Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The last time the Bears played the Cardinals, coach Matt Nagy and the Bears were on the rise and the Cardinals were spinning their wheels. Now it’s the other way around.
Almost everywhere you turn, there’s a reminder of how the Bears have fallen behind after Nagy’s glorious debut season in 2018.
When the Bears beat the Cardinals 16-14 at State Farm Stadium in Week 3 of that season, it was a testament to their resilience under their impressive rookie coach. After beating Russell Wilson and the Seahawks at home the previous week, the Bears came out flat and fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter. But they impressively reeled in the Cardinals with a dominant second-half performance: four takeaways and three sacks, including safety Eddie Jackson’s interception of Sam Bradford and linebacker Khalil Mack’s strip sack of Bradford.
Cornerback Bryce Callahan added an interception of rookie backup Josh Rosen on the Cardinals’ fourth possession, and Jackson was able to laugh off a pick-six nullified by an offsides penalty on Mack when cornerback Sherrick McManis sacked Rosen on the final play of the game.
Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field goal made the difference. Those were the days.
The 2-1 Bears were just getting started. And the Cardinals were heading in the opposite direction. They went 3-13 that season under first-year coach Steve Wilks, with a messy quarterback situation that sounds awfully familiar. They signed the veteran Bradford in free agency, then moved up in the first round of the draft to take Rosen with the 10th overall pick. Both quarterbacks were immediate busts.
But general manager Steve Keim boldly pulled himself out of the muck. He fired Wilks after just one season and hired Kliff Kingsbury, who recently had been fired from Texas Tech. Then he drafted quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick. Then he fleeced the Texans to acquire wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Kingsbury still has a lot to prove as a head coach, especially after a late-season collapse cost the Cardinals a playoff berth last year. But with Murray showing MVP potential as a dangerous run/pass threat, the Cardinals’ offense has developed into one of the best in the NFL. It has improved from 32nd in points and yards the year before Kingsbury arrived to fifth in points and 10th in yards in 2021.
And the defense under former Broncos coach Vance Joseph has made similar strides — from 26th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed the year before Joseph arrived to fourth and fifth in 2021.
The Cardinals are 9-2 heading into Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. They’re currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC and are 2-1 with Colt McCoy starting for an injured Murray the last three games.
If there’s any solace for Bears fans, it’s that these Cardinals — while hardly a finished product — have become contenders under ownership that’s just as flighty as the Bears’. With the Bidwill family in charge, the Cardinals haven’t won an NFL championship since 1947 — in Chicago.
2. Nagy might owe a debt of gratitude to Kingsbury after the Cardinals’ demise last season allowed the Bears to make the playoffs. The Cardinals were in control of the seventh seed with two games to go but lost to the 49ers and quarterback C.J. Beathard at home in Week 16, then lost to the Rams and first-time starter John Wolford (with Murray playing injured) to finish 8-8. The Bears won the final spot on a tiebreaker, which arguably saved Nagy’s job.
3. Jackson’s response to a question about “Fire Nagy!” chants was pitch-perfect. He expressed dismay (“It’s not helping the situation”) but acknowledged the root of fans’ unhappiness (“Bears fans have been going through this for a long, long time”).
The chants might not help. But given the Bears have four playoff wins in the last 29 seasons, fans haven’t seen much of a payoff for their loyalty and passion. What else can they do?
4. Red Flag Department: Andy Dalton passed for 317 yards against the Lions on Thanksgiving, but the Bears still scored just 16 points. That’s the third-fewest points this season out of 80 times when a quarterback has thrown for 300 or more yards. The Bears by the way, are 12-24 (.333) since 2009 when a quarterback throws for 300 or more yards, and 4-4 (.500) under Nagy.
5. The Bears should thank veteran Jason Peters for a job well done and play rookie Teven Jenkins at left tackle if Jenkins — who underwent back surgery in August — is activated from injured reserve next week.
Unless the Bears suddenly morph into a playoff-caliber team against the Cardinals, they’ll be on the fringe of the playoff picture at best and should give Jenkins a head start on 2022. Nagy didn’t sound too interested in that when asked about it Monday.
6. Is Soldier Field getting into Cairo Santos’ head? When Santos lamented that the venue “really is our biggest opponent” after missing an extra point against the 49ers on Oct. 31, he sounded more like Parkey than Robbie Gould.
Sure enough, Santos missed his next kick at Soldier Field, a 40-yard field-goal attempt against the Ravens. Probably a coincidence after Santos’ streak of 40 consecutive field goals ended on a 65-yard attempt against the Steelers. But kicking is fickle in general, especially at Soldier Field, and especially late in the season. So stay tuned.
7. After Dalton’s winning performance against the Lions — “without one live rep the entire week,” as Nagy said — Bears non-rookie quarterbacks are now 7-1 with a 99.3 passer rating (13 touchdowns, four interceptions) in impromptu situations in Nagy’s offense, either coming in cold during a game or on a short week with minimum or no practice time. It almost seems as though less is more when it comes to operating Nagy’s offense.
8. Bits and pieces: The Cardinals are 6-0 on the road this season, including victories over the Titans (38-13), Rams (37-20), Browns (37-14) and 49ers (31-17), and are averaging 32.8 points per road game. . . . Former Bears left tackle Charles Leno has one penalty in 11 games this season with Washington after having 40 in his previous four seasons with the Bears. . . . Leno is ranked 14th among NFL offensive tackles this season by Pro Football Focus. Peters is ranked 21st. . . . Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman played seven snaps together in 2021. . . . The Cardinals are 0-2 after their bye week under Kingsbury, losing to the Rams 34-7 at home in 2019 and to the Dolphins 34-31 at home last year.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Falcons running back/wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson had 16 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns and two receptions for 27 yards in a 21-14 victory over the Jaguars.
Patterson has 911 total yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games for the Falcons (93-411, 4.4 average, four touchdowns rushing and 41-500, 12.2 average, five touchdowns receiving). He had 550 total yards in 32 games over two seasons with the Bears.
10. Bear-ometer: 7-10 — vs. Cardinals (L); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Seahawks (L); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (W).