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Bears, Matt Nagy prove explosive second quarter to be a mere false start

For 15 minutes Sunday night, the Bears were everything coach Matt Nagy had promised they’d be over the last four years.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
Bears coach Matt Nagy reacts in the second quarter Sunday night against the Packers.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. — For 15 minutes Sunday night, the Bears were everything coach Matt Nagy had promised they’d be over the last four years.

They were explosive.

They had a young quarterback playing well.

Their special teams — which doomed Nagy in his first season — provided jolts of electricity.

They looked on par with one of the NFL’s best teams.

They were actually entertaining.

Nagy said as much at halftime, when his team was ahead and, briefly, the talk of the country.

“I’m having so much fun,” he told NBC.

It didn’t last.

Nagy’s last opportunity for a memorable win — the next four games, all against losing teams, don’t matter — vanished when the Packers outclassed the Bears in the second half at Lambeau Field. The Packers restored order in the NFC North, winning 45-30 and sending Nagy home from Green Bay winless for the fourth consecutive year.

He’s not going to get a fifth chance. Nagy seems destined to be fired at the end of the season — though probably not before. Nagy doesn’t get bonus points for putting together an explosive second quarter and then totaling three points the rest of the way. Nor does he deserve praise for winning only one more game over the last nine weeks than the White Sox. Or for losing by the Bears’ biggest margin in eight weeks. But the Bears’ effort Sunday night — and the ongoing growth of rookie quarterback Justin Fields — figures to buy him exactly four more games in charge.

“It was fun,” Nagy said. “That first half, when you coach and you play and you play that first half the way we did, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why we do what we do. Let’s face it, there’s been difficult times this year for everybody — for the players, for the coaches. You know what we can be.

“When these guys play like that, that’s why we do it. Our message at halftime was ‘That’s great. But we gotta do it for quarters 3 and 4. We gotta finish.’ … Not finishing that game against that team is where we gotta be better.”

The Bears led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and scored more points in the second quarter than they had in all but one game all season. Jakeem Grant took a shovel pass 46 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears up 10-0 early in the second quarter. The Packers parried with two touchdowns in 55 seconds — and then the Bears scored two of their own in 96 seconds. Receiver Damiere Byrd caught a pass and never broke stride — or was touched — en route to a 54-yard touchdown. Then Grant did his best Devin Hester impression, fielding a punt at his own 3, running right, then doubling back to his left and sprinting up the left sideline for a 97-yard touchdown.

Their three second-quarter touchdowns produced three of the four fastest sprint speeds by any Bears player all season — Grant hit 21.3 mph on the return and 20.86 mph on the touchdown catch, and Byrd ran 20.8 mph on his score.

Cairo Santos’ 44-yard field goal put the Bears up by six at halftime. The Packers would score the next 24 points. Aaron Rodgers reminded the Bears who owns them, finishing 29-for-37 for 341 yards, four touchdowns and a 141.1 passer rating.

The Bears couldn’t play with a lead or keep Rodgers off the field. Nagy handed the ball off to David Montgomery exactly once in the second half.

Since Nagy clinched the division in 2018 against the Packers, the Bears have flubbed every chance to update the rivalry with a memorable moment. In the NFL’s season opener in 2019 against the Packers, Nagy wore George Halas’ fedora into Soldier Field. The Bears lost.

At Lambeau Field that same year, tight end Jesper Horsted missed a chance to lateral the ball on a last-second trick play that would have given the Bears a chance to tie. The Bears lost.

In Week 17 last year, the Bears had a chance to stamp their playoff ticket by beating the Packers at home. The Bears lost.

Sunday night, despite the second-quarter rally, they did the same.

The Bears’ day started with a reminder of their growing instability: CBS reported chairman George McCaskey had talked to former Bears player Trace Armstrong — who’s now an agent for, among others, Nagy — about a high-level executive position with the franchise next season. Armstrong shot it down quickly.

“I have the utmost respect for the Chicago Bears organization, the McCaskey family and Ted Phillips,” he said. “However, any assertion that I have engaged in conversations with them about joining the club in any capacity is simply not true.”

The final four weeks will feature more of the same: breathless reports about Nagy’s job status, and that of general manager Ryan Pace and a franchise in need of change.

Nagy had a chance to make Sunday night memorable. The promise of the second quarter proved to be what the Bears have produced too often over the last four years: a false start.