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Matt Nagy’s belief getting hard to believe

The cherished culture that has been Nagy’s anchor might be a detriment at this point. It has devolved into psycho-babble that Bears fans aren’t buying — because it’s not paying off in enough points or wins. 

Bears coach Matt Nagy exhorts his team Sunday against the Buccaneers. The Bears lost 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Bears coach Matt Nagy exhorts his team Sunday against the Buccaneers. The Bears lost 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Jason Behnken/AP Photos

The Bears, as they do before every game, gathered at their hotel Saturday night before Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers. But this time, coach Matt Nagy, ever-conscious of having his finger on the pulse of his team, went a little deeper, having a “real conversation” with his players.

“I just thought it was a good opportunity to speak from the heart a little bit,” he said, “from where I’m at as the head coach and from where we’re at as a team, and where we want to go.

“I think that’s very important to do that — to have those every once in a while. You can’t have those every week. But sometimes you’ve got to have some that are real conversations that mean a lot, and that’s what we did.”

Nagy couldn’t have felt better about how it went. The heart-to-heart reaffirmed his belief in his players, further cemented his trust in them and strengthened the bond between players and coach that Nagy believes is a huge key to building a winning team.

Then the Bears went out and laid the biggest egg in Nagy’s four seasons as head coach. Faulty in every phase from the start, the Bears fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter and trailed 35-3 by halftime in a startling blowout loss.

It was yet another reminder of an NFL truth that continues to chip away at Nagy’s credibility: No matter how much your players love playing for you, they still have to make plays for you if they’re going to win football games.

But from the beginning Sunday, that didn’t happen. Rookie running back Khalil Herbert missed a blitz pickup that led to a sack/fumble. Buccaneers rookie Jaelon Darden burned the Bears for a 43-yard punt return. Tight end Cole Kmet dropped a third-and-eight pass to force another punt. And that was just in the first six minutes of the game. It would get much worse.

Yet in the aftermath, when Nagy was asked about the challenge of keeping his players on board, he again went right back to that unshakable bond he has with them.

“The last couple of days with our team, we’ve become really close,” Nagy said. “For us to become as close as we have the last 24 to 48 hours, I just trust and believe in them. And they’ve done it before. Our guys have rebounded before, and I just know from our discussion in [the locker room] and where we’re at right now as fighters and people and teammates.”

That kind of thing sounded a lot more convincing three years ago than it did Sunday. It was impressive when the Bears were 12-4. It might have provided hope when they were 8-8. But it’s ringing hollow today as the Bears sit at 3-4 with embarrassing losses to the Browns and Bucs and with an offense that’s supposed to revive Nagy’s reputation as an offensive builder but instead seems to be dragging him into the coaching abyss.

The cherished culture, togetherness and belief that heretofore has been Nagy’s anchor might actually be a detriment at this point. It has devolved into psycho-babble that Bears fans aren’t buying because it’s not paying off in enough points or victories.

“I absolutely get that,” Nagy conceded Monday. “I understand completely — and we all understand, because just

as everybody wants to win

and score points and hold teams to less points, we all want that, too.

“It comes down to us doing it. We have to perform and put points on the board so we can win games — that’s our No. 1 focus right now is being able to understand, ‘Yeah, we can talk about an identity and trying to do certain things and run certain plays. . . . We need to score a lot more points so we can win.”

And therein lies the biggest challenge of Matt Nagy’s coaching career. It’s one thing to get his players to believe in him. Now he has to get them to play for him.