DETROIT — At least the Bears aren’t the Lions.
But they’re still the Bears.
After a wacky week that cast serious doubt about the future of Matt Nagy as the team’s head coach, the Bears managed to squeak out an ugly 16-14 win over the Lions on a 28-yard field goal from Cairo Santos at the buzzer.
The win ended a five-game losing streak for the Bears, who are now 4-7 on the season, but didn’t exactly take the focus off a week full of distractions that served as a reminder of the dysfunction at the top of the organization.
Nagy won’t be fired Friday, but even he seems to have a grasp on his future.
“When you lose five games in a row, you know what territory you can get to, and that comes with the job. I knew that four years ago when I took this, and so here we are,” Nagy said. “Every week is a little bit different, and this one was definitely different, but this is one of those weeks that you use it moving forward and you don’t make any predictions.”
For this week at least, Nagy is safe. But in the wake of a bogus report that claimed Nagy had already been informed of his impending firing, the way in which the Bears hung the head coach out to dry Tuesday spoke louder than anything else. After Nagy awkwardly addressed questions about his job status, he sought out clarity from ownership before his team’s afternoon walk-through.
When asked what Bears chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips communicated to him in those discussions, Nagy said: “Just exactly that — that it was not a true report. It was false.”
But the organization did not relay that same message publicly, which, once again, left Nagy to clean up the mess.
"The next part when you have that is now me making sure that we don’t have too much of a distraction take away from practice, you know what I mean? From practice and everything you gotta do that day,” Nagy said.
One problem: It’s obvious that Nagy didn’t walk away from those discussions with ownership feeling confident about his long-term job security. Thus, his message to the team in practice was less about guaranteeing his future and more about focusing on the task at hand — beating the Lions.
That left a lack of clarity amongst the team as they went home from the practice facility Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, one source indicated that Tuesday’s events were “a big distraction,” but another source didn’t believe they got in the way of preparing for the Lions because, “at the end of the day, players are always going to be motivated to play for their own job security.”
"It was pretty chaotic. For me, it was tough. I’m not going to lie, it’s tough,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “You don’t know what’s true, what’s not. Then you see things that are true, because you were there for them, and you wonder how those things get out. So there’s a lot of confusion in that sense.”
The confusion was palpable enough that FOX’s Jay Glazer reported Thursday that some players were still under the impression that Nagy was getting fired even though he told the players the report wasn’t true. By Wednesday, McCaskey felt the need to address the team and tell them directly that the report about Nagy’s imminent firing was false.
“I think it put the players in a good mindset,” Kmet said. “I felt better afterwards and I felt more clear-minded going into this game, which is obviously a spot you need to be in before playing a football game because things get dangerous out there if guys aren’t clear-minded and knowing what they’re doing out there.”
Had the Bears immediately shot down the report Tuesday morning, it would not have turned into an internal firestorm. McCaskey’s address to the team was only necessary because of the mistakes the organization made Tuesday, which included sending special teams coordinator Chris Tabor out to address his boss’ job status before Nagy even spoke to the media.
Fortunately, the Bears were playing the Lions this week, an opponent that had already proven to be a remedy back in Week 4 following an embarrassing performance in Cleveland the week before.
The Bears flew to Detroit after McCaskey spoke to the team, and by Wednesday evening at the team hotel, linebacker Roquan Smith and quarterback Andy Dalton also tried to rally the team with speeches.
“Andy came up and said some stuff,” Kmet said. "I’m obviously not going to get into it, and I think we just formed our mindset for this game and where we wanted to be at, kind of just blocking out distractions. I think at the end of the day we just did this for ourselves, as players, as a team, with coaches involved and just the organization in general.”
From the sounds of it, this wasn’t a "win one for the Gipper” situation. Remember, Dalton was promised the starting job in the offseason and had it quickly taken away from him after an injury. Dalton’s message Wednesday night was more player-centric, with the focus on winning.
“I think there’s a lot that has gone on. The most important thing is the guys in the locker room staying together through it all,” Dalton said. “Regardless of what’s being reported, regardless of what’s going on on the outside and stuff, there’s still a lot of season left and for us, the focus is on winning games. That’s the biggest thing for us is just doing everything we can to put our best foot forward and to make the most of the next one and that was today and we did that.”
For Dalton, it was a big game. With rookie quarterback Justin Fields sidelined with a ribs injury, Dalton received the opportunity to start on a big Thanksgiving stage, providing an audition for a future job.
The Bears’ offense wasn’t exactly explosive Thursday, but Dalton threw for 317 yards, which was the most by a Bears quarterback since Nick Foles threw for 335 yards in Week 9 of the 2020 season. Dalton hit tight end Jimmy Graham for the team’s only touchdown, but also threw an interception in the end zone.
Regardless of how ugly it was, the Bears badly needed a win and the Lions were very accommodating. It counts as a win and the players did enough to persevere despite the organization letting them down this week.