Just like in Cleveland. And in Tampa.
Losses all count the same in the standings (the Bears are 3-7 now, by the way), but the context of those losses matters when it comes to job evaluation, and Sunday’s context was, well… bad.
The Bears received a massive break with Lamar Jackson missing the game due to an unspecified illness, and the loss marked the third time in Nagy’s four years that his team lost out of the bye week to a backup quarterback. He’s now 0-4 out of the bye, including losses to Brock Osweiler in 2018, Teddy Bridgewater in 2019 and now Tyler Huntley in 2021.
Worse, the last three bye week losses have come in the middle of long losing streaks — four losses in a row in 2019, six in 2020 and now five in 2021. Not exactly a sign of progress.
Those are all big-picture optics that look bad, but Nagy also lost Justin Fields to a ribs injury Sunday, which won’t help the Bears’ chances of ending their current losing streak when they play the winless Lions Thursday in Detroit. And it stalls all possible positive storylines about quarterback development that were starting to emerge.
And then there’s the in-game coaching concerns, which rose to new levels Sunday against the Ravens. Three sequences in the fourth quarter revealed a poor process in decision-making as the Bears failed to protect a slim lead — twice. Each sequence led to a timeout getting burned, which, well, burned the Bears in the end.
Nagy tried to explain each situation after the game, but some of his answers only left behind more questions:
Timeout No. 1 — 4th quarter, 12:26 remaining, 4th & 1 at the Bears’ 49-yard-line
Leading 7-6, the Bears dialed up a deep shot on 3rd-and-1, but Andy Dalton’s pass led Darnell Mooney out of bounds as he made the catch. The aggressive shot downfield certainly hinted that the Bears planned to go for it on fourth down anyway, but the punt team took the field and Dalton even took his helmet off on the sideline.
“There was a headset issue on that one. My headset went out completely right at that point,” Nagy said. “I thought I was talking to the guys and I wasn’t. At that point you don’t have a play, you don’t know what you’re going to. So (Chris) Tabor is down there with me as the special teams coordinator. So I was basically, essentially playing the field position to punt the ball. But then once I was able to be able to get (the headset) back and know what we wanted to do, we got aggressive there and went for it.”
Even Dalton was caught off guard.
“They said the punt team was going out there and next thing you know the offense is on the field, which is fine,” Dalton said.
After the timeout, the Bears came out in their “Wildcat” formation with running back David Montgomery receiving a direct handoff and the play got stuffed. Making matters worse, right guard James Daniels was called for a holding penalty, so even if the play had worked, it wouldn’t have counted.
“That's the play we had all week long,” Nagy said. “That's not a new play or anything we made up. That's a play that we had. If you get it, it looks good. If you don't get it, it looks bad.”
But if that’s the play they had all week long, then why did the headset issue even matter? Shouldn’t it have been as easy as keeping the offense on the field and trusting offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to get the call to Dalton and run the next play?
Nagy explained that he was trying to talk through the scenario with his assistants, specifically Tabor and Lazor.
“Then all of a sudden, in the middle of that, as you're talking, I think I'm talking and my headset's out,” Nagy said. “That's when, in order to not make it fourth-and-6 and just play good balance, you punt it. But once I knew then, I got my headset back, that's when I called timeout to go for it.”
It was terrible timing for a headset to go out, but that happens more than you think it does. The whole sequence raises questions about the Bears’ process, not to mention that a punt was completely defensible considering the Bears had the lead and the Ravens had Tyler Huntley. After the punt team was sent on, sticking with it would have been better than burning a timeout.
Timeout No. 2 — 4th quarter, 1:48 remaining, 4th & 6 at the Ravens’ 44-yard-line
Now trailing 9-7 late in the game, the Bears faced a crucial fourth down. Following an incomplete pass on third down, the clock was stopped, so the Bears had time to huddle and run a good fourth down play.
“That's a crucial down and distance to make sure you're 100 percent ready for what you need. The clock was running down,” Nagy said. “For that one, you'd love to be able to keep (the timeout) because if you don't get it, I think there was 1:48 to go and you have two timeouts. So if for some reason you don't get that, you got two timeouts and can still get the ball back. And so that was one where we just felt like, with the clock running down, we felt rushed before we snapped it. We wanted to be smart about that. It ended up working.”
Again, the game clock was stopped after third down, so Nagy must have been referring to the play clock running down. But why were they rushed? Why — in a crucial moment when timeouts are so valuable — can’t the team just get a play in and run it?
Amazingly, left tackle Jason Peters committed a false start out of the timeout, creating a 4th-and-11. That’s when Dalton hit Marquise Goodwin for a 49-yard touchdown to take a 13-9 lead with the point-after-try pending…
Timeout No. 3 — 4th quarter, 1:41 remaining, PAT
As kicker Cairo Santos and the field goal unit jogged onto the field, confusion started to take over the press box because there was very little advantage to increasing a lead from four points to five points instead of going for two and trying to get a six-point lead.
“That one there, again, we're at a point where you have the celebrations, you have the guys going back and forth, and also knowing you're up those four points where we were,” Nagy said. “You want to be able to make sure you have everything you need personnel wise and going for it, etc. There was also the (roughing the passer) penalty. Do you move it half the distance, make it from the 1? Do you use it on a kickoff? So there was a lot of stuff going on at that point. So that's why we used it, to be able to make it a six-point game.”
Nagy might have had defensible excuses on the first two timeouts, but there was nothing to defend on this one. Every coach should already know what they’re going to do before the touchdown is even scored and there are charts available to look at if there’s any doubt. All of those charts would say to go for two.
Nagy was asked directly why he would even send the field unit out to begin with and he responded: “Again, that's part of the process of, do you go up five and do you go up six? That's the communication part.”
The penalty was also a problem. The Ravens were called for roughing Dalton on the touchdown pass, and the Bears either could have taken the penalty half the distance to the goal on the two-point conversion or take 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. They took it on the conversion, moving the ball up one yard from the 2-yard-line to the 1-yard-line. And then they threw the ball — incomplete.
If they had handed the ball off to David Montgomery, then that yard probably mattered. Instead, they could have used the 15-yard penalty on the kickoff to pop the ball up in the air and try to pin the Ravens deep. Baltimore ended up with a 25-yard return to the 28.
Regardless, the Bears’ defense never should have allowed Tyler Huntley to go 72 yards in just 1:08 to score the game-winning touchdown. But with 25 seconds left in a 16-13 game, a timeout or two would have been helpful, right?
Sunday’s loss to the Ravens felt like an enormous missed opportunity because Lamar Jackson didn’t play. It was even worse because Justin Fields got significantly injured. But for Nagy and the coaching staff, it was yet another worst-case scenario because the game management in the fourth quarter hurt the team more than it helped.
Coaches have bad games. And this was one of them.