If you’re looking for a tangible reason why the Chicago Bears offense will improve with Nick Foles as the starting quarterback, one key sequence in Thursday night’s 20-19 victory over the Buccaneers provided some hope – even though the result was nearly catastrophic.
With 14:10 left in the fourth quarter, the Bears trailed 16-14, but they had the ball and a first down at the Bucs’ 30-yard-line. Foles moved running back David Montgomery into the backfield and handed him the ball for seven-yard gain (the team’s best run of the night, by the way). Sensing some momentum, the Bears went no-huddle and Foles quickly hit wide receiver Allen Robinson for an 8-yard gain, giving the Bears a 1st-and-10 at the 15-yard-line.
What happened next was a difference in opinion between the quarterback and head coach. Foles wanted to keep running no huddle. Matt Nagy wanted to make substitutions and run a specific play they practiced during week – a shot to Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone.
The FOX broadcast picked up the entire sequence of events.
“Yeah, Nick Foles right now wants to hurry up,” analyst Troy Aikman said. “He’s wanting to get to the line in a hurry. Feels like he’s got the defense on their heels a little bit.”
The cameras even caught Foles shaking his head as he looked to the Bears sideline, clearly not pleased that Nagy wanted to huddle.
“We had a play that we've liked that's been in the playbook here the last couple weeks and we loved it in that area,” Nagy explained Friday morning. “Cordarrelle was running open in the end zone for a touchdown on that play and we weren't able to get (the throw) off.”
Technically, both Foles and Nagy were right. But Foles earned the benefit of the doubt going forward.
Nagy’s play worked, because Patterson was open, but Foles couldn’t get the throw off because right tackle Bobby Massie allowed Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to get around the edge and hit the quarterback before he could get the pass off. Pierre-Paul even knocked the ball loose and the Bears were very fortunate Massie was there to jump on the fumble. But 17 yards were lost on the play and the Bears had to settle for a 47-yard field goal, which kicker Cairo Santos made.
After the ensuing kickoff, FOX showed a somewhat one-sided conversation on the sideline in which you didn’t need to be able to hear to the audio to know that Foles was telling Nagy he wanted to keep pushing it with a no-huddle attack.
“In that situation right there, I think that's where you guys will start seeing with Nick and I, when we start growing in this thing -- and I agree with him, like once you get going and you're in a little bit of a tempo, we kind of had them on their heels,” Nagy said. “And his point was, hey, once we got 'em on their heels like that, let's keep them there and let's do some things.”
Nagy admitted there was some frustration because of the sack/fumble (Foles took a pretty good shot on the play too) and it's not a stretch to say the negative play probably would not have happened if the Bears stuck with the quick game. Included in the needed context is that the Bears were without left guard James Daniels due to a pectoral injury suffered in the game, and reserve Alex Bars was in as a sub. Bars settled down after allowing a sack quickly after entering the game, but overall, Foles’ protection was not good enough. He knew that, and even though Nagy’s red zone play was right for that particular field position, the flow of the game dictated that they stick with what was working in that moment.
“I like the fact that he's communicating that way,” Nagy said. “And now, we just got to keep growing as to, OK, next time we get in that situation, how do we communicate through that to put our team in the best situation possible?”
Consider this one of those teaching moments that is much more enjoyable after a win. But credit Nagy for being honest about the situation. Quite frankly, he’s getting used to working with a veteran quarterback who he can trust in those big moments. Thursday’s game was only the third time Nagy had called plays for Foles and they were operating on a short week.
I asked Nagy Friday if that was a situation in which his quarterback earned the trust needed to allow his quarterback to dictate that call next time.
“Yeah, for sure, I think everything you just said is true,” Nagy said. “That’s why I think it’s healthy when we talk through those situations because there’s a feel to it. Nick has a great feel when he’s out there and to the pattern to the game, how the game’s going. They were getting after us a little bit. And so to be able to keep them on their heels and not them let huddle, you get tired and the defense gets tired. We’re dictating the pace. I’m not against what his suggestion was. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I’m for it.”
This, of course, is one of the main reasons why Foles is here. His experience in these situations can be trusted. At the same time, it’s understandable for there to be an adjustment period for Nagy. Let’s face it: he didn’t have that same trust level with Mitch Trubisky, which is why the quarterback switch was made.
The good news is, the Bears won the game and are 4-1. Nagy and Foles now have 10 days to continue to gel before the Bears play the Panthers. And there’s reason to believe the pairing will only get better.