A week from now, the Chicago Bears are expected to fire head coach Matt Nagy and begin yet another coaching search. It will mark the third time in eight seasons a Bears head coach will fly to Minneapolis to play a meaningless game against the Vikings, go through an awkward postgame press conference, fly home and get fired.
1. A promising era gone wrong
Yes, so many things about this franchise seem cyclical, which is why it will be unfathomable if the head coaching position is the only major change made. Many connected to the organization believe some sort of change will occur with team president Ted Phillips — with the spectrum ranging from distancing himself from football operations to full-blown retirement. Stay tuned.
But let’s focus on Nagy for a minute, because it’s really a shame it didn’t work out for him in Chicago. While the Giants provided a sad excuse for an opponent Sunday at Soldier Field, the Bears’ 29-3 victory brought back glimpses of the success the team had under Nagy in 2018. The trick plays. The takeaways. The fun.
And the way the team continues to play hard for Nagy counts for something, even if it won’t save his job the way it apparently did last season. I didn’t know what to expect in Detroit on Thanksgiving after the organization completely botched the handling of Nagy’s job security after a patch.com report claimed the head coach would be fired after that game. Many teams could have gone through the motions and lost to a Lions team that was hungry for its first win of the season. It wasn’t pretty, but the Bears battled and won. Since then, they’ve continued to play hard. Their 3-3 record since getting Konkol’d is mostly a byproduct of the schedule easing significantly, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Bears end on a high note and send Nagy off with a win in Minneapolis Sunday.
A large portion of the fan base is simply done with the coach and probably won’t even want to read this, but there’s little debate Nagy will leave Chicago with his dignity and respect still in hand. Sunday, when Robert Quinn broke the Bears’ single-single sack record, Nagy called timeout to allow the Soldier Field crowd to give Quinn the recognition he deserved. It may have been the best moment at the stadium since 2018. When Quinn came off the field, Nagy pulled him aside and spoke in his ear for what was at least 20 seconds. You could see the mutual respect.
Moments like that, and even sticking with veteran Jason Peters at left tackle Sunday over Teven Jenkins, are things that will carry some weight for Nagy in the future. Will he get another head coaching job some day? I wouldn’t rule it out. A lot of the coaching profession is based on connections and respect, so I don’t think Nagy will remain unemployed for too long.
But in order for that to happen, Nagy is going to have to rebuild his offensive credibility. For all of the good qualities he has, Nagy was ultimately brought here to score points and develop a franchise quarterback. Neither happened to the degree they were supposed to.
Monday, I asked Nagy why his offense failed to take off in Chicago over the last four seasons. This was his full answer:
“I would say big picture, as every year, you always go back and you look back and see, OK, what are the reasons for different areas within the offense? And I think as the years go on, there’s a lot of things that happened. And for different reasons. Right now? Without taking time to really study and sit back, I think every year is different – whether it’s by position or whether it’s by schematics and whether it’s by opponents that you play. Ya know? And even to the point of also, you can take it to the next level of you look at 2018 and you see the amount of turnovers and defensive touchdowns and special teams touchdowns. Regardless of how it affects the offense, it can affect the team, you know, complimentary football in all three phases.
“There's a lot of different things you can look at. Coaching, players, scheme, so that's something that at the end of the season you know I'll be able to look at and see. It's hard right now to be able to give you a specific just because I think every year's just a little bit different.”
2. Tonga Time on offense
It was fun to see rookie nose tackle Khyiris Tonga get a goal-line snap at fullback and be the lead blocker for David Montgomery on the Bears’ first offensive play of the game. It happened so fast — right after the Trevis Gipson strip-sack of Mike Glennon on the first play from scrimmage — that you might not have even noticed it.
“We've had that up the entire season,” Nagy said. “It's just you've got to get to that point, with Tonga being active and inactive throughout the year, but he's been ready. Sometimes, you have it in versus a defense that you see with their goal-line fronts that they play, whether it's a 6-2 or 5-3 front, and other times, you don't get down there. You're too far out. It was pretty neat that it happened right away, that first play, and he did a great job along with the offensive line and everybody -- the tight ends, running backs, with David getting in there. It was cool to see. I'm happy for him. He deserves that.”
Tonga has been a bright spot as a seventh-round rookie on defense, but he has some experience in goal-line sets on offense going back to college. BYU used him as a lead blocker occasionally and even gave him the ball at lease once.
With the way Nagy emptied the playbook Sunday, maybe we’ll see Tonga get a carry in Minnesota.
3. Relentless ‘razzing’ for Montgomery
I don’t know if Nagy should be having as much fun as he is with the busted David Montgomery jump pass that turned into an interception with a 26-point lead, but he sure is getting a kick out of it.
“It always brings ‘em back to their high school days,” Nagy said Monday about the trick plays. “I kept hearing how great of a quarterback David was back in high school, and I think we all saw yesterday what kind of a quarterback he was in high school.”
Damn. That’s cold.
4. Trevis Gipson’s impressive season
Before the season began, I singled out second-year edge rusher Trevis Gipson as one of the most important players on the roster because I thought the Bears badly needed another pass rusher to emerge. That’s how low my expectations were for Robert Quinn, who now should receive strong consideration for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
As it turned out, Khalil Mack was the one Gipson needed to step up and replace, but it looked bleak when he was a healthy scratch in Week 2 against the Bengals.
Now, going into Week 18, Gipson has 6.5 sacks, six TFLs and three forced fumbles, including two against the Giants on Sunday. It’s pretty much the exact kind of season the Bears wanted him to have after essentially redshirting his rookie season as he transitioned from a five-technique into an outside linebacker.
5. Quinn’s clinching sack
After Robert Quinn clinched the Bears’ single-season sack record Sunday, I couldn’t help but think Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas has seen enough of the Bears’ pass rusher.
Quinn only had two sacks in 2020, but one of them came against Thomas in his first game as a Bear. After sitting out Week 1 of last season, Quinn strip-sacked quarterback Daniel Jones at Soldier Field in Week 2 in just Thomas’ second start as a pro. At that point, things looked promising for Quinn, but he wouldn’t get another sack until Week 15 against the Vikings.
No one could have predicted that Quinn would have 18 sacks in 2021, but it’s pretty cool that No. 18 came on the same end of Soldier Field against the same left tackle as his very first sack as a Bear.
6. Updated NFL Draft impact
With the lack of a first round pick this spring, we’ve managed to avoid the usual storylines about how much the Bears’ back-to-back wins against the Seahawks and Giants have hurt their draft positioning.
But the reality is, it still has an impact on the remaining rounds of the draft. Had the Bears lost their last two games, they would have the fifth pick of the second round (No. 37 overall). Instead, they now sit at No. 40 overall, which is only a three-pick difference.
But that’s where this Sunday’s game in Minnesota comes in. A lot of variables are at play based on other games, but a win over the Vikings could drop the Bears another five spots in the second round, down to No. 45, which puts their original picks in the middle of each round instead of towards the top. Of course, the biggest losers of a Bears win over the Vikings would be the Giants, who own the Bears’ first- and fourth-round picks from the Justin Fields trade.
7. Schedule update
There’s less at stake with the schedule this weekend because unless I’m missing something, I don’t think the Bears can win the tiebreaker over the Vikings for second place in the NFC North.
Regardless, three 2022 games will be decided based on the standings, including two home games (against an AFC South opponent and an NFC West opponent) and one road game (against an NFC South opponent).
Assuming the Bears finish in third place, that means they will host the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans, who are already locked into third place in their respective divisions. The only game at stake is the extra road game against an NFC South opponent, which will end up being the loser of Sunday’s Saints-Falcons game.
8. Shoutout to 670
Congratulations to 670 The Score for their 30th anniversary, which was celebrated on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to be an employee at the station for five years from 2009-2014 and it seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the 20th anniversary, which was quite a party.
I bring this up because, to me, the essence of Bears fandom can be heard on sports radio the day after games — and I hope that never changes. As much as I write, podcast and do television these days, radio will forever be in my blood. I’ve had the privilege of being able to talk about the Bears on 670 The Score, WGN Radio and, gulp, 87.7 The Game (R.I.P.). But The Score is where I really learned about the pulse of the Bears beat and what fans want to hear and read about. Laurence Holmes, Zach Zaidman, Dan Bernstein, Terry Boers and Mitch Rosen were a big part of that, to name a few.
So congrats to everyone at The Score for another 10 years. I’m sure the 40th birthday will sneak up on everyone soon.
9. Thank you
The outpouring of support for Jeff Dickerson’s family and, in particular, his 11-year-old son Parker has been incredible. At the time of this writing, over $1.1 million has been raised for Parker’s fund.
The Chicago Bears have been incredible during this time and they came through with a $25,000 donation. Bears quarterback Andy Dalton also donated $5,000. Seeing former coaches like Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox all pitch in shows you the type of respect JD had while covering the team.
The story of Matt Nagy’s $7,600 donation is pretty cool though. Why that number? Last week, while speaking about JD’s death, Nagy told the story of how JD predicted the Bears would draft Teven Jenkins, which they ended up doing with the No. 39 overall pick. Jenkins wears No. 76 — hence, the $7,600.
Without getting too in the weeds on the reporter-coach relationship, I can tell you that JD and Nagy had a healthy respect for each other, one that was mainly rooted in their passion for their children’s sports. If there’s one thing JD had a PhD in, it was youth sports in the northern suburbs. If you asked him for advice on where your kid should be playing baseball, football or basketball, JD could go on for an hour and layout a 10-year plan.
And in that regard, Parker is going to have a huge fan base as the rest of his sports career plays out. Thank you to everyone who has offered support in any way. It has truly been remarkable and heartwarming.