SEATTLE — In a span of two plays Sunday, Bears quarterback Nick Foles threw a third-and-14 jump-ball touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to cut the deficit to one against the Seahawks with 61 seconds to play — then found wide receiver Damiere Byrd along the back of the end zone to take the lead on a two-point conversion.
The 25-24 victory, sealed when the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs, was sweet satisfaction for coach Matt Nagy — and for Foles, who started his first game in more than 13 months simply because the two men in front of him on the depth chart are injured.
In a long, draining season, the Bears’ second victory in 76 days was a moment of jubilation.
“I don’t really care what the record looks like — it is what it is,” running back David Montgomery said. “But to get a win with the guys in there — and knowing the kind of character they’ve got — feels amazing.”
It came at a cost. A team that was eliminated from the playoffs and doesn’t have a first-round pick prioritized the little picture for the big one to win a meaningless game in a Seattle snow globe. Nagy played veterans in the last year of their contracts instead of players who might be on the Bears’ next good team.
Amazingly, right tackle Germain Ifedi started instead of rookie Larry Borom. Cornerback Artie Burns started instead of rookie Thomas Graham — though the two would rotate throughout the game.
Nagy was unapologetic that he played those who gave him a better chance to win than those who need valuable experience to develop.
“What have I been saying all year long? It’s what’s best for Sunday,” he said. “We just need to make sure we’re doing what’s best for the team right now.”
What’s best for the team — having a slight upgrade at a position — isn’t what’s best for the franchise. Nagy has two weeks — max — left in his Bears coaching career. Maybe he shouldn’t be the judge of “best.”
Until the entire defensive backfield had to miss the game Monday night against the Vikings with the coronavirus, Graham couldn’t get promoted off the practice squad despite being a member of their thinnest position group. Whether he’s any good is beside the point — it’s the Bears’ job over the rest of the season to find out. They can’t do that with Graham on the bench.
The same goes for Borom, who sat the bench in favor of Ifedi — the same veteran who shoved rookie Teven Jenkins after he committed a penalty last week yet was named a captain against his former team.
Pro Football Focus ranks Ifedi as its 60th-best tackle. Borom is No. 69. Only one, though, has a chance to be on the next good Bears team. Nagy said that Borom has “done a very good job when he’s been in there” — but obviously not good enough.
As it often does to cancel out Nagy’s questionable decisions, fate stepped in. When Jenkins hurt his shoulder in the first quarter, Borom got to play the rest of the game — albeit on the left side, not his natural position. That Borom’s playing time came at the expense of the second-round pick made it a Pyrrhic victory.
“There’s just different parts of this that we talk through — all of us — and just decide what’s best,” Nagy said.
What’s best? All Nagy had to do was look at the other rookies on the field. Running back Khalil Herbert — who had played only 10 offensive snaps before replacing an injured Montgomery in Week 5 — ran for a 20-yard touchdown, caught one pass and returned four kickoffs for 94 yards. Dazz Newsome, a fellow 2021 sixth-round pick, had never played in an NFL game until Monday. He caught one pass for 10 yards — on third-and-nine — and returned a punt for 28 yards to set up the Bears’ first touchdown against the Seahawks.
“That’s not easy, being out there in the elements and catching the football like he did,” Nagy said. “And you could feel that punt return.”
Over the last two weeks, Nagy needs to make sure every other young player gets an opportunity to show the Bears what he can do.
Graham got his chance after rotating into the game in the first quarter.
On third-and-five, Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf — who is five inches and almost 40 pounds bigger than Graham — stutter-stepped off the line, broke to the right of Graham and sprinted along the Bears’ sideline. Quarterback Russell Wilson, the best deep-ball passer in the NFL, dropped the ball effortlessly into his hands at the 9. Metcalf caught it and glided into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown as Graham dove fruitlessly into the snow.
The only thing that would’ve been worse was if Graham had been watching from the sideline.