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Matt Nagy’s unsportsmanlike penalty reflects ongoing exasperation as Vikings beat Bears 17-9

There are always questionable calls in NFL games. This one sent Nagy over the edge because he knows how thin his margin for error is.

Matt Nagy went into Monday’s game at 32-29 as Bears head coach.
Matt Nagy went into Monday’s game at 32-29 as Bears head coach.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

The criticisms of Bears coach Matt Nagy have been endless — and warranted — as his team has perpetually plunged to new lows. The exasperation has erupted in droning boos as fans at Soldier Field chant for him to be fired and likely bark unspeakable insults at him as he exits the northwest tunnel.

To Nagy’s credit, he has remained remarkably composed through all of it, even when the hostility toward him spilled into his son’s high school football game with the opponent’s students taunting Nagy as he sat in the bleachers.

The first sign that any of this is pushing Nagy to a breaking point came between the first and second quarters of the Bears’ 17-9 loss Monday to the Vikings.

With about a minute left in the first quarter and his team down 7-0 in another feeble offensive performance, Nagy thought his defense had come up with a key pass breakup on third down — only to be delivered a gut punch when back judge Terrence Miles flagged safety Deon Bush for unnecessary roughness because of a hit to the head on tight end Tyler Conklin.

The call triggered an uncharacteristic tirade by Nagy. He got in Miles’ face and was livid as he screamed, occasionally covering his mouth with his play sheet.

Coaches tend to get a lot of leeway in those arguments, but Nagy apparently took it too far with Miles, and Miles launched a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. Miles flung it as Nagy walked away, and Nagy turned back to keep yelling as he left.

“I saw what happened,” Nagy said, defending himself. “Our guys are fighting their asses off to get off the field. I stated my opinion on it. And I don’t regret it.”

It was a flare-up from a man who knows that with a margin of error as thin as the dying grass at Soldier Field, he needs everything to go perfectly.

And it almost never does. The Vikings got a fresh set of downs at the Bears’ 35-yard line and eventually kicked a field goal for a 10-0 lead.

Nagy had a few other animated discussions with the refs, though none rose to the level of a second flag. That would’ve been an automatic ejection.

His rage seemed to ripple through the Bears as they trudged through another loss to a team that isn’t any good.

It boiled over for rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins, who has endured only three games of this but already has had all he can take.

Jenkins worked through his feelings in a post-play altercation with Vikings defensive ends D.J. Wonnum and Sheldon Richardson late in the third quarter and earned his third penalty of the night: an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that dropped the Bears to an impossible second-and-22 from their own 13-yard line.

After the inevitable punt, Nagy grabbed Jenkins as soon as he reached the sideline and covered his mouth with his play sheet during whatever he had to say.

What could he have said, though?

It wouldn’t have been credible whatsoever for him to lecture Jenkins about self-control after Nagy cost the team yards with his own outburst.

“Just be smart,” Nagy said. “It puts us in tough situations. Myself included, with what I did.”

At least Nagy isn’t going out with a whimper. But he is leaving in futility as he inches dangerously close to ending his Bears career with a losing record. The Vikings, a team he dominated his first three seasons, dropped him to 32-30 in the regular season. He’s also 0-2 in the playoffs.

He’ll exit knowing he didn’t fix anything the Bears hired him to handle, and the Vikings’ game was a harsh reminder of that.

“It starts with me, and it ends with me,” Nagy said. “I accept complete responsibility for that.”

At least he knows.