INSIDER

Hoge: Distractions starting to pile up for Bears, Matt Nagy

INSIDER

Matt Nagy is getting tested. And the test is only going to get harder.

Given the tough schedule, the Bears’ 3-3 record is actually somewhat respectable, but nothing that has transpired over the first six weeks of the 2021 season has eased any pressure on the Bears’ head coach.

And now the distractions appear to be piling up. 

First, it started with backup running back Damien Williams going on the COVID-19 reserve list. Then wide receivers coach Mike Furrey tested positive. Now, Robert Quinn — one of the few very positive stories to come out of the first third of the season — is also on the COVID-19 reserve list. 

There’s not much Nagy can do about that, but he certainly doesn’t need to be losing key players to COVID with Tom Brady and the Bucs on deck in Tampa on Sunday. Quinn is fully vaccinated, according to multiple sources, so perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope he can return by Sunday. 

Nagy badly needed a win over the Packers at Soldier Field last week. Not only did that not happen, but Aaron Rodgers rubbed it in by declaring his ownership of the Bears after a fourth quarter touchdown. Nagy might not have had much to say about Rodgers’ 22-5 record against the Bears after the game, but you know the McCaskey Family couldn’t have been pleased. Nagy is now 1-6 against the Packers and there might not be a more significant game left on the schedule for him than the Dec. 12 game in Green Bay. 

 

Rodgers’ comments — "I've owned you all my f***ing life! I own you, I still own you” — were bad enough, but then Tom Brady stirred the pot even more when he publicly congratulated Rodgers for his shareholder stake in the Bears in his weekly SiriusXM appearance. 

It’s not great when two future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks — on the schedule in back-to-back weeks — are having fun at the Bears’ expense.

Meanwhile, two starting defensive backs managed to create distractions on social media this week. After facing fair criticism about his tackling from former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs on NBC Sports Chicago’s Football Aftershow Sunday, safety Eddie Jackson chose to dig up a Pro Football Focus tweet from 2011 that highlighted Briggs’ missed tackles. Predictably, the tweet came off as petty and was poorly received from a fan base that still reveres Briggs. 

Wednesday, something far less predictable happened, as second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson went on Instagram and publicly posted a fine he received from Nagy for being late on Tuesday. The fine shouldn’t have been a story — being late is always a big no-no in the NFL and is regularly fined — but posting the official letter from Nagy on social media raised some questions. The head coach found out about the post from a reporter and didn’t have much to say.

“Well, that’s news to me,” Nagy said. "But at the same point in time, I’ll be able to talk to him and see what that’s all about. But Jaylon’s been doing great. Again, for what it is and where we’re at, I’ll be able to discuss it with him.”

A day later, defensive coordinator Sean Desai said he found out about the whole thing from a Bears PR representative as he was walking to his weekly press conference. He at least expressed some accountability for being late.

"The guys know what our standard is. They know what the policies are. And quite frankly, it doesn't present to be too much of a distraction because it gets directly addressed,” Desai said. “We're still focused on what we need to be focused on. They need to be focused on what we need to be focused on, which is a great challenge in the Buccaneers, playing them on the road.”

The timing of this game, though, isn’t great. The Bears are 12.5-point underdogs, so what type of distractions will present themselves next week if things don’t go well in Tampa?

Nagy hasn’t exactly helped himself with his Belichickian shift in answering injury questions. He used to be relatively cooperative with fair injury questions, but now he doesn’t say much and sometimes even appears confused when asked about players who are either listed on the public injury report or are on injured reserve. When asked if he knew if safety Deon Bush’s quad injury was season-ending after being placed on IR, Nagy said:

 

“I don't, I don't have that other than, you know, with where he's at, I have no idea.”

Let the record show the Bears went 12-4 in 2018 when Nagy was relatively transparent about injuries. 

It shouldn’t feel this rough for a 3-3 team that has lost games to opponents who are a combined 11-5 — especially when you consider the future appears bright with rookie quarterback Justin Fields. 

But how bad will things get if the Bears are blown out in Tampa? The 49ers and Steelers await before the bye week. 

Nagy has been through this before. He managed to hold the locker room together after a four-game losing streak in 2019 and a six-game losing streak in 2020. The loss in Cleveland this year was so ugly that it also tested the team’s resolve and led to a meeting with the offense in which all players were allowed to voice their frustrations. The Bears responded by winning two straight games.

But it’s fair to wonder how long the head coach can hold it all together. Are the recent distractions small cracks in the foundation that can be repaired or are the walls about to cave in? 

Winning has a tendency to cure all, but that’s why the next month or so figures to be a crucial stretch for Nagy in his tenure as head coach. The Bears next four opponents — the Buccaneers, 49ers, Steelers and Ravens — are a combined 15-8. Wins might be hard to come by. 

Fields might just be the golden ticket. If his development takes a sudden surge in the right direction, the Bears should be able to stay in the playoff hunt. Perhaps the Bears can survive the next four games by showing some legitimate growth on offense that results in more wins when the schedule softens later in the season. Regardless, Nagy can’t afford to have his unit continue to rank dead last in the NFL in yards/play. 

In the meantime, the distractions must be limited. And that will be tested depending on what transpires in Tampa on Sunday. 

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