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Without Matt Nagy, it’s business as usual for Bears

Special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor was able to put his “own spin on it” as acting head coach with Nagy in coronavirus protocol. But after a fast start, the Bears were stymied in the second half in a 33-22 loss to the 49ers.

Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was in control as the Bears’ acting head coach in place of Matt Nagy on Sunday against the 49ers at Soldier Field. “I was extremely comfortable,” Tabor said.
Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was in control as the Bears’ acting head coach in place of Matt Nagy on Sunday against the 49ers at Soldier Field. “I was extremely comfortable,” Tabor said.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Asked about the Bears having only 10 players on the field before a critical defensive play of the goal line in the third quarter Sunday — 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo scored on the ensuing play — acting head coach Chris Tabor was direct, resolute and succinct. He didn’t have to see the film.

‘‘We did have 10 men on at the time,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘I knew it was gonna be a tight ballgame. And in the second half, those timeouts are gold bricks to me. Sometimes you’ve gotta weigh where they’re at on the field and roll the dice. I elected to roll the dice.’’

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Coach Matt Nagy missed the Bears’ 33-22 loss to the 49ers at Soldier Field because of coronavirus protocols, and Tabor’s tidy, cogent postgame news conference was one of the few times his absence was obvious.

Other than that, it was business as usual for the Bears. A promising start, missed opportunities to take control, a signature play by Justin Fields to provide hope and a defensive collapse in the second half added up to a third consecutive loss that was pretty typical of the Nagy era.

With Nagy unable to communicate with his coaches while watching the game in quarantine at an undisclosed location — per NFL rules — he handed the reins to his special-teams coordinator with authority. Tabor wasn’t just a figurehead and didn’t act like one. He took Nagy’s message to heart.

‘‘Coach and I talked a lot, obviously, throughout the week,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘He said: ‘You’ll put your spin on it. You’ll know what to do. You’ll have the speed of the game.’

‘‘I will say this: There’s analytics, and you do listen to analytics. But at the end of the day, there’s a gut feeling. You’re going down a river and you have to figure out, ‘Are we gonna go right or are we gonna go left?’ There’s a lot of things that go into that that you can’t come up with the answer on Wednesday or Thursday.

‘‘I thought we played in the flow of the game. At the end of the day, it was a tale of two halves.’’

For one game, an NFL team can survive on autopilot without its coach. And, as expected, Nagy was and wasn’t missed.

For his part, receiver Darnell Mooney said he noticed Nagy’s absence.

‘‘Definitely,’’ Mooney said. ‘‘His vocalness and just being able to pick up everybody energy-wise. He definitely was missed, for sure.’’

Quarterback Justin Fields said Nagy texted him before the game.

‘‘It was a long message,’’ Fields said. ‘‘Just know it was inspirational. That’s all you need to know.’’

Once the game began, however, Fields was too focused to think about it.

‘‘You can’t really let it impact your day, can’t focus on that,’’ Fields said of Nagy’s absence. ‘‘He’s not going to help us . . . at home. You have to focus on who’s here and focus on now.

‘‘Of course, it was tough not having Coach. He texted me this morning. I texted him back. He texted me after the game, and I didn’t see what he said yet. But it was pretty much the same thing for me.’’

In one way, Nagy couldn’t win Sunday. Even if the Bears’ ever-stagnant offense suddenly blossomed without him, it wouldn’t be a great look. And for what it’s worth, the Bears’ offense was pretty efficient and error-free in the early going.

The Bears scored on their first three possessions for only the second time in Nagy’s four seasons on Fields’ eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jesse James and two field goals by Cairo Santos.

And Fields had a breakout game as a runner. He gained 103 yards on 10 carries, including a spectacular 22-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-one play in the fourth quarter that cut the 49ers’ lead to 23-22 with 9:32 left.

It was Tabor’s call to go for it, even before the third-and-six play that set it up.

‘‘I knew if it was the right down-and-distance, we were gonna go for it, yes,’’ Tabor said.

In the end, Tabor and the Bears suffered another loss. Business as usual.

‘‘Honestly, the difference was he just wasn’t there in person,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘But he was in the meetings. I visited Coach last night. I visited with him this morning. I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win for him. That hurts.’’