Bears

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

After the final horn sounded on the Bears' signature win of the season so far — a 31-24 trouncing of the Cowboys that wasn't as close as the final score — and all the patented Club Dub celebrations had concluded, a subdued, resolute and focused locker room remained.

These aren't the 2018 Bears — no matter how decisive and dynamic Mitch Trubisky was tonight; no matter the fits the team's depleted front seven gave one of the most talented offensive lines in the league; no matter the balanced plan of attack deployed by Matt Nagy, or that they're now one game closer to an improbable run to the playoffs.

Three weeks ago, this team had been all but dismissed by the greater Chicago faithful. And perhaps that was fair. In Year 2 of the Nagy-Trubisky coach-quarterback pairing, the team was on pace to regress in just about every category you could conjure — wins, most importantly. Now, they're 7-6, above .500, and only 1.5 games behind the Vikings for the No. 6 seed in the NFC (with a matchup against them looming in Week 17). 

Tonight, the process may have been even more encouraging than the result, especially looking forward to a challenging three-game close to the season.

"When you win, your confidence goes up. Players, they play different in regard to when you're winning," Matt Nagy said postgame. "You play looser. You don't press as much. I think right now the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn't feel like one of those deals where if we don't hold them to under 14 points, we don't have a chance to win."

Trubisky was as sharp as he's ever been in one of the bigger games of his career, tossing for 244 yards and amassing four total touchdowns — three through the air, one on the ground. And talk about loose: He also put together his most impressive rushing performance in over a calendar year, breaking out for 63 yards on 10 attempts, including a late-game 23-yard touchdown (to put the Bears ahead 31-14) that ignited Soldier Field around him.

His resurgence has come in lockstep with the Bears' season turning. Perhaps that's no coincidence.

"I think it says we're resilient, stick together, believe in each other even when nobody else believes in us," Trubisky said. "That's a special group in that locker room. We want to keep this feeling going, focusing on the little things, focusing hard, sticking together, doing our jobs."

Allen Robinson said that the team's confidence has "never wavered." Charles Leno said the offense is firing on all cylinders. The defense, missing four starters, didn't miss a beat until the Cowboys tacked on some garbage-time fluff late in the game.

A crucial, yet challenging, stretch looms. First, the Bears travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers for the second time this season. Then, back home for Kansas City — though mortal, still one of the more potent offensive attacks in football. And finally, to Minnesota for a potential postseason play-in game. The Bears probably need all three of those games to be wins, save for late-season collapses from the Rams and Vikings (not impossible), to pull off a playoff berth. As it stands currently, they project as underdogs in both those road contests, and possibly even against the Chiefs (though a win in Green Bay would go a long way, there). 

As far as Nagy is concerned... Good. 

"I'm okay with that. For our guys, it's different," Nagy said of assuming the underdog role for the stretch run. "Last year, there was a different type of mentality because we didn't know, there were no expectations. This year, a lot of expectations. So now here we are at 7-6. Who knows really what we're going to be at. We know we have some really good teams coming up. Our guys, as you can see, they're just focused on winning each week. That's what they're doing."

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Matt Nagy listed among coaches on the hot seat in 2020

Matt Nagy listed among coaches on the hot seat in 2020

It's been quite a first two years in Chicago for Bears coach Matt Nagy.

After winning an NFC North title in a 12-win, first season on the job in 2018, Nagy's Bears regressed to a .500 club last season that couldn't get out of its own way on offense, his supposed specialty. With 32 games on his resume and a 20-12 overall record as head coach, the Bears could do a lot worse.

Remember John Fox? Remember Marc Trestman? Never forget.

RELATED: Chicago Bears 7-round Mock Draft

But the NFL is a win-now, win-always, just-win league. Nagy didn't do that in 2019, and when combined with the Super Bowl expectations the Bears began the year with, his shortcomings were magnified.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky got worse, the offensive line was a turnstile and the running game didn't exist for most of the year.

All this from Nagy's offense that was hyped as Level 202 during training camp.

The hype is over, and the pressure is on. With pressure comes the proverbial hot seat, and Nagy was recently pegged as one of five coaches who will begin next season with a warm buttock by Bleacher Report. 

Nagy's offense and the play of a costly investment by the name of Mitchell Trubisky dramatically regressed in 2019. The Bears managed just 17.5 points per game while Trubisky produced a mere 17 touchdowns against 10 picks. Little in the way of offensive identity existed while the running game averaged 3.7 yards per carry and one ball-carrier (David Montgomery) surpassed the 300-yard mark.

It doesn't help that the defense went from allowing a league-best 17.7 points per game with 50 sacks in 2018 to 18.6 and 32, respectively, fueling the idea of a regression without defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and putting a further damper on things. 

The Bears, given the investment in Trubisky and pieces like All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, have higher expectations than most teams. Going into 2020, another 8-8 season probably isn't going to cut it. 

Nagy's job security will come down to his handling of Trubisky. If the former No. 2 overall pick delivers more of the same in 2020, Nagy has to prove he has the courage to make the change under center. Otherwise, he'll come across as nothing more than GM Ryan Pace's pawn in the quarterback game.

It's true the fates of Pace and Nagy fate are likely tied together. As the 2020 season goes, so goes their future with the team. They have to be in lockstep about Trubisky, and self-preservation is a very powerful thing. Don't expect Trubisky's leash to be all that long.   

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Bears meet with FIU quarterback at East-West Shrine Bowl

Bears meet with FIU quarterback at East-West Shrine Bowl

The Bears' quest to flip their quarterback room from a group of underwhelming veterans with little upside behind Mitch Trubisky is already off and running.

According to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, the Bears met with FIU quarterback James Morgan at the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl, the second-largest All-Star game of the NFL draft circuit.

Morgan (6-foot-4, 223) completed 58 percent of his passes last season for 2,560 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. He isn't considered a draftable player at this point in the process, but a strong showing in front of scouts at the Shrine Bowl could change that. 

Morgan had a more productive 2018 campaign when he threw 26 touchdowns to just seven interceptions while completing more than 65 percent of his passes. 

RELATED: Chicago Bears 7-round Mock Draft

Bears fans are expecting a bigger move at quarterback than Morgan, but if Chicago adds a veteran in free agency, they're more likely to wait until Day 3 to draft a developmental prospect, if any at all. It's possible Trubisky will be backed up (at least initially) by a player like Andy Dalton to begin the year, while a youngster like Morgan sharpens his skill set on the practice squad.

Next week's Senior Bowl will help put some of the pieces of this puzzle together. Quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) and Jordan Love (Utah State) are both considered late first-round prospects who could easily slide into Round 2. If the Bears spend time with them in Mobile, it could be a strong clue about their second-round plans.

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