Why Matt Nagy is facing the most important game of his Bears careerPatrick Finleyon October 2, 2021 at 10:00 am

Bears coach Matt Nagy is 1-2 this season. | AP Photos

He could have chosen to be bold and stake his reputation on a banged-up Andy Dalton or a still-reeling Justin Fields for the most critical game of his career. Instead, Nagy decided to act as though the injury report was deciding for him.

Last season, coach Matt Nagy and the Bears had a six-game losing streak. The season before, they lost four in a row.

Neither compares to their one-game losing streak right now.

After the Bears gained 47 yards on 42 plays last Sunday against the Browns, Nagy took criticism like never before. On Monday, one ESPN analyst wondered whether Nagy was trying to set up rookie quarterback Justin Fields to fail. Another called for his job. Later in the week, a debate show on the network wondered whether Fields should force his way out of town — and away from this mess altogether.

Locally, it was worse. The Wiener’s Circle called for Nagy’s firing on the famous sign outside its building and passed along the link to a petition online. Bears fans on social media and in their own homes insulted Nagy like, well, he was a customer at The Wiener’s Circle.

The fire rages outside.

”Where I’m at right now is inside,” Nagy said Friday. ”I’m inside with these guys. I’m inside this building. I’m inside with everybody that’s here together doing this.”

In terms of self-preservation, the Bears’ game Sunday against the winless, historically hapless Lions — thought of as a gimme as recently as 10 days ago — is the most important of Nagy’s career. A loss would spin the Bears’ season further out of control and do nothing to quell concerns that Nagy — despite his experience tutoring Patrick Mahomes in 2017 — is the wrong person to shepherd Fields’ career.

More immediately, a loss would send the Bears down the long ramp toward another six-game losing streak, with the Raiders, Packers, Buccaneers and 49ers next on their schedule.

The McCaskeys never have fired a coach in the middle of a season. If Sunday is ugly, perhaps they would reconsider.

Nagy feels the pressure from inside and outside Halas Hall. That’s part of the reason that, for the first time in his head-coaching career, he refused to name a quarterback during game week.

He could have chosen to be bold and stake his reputation on a banged-up Andy Dalton or a still-reeling Fields but decided to act as though the injury report was deciding for him.

If Dalton can’t play because of a bone bruise in his left knee and Fields shines, then Nagy made the right call. If Fields struggles, then Nagy was a victim of medical circumstance. If Dalton shines, then it validates him being Nagy’s starter. If he doesn’t, it’s because of the knee. Nagy probably figures he can’t lose — unless the Bears lose the game.

Nagy bunkered himself in like never before during the week, playing coy about quarterback and play-caller alike. On Tuesday, he took the bizarre measure of asking his offensive players during a meeting what suggestions they had to fix the offense. Veteran Nick Foles chimed in with an idea; Fields said he didn’t.

Either way, it was a bad look for Nagy for his offense to seem so lost so early in the season.

”We’re going to fight for him this weekend,” tight end Cole Kmet said.

We’ll see.

For three seasons and three games, Nagy has done an impressive job of rallying his players and minimizing whatever rifts existed between a dominant defense and a popgun offense. If he can’t hold his team together Sunday — if his players won’t fight for him — it’s fair to wonder what exactly he does well.

For two-plus seasons, Nagy’s quarterbacks — his area of expertise — have been among the worst in the league. And play-calling might not be entirely under his control anymore. While he wouldn’t say whether he had ceded that duty to coordinator Bill Lazor, it’s hard to believe Nagy’s bosses would accept another week with the same structure.

Nagy said Friday he wanted to keep the play-caller secret, so as not to give away tendencies to the Lions, the biggest walkover opponent the Bears will face all season.

”As much as the coaches can take accountability of what happened [last] Sunday, the coaches weren’t out there playing,” running back David Montgomery said. ”It was on us as an offense, us as a team, to get the job done. The play doesn’t make the play; the player makes the play.”

Montgomery is as close to Nagy as any player at Halas Hall. They communicate even when both are outside the facility, be it through FaceTime, text messages or phone calls.

He described Nagy last week as ”the leader we know him to be.”

”We still have a lot of opportunities and a lot of games to prove what we’re capable of,” Montgomery said. ”We’re still stuck together like glue.”

If the Bears don’t prove something Sunday, things will fall apart even more.

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