand that. And I believe in our guys. I really do. Now it’s our time to step up in all areas.”
It remains to be seen how big this game is for Nagy. He’s coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons after a 12-4 debut in 2018. A second playoff berth in three seasons presumably keeps him off the hot seat. But you never know.
Nagy said he has been in “constant communication” with Bears chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips, but neither has discussed Nagy’s future with the team.
“We’re so extremely focused on the Saints,” Nagy said. “And it’s great that we made [the playoffs] two out of three years. There are a lot of teams right now who are trying to figure out their flights home [Monday]. And we’re not. That’s something we’re going to build off of and we’re proud of. We’re not satisfied, and that’s the only thing we care about right now.”