MINNEAPOLIS – Matt Nagy’s Bears career was brought to its almost-certain end Sunday by the same franchise-crippling issue he was brought in to fix: the quarterback.
On fourth-and-1 with about five minutes to play, Andy Dalton — the veteran on whom Nagy planned to stake his must-win season months ago — dropped back to pass and, rather than take a sack, threw a prayer down the left sideline.
Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson intercepted the pass, sprinted down the field and then across it – only one Bears player, Cody Whitehair even touched him – on his way to a 66-yard touchdown.
Dalton threw an astounding 48 times in a 31-17 loss to the Vikings. That’s almost as many as the 54 Mitch Trubisky threw against the Saints in 2019, which prompted Nagy to assert that he was “not an idiot” and knew he needed to run the ball more.
More amazingly Sunday, Dalton was sacked on fourth-and-5 and twice on fourth-and-1, losing 35 yards in the process.
Dalton’s 77.2 passer rating in a who-cares game wasn’t nearly as damning as the way Nagy handled two first-round draft picks: Trubisky and Justin Fields. The former was a Pro Bowl injury replacement in his first year under Nagy but regressed the next two seasons and is now the Bills’ backup. The latter, drafted No. 11 overall this year, played only 10 games, hampered by injury and illness and a coach who stubbornly insisted on giving Dalton all the training camp reps.
That only harmed Fields, whose teammates had to learn how to play with him in real time – starting in Week 3.
“At first it was, just chemistry-wise, just having to learn each other,” receiver Darnell Mooney said Sunday when asked about the offense’s struggles all year long. “With Andy coming in, the only thing we could do with training camp and some offseason things, it helped. But in the process, when he got hurt, and then Justin came in. You just gotta learn that.”
It amounted to coaching malpractice. The potential franchise quarterback was never given a chance to earn the starting job over Dalton. He was so removed from the competition that other starters had to adjust to him when Dalton hurt his knee in Week 2. In between, Nagy wanted to use him as a gadget player.
In a strange bit of revisionist history, Nagy expressed optimism about Fields on Sunday, calling him “a really good franchise quarterback,” after making it clear at the start of the season that he’d rather play the veteran.
The result was an offense that was perennially disappointing and a rookie quarterback who was never able to get his footing. After his encouraging fourth quarter in Pittsburgh on Nov. 8, Fields started and finished only two games. The Bears had to return to Dalton, who is on a one-year deal, and, for one game, third-stringer Nick Foles.
“I think when you switch quarterbacks, there’s things that go into that.” Dalton said. “There’s a lot of time that was spent in training camp with guys that they didn’t get with Justin, where [the starting job] went to Justin. And then when he got hurt and I’m back in there and then Nick gets to play.”
Four years ago, Bears general manager Ryan Pace stood at Halas Hall and introduced Nagy as his head coach.
“There’s a value of pairing a strong head coach, that has a strong offensive mind, with a young quarterback,” he said then. “And the value of that going forward – we’ve seen that around the league.”
But not with their own team. And that, more than any other reason, should justify Nagy’s firing.