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Overlook the 2-6 Bills? Bears coach Matt Nagy faces big test this week

The Bears were leading 14-3 last week, and some fans were bored. Outside of a perfectly executed screen pass that Tarik Cohen turned into a 70-yard touchdown, there wasn’t much excitement.

Even the defense’s domination of the Jets was pretty much paint-by-numbers compared to the way it harassed quarterbacks, forced turnovers and scored touchdowns earlier in the season.

But so what? Just be glad the Bears finally are good enough to play down to the level of their competition. They’ve lost those games many times before. In fact, the eight-play, 79-yard touchdown march after the Jets cut the Bears’ lead to 17-10 in the fourth quarter is one of the most significant drives of the season. In a game in which they could’ve been lulled to sleep, the Bears put the hammer down.

That’s progress that bodes well for rookie coach Matt Nagy, who — like every coach ever — is trying to develop mental toughness in his team as much as X’s-and-O’s execution.

Bears running back Jordan Howard dives into the end zone on a two-yard touchdown that capped a n eight-play, 79-yard drive after the Jets had cut the Bears' lead to 17-10 in the fourth quarter on Sunday at Soldier Field. | David Banks/AP photo

Bears running back Jordan Howard dives into the end zone on a two-yard touchdown that capped a n eight-play, 79-yard drive after the Jets had cut the Bears' lead to 17-10 in the fourth quarter on Sunday at Soldier Field. | David Banks/AP photo

The Bears have a chance to be 5-3 at the halfway point of the season for the first time since Marc Trestman’s first season in 2013 when they face the Bills on Sunday at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. The parallels between Trestman’s first season and Nagy’s are obvious and well-documented.

The Bears bought into Trestman’s approach just like they have Nagy’s — at first. But after a 5-3 first half, Trestman’s Bears faltered in the second half, going 3-5 to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Injuries played a key role, but Trestman’s message seemed to get lost, as well.

Nagy is determined to keep his message fresh and make sure it continues to resonate as the season goes on.

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“I try to keep a topic each week to where I feel we are as a team and who our opponent is — how does it fit?” Nagy said. “It’s just however I feel we’re going and what we need to be better at. What we did well. And then how it works with our opponent. Last week, it was about finishing. And it’s been that way throughout most of the season. That’s been a big word for us.

“Complacency is another one. For us to make sure we’re not complacent in any way. When you win a game, the natural tendency is for people to relax a bit. That’s what I’m making sure I keep my finger on is [that] we don’t relax.”

That’s another sign of progress. The Bears are good enough to worry about overlooking the Bills, who made the playoffs last season. The Bills are 2-6 and have scored 37 points in five games since a stunning 27-6 victory over the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 3 that appears almost inexplicable today.

“That’s my job,” Nagy said. “Making them understand there’s way too much parity in this league. If anyone on this team — player or coach — is [overlooking the Bills], they need to get out of this building and out of this place.

“Don’t even think about it. You can’t do that. I’ve been a part of both sides. Anybody that looked at an 0-2 Bills team going into that Vikings game thought the same thing, and look what happened. We don’t think that way, so I’m not going to let our players think that way.”

That’s a great message and an important one this week. But every coach wants to build a mentally tough team that doesn’t take anybody lightly. Human nature is a difficult opponent. It’ll be interesting to see if Nagy’s message gets through.