GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matt Nagy thought he was punting away a football. Instead, he likely punted away much, much more.
Facing 4th-and-inches at the Chicago Bears’ own 36-yard-line, down 38-27 to the Packers in the fourth quarter, Nagy opted to kick the football away, a stunning decision considering his depleted defense and the quarterback on the other side of the field — Aaron Rodgers.
“I don't think you're wrong in going for it, but I don't think you're wrong either (if you punt),” Nagy said. “And you saw what happened when we punted it.”
What happened was a near miracle. For a moment, it looked like the gamble — or was it the opposite of a gamble? — paid off when Packers returner Amari Rodgers muffed the punt and the Bears gained possession at Green Bay’s 20-yard-line. Instead, Kindle Vildor — playing gunner because of the same mounting injuries affecting the defense — was called for running out of bounds on the punt.
And Nagy punted again on 4th-and-5.
Everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen next. Aaron Rodgers orchestrated a 13-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that took 8:38 off the clock and gave the Packers’ a 45-27 lead. The Bears lost 45-30.
At that point of the game, the Bears’ secondary was down to Eddie Jackson playing the nickel corner position after two other options — Xavier Crawford and DeAndre Houston-Carson — had already left the game with injuries. When asked if that factored into his decision to punt the ball back to Rodgers, Nagy said, “Maybe a little bit,” before admitting that the Packers “just kept getting first downs” and were “milking the clock.”
“You could just kind of feel it being taken away,” he said.
A lot was taken away with that punt, if we’re being honest. Certainly the game. And maybe Nagy’s job.
Nagy is now 1-7 against the Packers in his four years as Bears head coach, a number he acknowledged and owned after the game.
At halftime, the NBC broadcast reported on how much fun Nagy was having after a second quarter that included a 46-yard touchdown pass to Jakeem Grant, a 54-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd and a 97-yard punt return touchdown by Grant. Nevermind that the Bears also allowed a 38-yard touchdown to Davante Adams in the same quarter, while Justin Fields threw a pick-six.
But Nagy saying he was having fun wasn’t really the problem. He should have been having fun. The optics just weren’t great because Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was busy making adjustments. Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson was successfully shutting Adams down (Next Gen Stats credited Adams for just two catches on five targets and 19 yards with Johnson in coverage), so LaFleur did everything he could to get his No. 1 wide receiver away from the Bears’ No. 1 cornerback.
“A lot of motions. A lot of drag routes, underneath routes. A lot of pick-routes,” Johnson said. “They switched it up pretty good. They did a lot of things that make covering him very hard.”
They also put Adams in the slot more, where the Bears apparently don’t trust Johnson to play quite yet. When the game was over, Adams had 10 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, with almost all of that production coming against the Bears’ weaker defensive backs.
“It's a beauty to see. But you hate playing against it,” Johnson said. “Just being able to see Rodgers and their head coach be able able to draw things up like that and make those types of adjustments, it's good for them.”
Meanwhile, the lack of adjustments for the Bears were damning. The punt on 4th-and-inches was simply deflating. And the 5-yard hitch to Allen Robinson on 3rd-and-7 before the punt was so very on brand.
And it’s not like it was just one punt that failed to match the aggressiveness the Bears needed to beat a much better opponent Sunday night. Nagy set the tone by punting from the Packers’ 40-yard-line on the first possession of the game and settling for a field goal at the 5-yard-line later in the quarter.
Guess what LaFleur did in the second quarter when the Packers faced a fourth down at the 2-yard-line? He went for it. Rodgers identified his mismatch with Allen Lazard against against Xavier Crawford in the slot. Touchdown.
After the game, Lazard wore a shirt that said, “I still own you,” a reference to Rodgers’ taunting declaration at Soldier Field earlier this season. Not that Virginia and George McCaskey needed a reminder.
Then again, maybe a trip to Green Bay was what they needed to see how far their franchise has fallen behind the team they can’t stand.
The renovated stadium done right. The grass that is actually green. The coaching staff that makes adjustments.
Will they do anything about it? An entire fan base is waiting, not so patiently.