Coach Matt Nagy came to town as a self-proclaimed aggressive play-caller who would rather boldly go for victory than tiptoe his way to defeat.
“That’s my nature,” Nagy said in his introductory news conference. “I’m going to be aggressive, but it has to be calculated.”
In treading that fine line between aggressiveness and recklessness in overtime Sunday against the Dolphins, it sure seemed like a time to go for it. Like the Bears’ defense, the Dolphins’ defense was wilting in the Florida sun — the Bears had gained 337 yards (11.2 per play) and scored 28 points in the second half. Jordan Howard had just gained 19 and 15 yards on consecutive carries for a first down at the Dolphins’ 41 with 4:00 left.
But instead of taking advantage of that momentum, Nagy safely ran into the middle of the line three times to set up Cody Parkey for a 53-yard field goal to win it. But Parkey pushed the kick wide right, and the Dolphins responded by driving 28 yards for Jason Sanders’ 47-yard field goal to win 31-28.
With expectations high and playoff contention no longer a pipe dream after a 3-1 start, Nagy faced a new level of second-guessing and criticism after the disappointing loss. And in his postgame news conference, Nagy’s response came off as a little haughty.
“We could do that all day long,” he said dismissively when asked about the conservative approach. “You go ahead, you throw it and then you’re up here asking me why you took a sack. You can go all day with that kind of stuff.”
A day later, a less-irritated Nagy maintained his confidence in that approach — and had no issue with the criticism.
“I’m a big boy; I can handle criticism,” Nagy said. “[Are] you talking about the 53-yard field goal? I’m fine with that. I have no issue at all with the criticism. That’s where people are? That’s their own opinion. I felt good with what we did, and, shoot, we’re all in this thing together, and I trust our guys.”
Still, the questions persisted. On Monday, Nagy was asked about his thinking in determining where he wanted to set up Parkey for the game-winner and the risk-reward of getting to that point — run vs. pass.
“I think it’s a good question,” Nagy said. “To me, that 35-yard line — a 53-yard field goal — I have ultimate trust in [Parkey] making that. But at the same time, every yard that you get brings the percentage up a little bit. We just hit a -yard run. We just hit a 15-yard run, and then we had a couple of more runs [after] that. That’s just a decision we ended up making.
“Now he makes that kick, and we’re good. He doesn’t, and it’s, ‘Could you get a little bit closer?’ It would have helped. But at the same time, I think Cody would be the first to tell you that he knows he can make that.”
The Bears still look like they’re in good hands with Nagy. But it was surprising and a little disappointing that in that big moment, Nagy feared the worst-case scenario — the doom of many a coach. It was a little too reminiscent of Marc Trestman’s conservative approach in a similar situation against the Vikings in 2013, when he had Robbie Gould attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down in overtime for fear of what could go wrong if he tried to get closer. Gould missed, and the Vikings kicked a field goal to win 23-20.
It did not end well for Trestman. But it still looks pretty good for Nagy. In the big picture, this looks like just a brief step back in time.