After lax Bears loss to Giants, the 'real' 2018 season begins


After lax Bears loss to Giants, the 'real' 2018 season begins

The Bears’ 30-27 loss at the Giants was the end of the third quarter of the 2018 season. It also was the beginning of the what projects to be a defining stretch of games for Matt Nagy and his Bears, for the 2018 season, the 2019 season and beyond.

What the Bears (8-4) lost on Sunday, besides their five-game win streak, was a chance to all but finish off the NFC North, with the Lions (4-8), Packers (4-7-1) and Vikings (6-5-1) all losing. The Bears were admittedly lackadaisical coming in, then ultimately paid for it by failing to close out a very beatable Giants (4-8) team despite leading at halftime and being in position to drive for a final winning touchdown.

“It hurts and you never like to lose,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “Shoot, half the guys in this [locker] room don’t even like to lose at checkers. But what I will say is this: we know who we are. We know what level we can play at and we are going to come out next Sunday and do what we do.”

That all sounds good. But what plays out from this point represents a critical stage in the formation of the Bears under Nagy. Because in multiple recent situations similar to this one, the Bears failed to close out seasons that lay within their reach. They never fully recovered, and nor did their head coaches.

Sunday’s myriad trick plays notwithstanding – that’s the sizzle, not the steak – it’s all about closing, and Sunday was not a positive occasion in that regard. More on that shortly.

Close the fourth quarter strong – or else

Nagy’s predecessors have fared poorly in their first seasons in eerily similar final-quarter situations – eerie because those coaches had taken over poor Bears teams which ostensibly should have had no business being as close to good things as they were in their coaches’ inaugural Chicago seasons:

Dave Wannstedt, 1993: Bears begin final quarter of the season 7-5, lose four straight; Wannstedt reaches postseason a year later, never again.

Marc Trestman, 2013: Bears reach 8-6, lose final two with playoffs within reach; Trestman fired a year later.

John Fox, 2015: Bears at 5-6 lose next two (49ers, Redskins) on kicking issues, never recover.

Failing to close out fourth quarters of seasons cost Lovie Smith his job after losing three of his final four from 7-5 in 2011, and losing two (to Green Bay and Minnesota) of his final four in 2012.

Nagy is none of those guys. But how his first Bears team finishes this season, from the best starting point (8-4) of any of the aforementioned, contributes toward establishing the character and culture the way he and GM Ryan Pace envisioned when they got together in this whole thing.

Not an impressive start vs. Giants

Somewhat concerning is the fact that the Bears this season have gone into four fourth quarters trailing – including Sunday – and were able to come back for wins just twice. No one expects Mitchell Trubisky or Chase Daniel to be Aaron Rodgers, but closing is a bar that has to be cleared or Nagy isn’t likely to achieve a whole lot more than Wannstedt, Trestman or Fox.

Against the Giants, “closing” took the form of coming up with critical plays in the final minutes by all three phases: defense (a stop to force a field goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation); special teams (a Cody Parkey field goal followed by recovering an onside kick); and the offense (turning that recovery into a tying touchdown).

Not closing took the form of failing to put the Giants away early after a Kyle Fuller interception that set the offense up near midfield, Five plays and a 15-yard roughness penalty on the Giants were negated by a second Daniel interception. It took the form of failing to drive for a tying field goal or winning touchdown in overtime. It took the form of defensively allowing scores just before and after halftime.

Failing to close took the form of simply sloppy play, as in fumbling six times (four by Daniel), or wide receiver Josh Bellamy drawing two pre-snap penalties for not being set in time. Maybe the wet conditions figured in there somewhere, but dropping that many footballs, even if the Bears lost only one.

Nagy is an intense individual but rarely vents with vitriol at players during games; he erupted twice on Sunday at his offense. The exact contents of his rants remain sideline confidential, but coaches typically become most incensed at lack of focus or intensity.

“We came out lackadaisical,” conceded running back Tarik Cohen, “so we have to change that around.”

Nagy didn’t appear to stay mad: “I absolutely love this team. I love where we’re at. This is life... are you going to sulk or are you going to pick it back up?”

Consider that an operating theme for this upcoming defining quarter-season.

Matt Nagy describes Aaron Rodgers’ literal attempt to get first leg up on 2019 Bears

Matt Nagy describes Aaron Rodgers’ literal attempt to get first leg up on 2019 Bears

A year after finishing 6-9-1 and seeing the Bears win the NFC North, the Packers find themselves in an unfamiliar role in the division: hunter, not the hunted.

Green Bay very well could win the NFC North in 2019, though they’ll have stiff competition in the division in the Bears and Vikings. Thus, the Packers need to do what they can to get a leg up on the competition.

Enter Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers and Bears head coach Matt Nagy were two of the many sports celebrities to compete in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament in Nevada from July 12-14. Thursday, Nagy recalled a prank Rodgers pulled on him at the event.

“So we're all in there and I'm scrambling to get in the back and stand up, and there’s about 100 guys sitting down in the back row,” Nagy said. “As I’m walking, all of a sudden, I trip.

“I kind of catch my knee. Somebody is sitting down. I look back. Someone stuck their knee out to trip me. I look back, and (Rodgers is) just sitting there and he’s just staring at me laughing, giving me this grin.”

Okay, so Rodgers tripping Nagy doesn’t actually give the Packers a leg up on the Bears entering the 2019 season. However, it sure is a fun way to kick off the latest rendition of the rivalry, as the two teams square of on Sept. 5 top open the NFL season. Plus. Nagy took the whole thing in stride.

“I just looked at him, and all I thought about is: ‘This is going to be fun,’” he said.

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Allen Robinson is looking like a true No. 1 receiver. Can he break the Bears' 1,000-yard drought?

USA Today

Allen Robinson is looking like a true No. 1 receiver. Can he break the Bears' 1,000-yard drought?

Here’s a fact that feels surprising every time it’s brought up: Allen Robinson is still in his mid-20s, turning 26 on Aug. 24. 

This is a guy who’s entering his sixth season in the NFL, having debuted while Marc Trestman was still Bears' coach. He’s four years removed from his 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown explosion with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but is also two years removed from the torn ACL that wound up ending his career there. 

As he enters his second season with the Bears, the difference from Year 1 to Year 2 has been noticeable. 

“I look like a totally different player,” Robinson said. 

That statement runs deeper than in just how he’s played over the course of the Bears’ preseason practices. He was able to grow his rapport with Mitch Trubisky during OTAs — a year ago, he wasn’t participating in those — and no longer has to focus on rehabbing his knee to get back on the field. 

But how Robinson looks even goes beyond his connection with Trubisky or his health. Cornerback Prince Amukamara practiced against Robinson when the pair were in Jacksonville in 2016, and said the receiver he was then isn’t the receiver he is today — in a good way. 

“He was real good in Jacksonville, and I feel like he’s better now,” Amukamara said. “I feel like in Jacksonville he really just went up and got the ball, they threw him a lot of jump balls. But now he’s running routes, he’s very crafty, he changes his tempo and he just seems very polished right now. He makes our jobs harder on defense.”

Amukamara pointed out that, of course, Robinson can still go up and snag those jump balls. Trubisky’s confidence in Robinson’s go-up-and-get-it ability grew in 2018, and is stronger entering 2019’s season. 

“I have a lot of confidence within myself, with me and him's chemistry,” Trubisky said. “And just being on the same page, if I put it up in his area 12 is going to come down with it.”

But it’s clear Robinson is more than a jump ball guy to Trubisky. The Bears can use him in a number of different ways, and the detail he puts into his routes and his ability to read coverages makes him a threat anywhere on the field. 

Similarly encouraging: Robinson and Trubisky are seeing things the same way. 

“I think for me and Mitchell I think we’ve done that a lot, being able to see whether it’s the breaking angle out of a route or stuff like that,” Robinson said. “I think, for us, we got a chance to rep a lot of that and to be on the same page — like if the corner plays it like this or if they run this kind of pressure or whatever it may be.”

Coach Matt Nagy said he’s observed Trubisky’s trust in Robinson being “a lot higher” than it was a year ago, too. 

“(Robinson) understands coverages,” Nagy said. “I think that separates the good wide receivers from the ones that become great. He has that next-level awareness. When you have that and you put the 'want' into how bad he wants it with his quarterback, that's where it's gonna be fun to see what those guys, how they connect this year.”

The Bears haven’t had a receiver eclipse 1,000 yards since 2014, representing the longest drought in the NFL. This is an offense, though, that believes in its ability to spread the ball around to a number of weapons, from Robinson to Taylor Gabriel to Anthony Miller to Trey Burton to Tarik Cohen to Cordarrelle Patterson to David Montgomery, etc. Not having a 1,000-yard receiver — sorry, fantasy football players — wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a bad thing inside Halas Hall. 

Yet Robinson will enter 2019 with the best shot at hitting that mark, as he did four years ago. He stood out more than any other receiver during training camp, looking like a go-to guy for Trubisky if the offense is in a tight spot. That’s what he proved to be in the final seconds of January’s wild card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he dominated the final 20 minutes and made two critical catches that set up what could’ve been a game-winning field goal with time expiring (we all know what happened after that). 

So whether or not Robinson has a three or four-digit receiving yards total feels less important than the continuation of his development into a reliable, trustworthy target for his quarterback at any time in a game. And from what we've seen over the last month, that's what he'll be for Trubisky in 2019. 

“He's pretty much winning,” Trubisky said. “When it's one-on-one, the ball is going to 12 and he's unstoppable when he can go like that."

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