Back in early October, while the Bears basked in the glow of Eddy Pineiro hitting a game-winning kick and then gutting through the pain of a pinched nerve to make nine of his next 10 kicks, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said something that explains the team’s approach to their now-struggling young kicker.
“We’re in the process of developing a player,” Tabor said. “He’s checking off boxes. … There’s going to be a lot more boxes to check off. I always say we’re not in a hurry to hit everything.
“It’s a developmental process. As things come up, let’s address it, go after it and just take it day by day, just kinda keep getting better step by step.”
Pineiro’s developmental process has not been linear in 2019. It was on a steady incline until Week 8, when he missed two field goals — including a game-winner from 41 yards and non-preferred hashmark — against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Then, in Los Angeles on Sunday, Pineiro missed two field goals in the first quarter from 47 and 48 yards. Sandwiched between those misses was a decision by coach Matt Nagy to try to convert a fourth-and-nine instead of having Pineiro attempt a 49-yard field goal.
Pineiro’s line over the last month, then, has precipitously trended down to the point where the city’s mayor took a shot at him during a press conference. But the Bears did not bring in a kicker or kickers for a tryout this week at Halas Hall, instead remaining steadfast in their commitment to Pineiro being their kicker.
“I have confidence in him,” Tabor said Thursday. “We just (told him) ‘Hey, you're our guy, let's go.’ So that's the deal. But at the same time, it's a production-based business. You need to make kicks.”
Pineiro has made 12 of 17 field goals (70.6 percent) this year, along with 17 of 18 extra points. But he’s missed four of his last 14 kicks (field goals and PATs), leading to his coach not exhibiting much trust in him with his actions, even if his words say differently.
“We’re all frustrated,” Nagy said. “He knows he wants to make those. But now it’s going to be a challenge to, let’s see him come back here and nail it. I have ultimate faith that he’s going to do that and now we’ll see when he’s given the chance.”
How much longer the Bears remain patient with Pineiro, though, remains to be seen. It’s clear they like him inside Halas Hall and believe in his potential and leg strength — if they didn’t, they could’ve brought in a few kickers off the street for a tryout to at least try to light a fire under him — but Nagy’s actions on gamedays do not indicate a deep, unrelenting trust.
And that’s a problem for the Bears as the focus shifts to if this team can contend again in 2020. Nagy will need to be able to trust whomever his kicker is next year, at least to the point where he’s not tempted to try to convert a fourth-and-long instead of kicking a long-ish field goal.
Still, the Bears are giving Pineiro the first — and best — opportunity to prove himself worthy of being their kicker of the future. The Bears may bring in OTA and minicamp competition for him regardless, but the final six games of 2019 will be about building a foundation of trust between coach and kicker.
That is, assuming the Bears’ trust in Pineiro’s talent doesn’t run out between now and the end of December.
If it does, the Bears could be right back in the same place they were earlier this year: A national punchline for kicking woes, and a team without any answers.
“He’s a good player,” Tabor said of Pineiro Thursday. “There’s no doubt about that. He had a rough night. … This is the next challenge in his development. How’s he gonna bounce back? And I think he’ll bounce back well.”