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Bears coach Matt Nagy is down to his last shot at meaningful games

He can claim the playoffs as a reasonable goal for the 2021 Bears for now, but a loss to the Cardinals should shift the team’s purpose to preparing for the future.

Nagy is 32-27 in four seasons as Bears coach, and the team is 29th in scoring this season.
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It seems inevitable that Matt Nagy’s time as the coach of the Bears will be up at the end of the season, but there’s a long way to go until then. The Bears still have six games left.

And because the NFL expanded the playoffs to seven teams in each conference, the only team in the NFC that’s truly out of the picture is the winless Lions. There are plenty of woeful teams in both conferences that plausibly can say they’re still shooting for the postseason.

So we’ll give you that, Nagy.

‘‘This is all about this weekend right now, doing everything we can to win the game,’’ he said. ‘‘Whoever the best players are, that’s the way we’re going.’’

Fine. At 4-7 and one game behind seventh-seeded Washington, Nagy still can claim the playoffs as his goal. He might as well; otherwise, he’s just keeping the seat warm for his successor.

But this is his last stand. If Nagy and the Bears get thumped Sunday by the Cardinals, it will be time to fully cash out of this season. Everything must shift to the future when it comes to personnel.

On offense, that means it will be time for rookie Teven Jenkins to play as much as possible at left tackle. The Bears plan to activate him from injured reserve Saturday, so he’ll be available against the Cardinals.

Jason Peters has played admirably at 39, but the Bears drafted Jenkins thinking he would be a pillar at the position for years.

And there’s a lot they need to glean from Jenkins’ play during the next month and a half. They need a gauge on his health after back surgery derailed his rookie season, and they need to find out whether he can move to left tackle after spending most of his college career on the right side.

At running back, the Bears know what they have in David Montgomery, but they will need to take a longer look at rookie Khalil Herbert. He ran for 344 yards and a touchdown in four games when Montgomery was hurt, but he has played 10 or fewer snaps in each of the last three.

‘‘When Khalil’s out there, he’s a great player,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And, obviously, David being the leader of our offense is important. I think it’s more about the flow of the game. Trust me, we want to do everything we can to get both those guys touches.’’

The Bears also can use these remaining games to determine if they want to re-sign Jakeem Grant, who primarily has been a return man but has had some success as a receiver. He set career highs in catches (36) and yards (373) last season, but the Dolphins traded him to the Bears for a sixth-round draft pick in October.

Defensively, injuries have opened spots for the Bears to audition their young players.

Seventh-round pick Khyiris Tonga should be getting a starter’s load of snaps with multiple players out on the defensive line, and outside linebacker Trevis Gipson already has been starting in place of Khalil Mack.

At cornerback, the Bears have nothing to lose by going back to Kindle Vildor in the hope there’s a chance he figures things out after struggling most for of the season.

The Bears benched Vildor in favor of Artie Burns last week. But while Burns played decently, he’s not a significant part of their future plans. They saw enough promise in Vildor to bank on him as a starter, so they should give him another chance to prove them right in the last six games.

It’s a big ask of Nagy to help lay groundwork for a future that almost certainly won’t include him, but he has said all along he’ll do whatever is best for the Bears, not what’s best for his future. He’s one loss away from being forced to prove it.