Bears head coach Matt Nagy is probably sick and tired of hearing about his approach to the running game. He did his best to silence the chatter around his unbalanced playcalling by feeding running back David Montgomery 27 times in what was the team's best rushing output of the year in Week 8, but the debate rages on. This time, it's not about the calls he made. Instead, this week's criticism will focus on the one he didn't.
With the Bears trailing 17-16 and the ball on the Chargers' 21-yard line with 43 seconds left to play, Nagy, instead of giving Montgomery a 28th carry to get kicker Eddy Pineiro a yard or two closer for his game-winning attempt, chose to take a knee and run the clock down to three seconds.
"Yeah, I'm not even going to get into that," Nagy said after the game. "I had zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. They know you're running the football, so you lose three, four yards, so that wasn't even in our process as coaches to think about that. We were in field goal range before the scramble, and then we got the scramble, so that didn't even cross my mind."
Pineiro's 41-yard kick sailed wide left. The Bears lost their third straight. And now, when confidence in the locker room and in the coaching staff is the most important element needed to get out of this funk, Nagy's decision to take a knee looks an awful lot like he was lacking in that department.
Former Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy suggested as much at halftime of Sunday night's Packers-Chiefs game.
"Matt Nagy, have some confidence in your run game," Dungy said. "You might not score, but you’ll get closer. Don’t rely on your field goal kicker.”
The Bears should know better than any team in the league that relying on your field goal kicker doesn't always work out. And while Pineiro has already proven this season that he has the moxie to connect on a game-winner (he split the uprights with time expiring against the Broncos in Week 2), the decision to not make his kick a little easier is one that Nagy will eventually regret.
"If there’s a fumble in that play, that’s the biggest risk," Nagy said. "We’re wasting our time right now talking about that."
Nagy doesn't like living in a world of what-ifs. But seven games into one of the most disappointing starts in recent franchise history, the foundation of this team is flooding with them. What if Ryan Pace selected Patrick Mahomes or DeShaun Watson over Mitch Trubisky. What if Nagy committed to the run game earlier this season in games that were winnable had a different strategy been deployed. And what if Pineiro was two yards closer on Sunday.
One thing seems certain: The Bears wouldn't be 3-4.