THE MORNING AFTER: Missing the final acts of a new Bears’ era
GREEN BAY – He’s one of the best young “playwrights” in all of football. That’s why they waited less than a week to hire him.
The coach’s scripts have been lauded for creativity and innovation. He’s found ways to take a complex set of characters and mix them in a way that works for the better of the team. In the process, he helped his former employer to success in the AFC West as an assistant, earning him the chance to craft his own stories from the top.
Matt Nagy had his first Bears script as a head coach on Sunday, taking it up to Green Bay with a healthy amount of anticipation from a fan base desperate for a winner. What narrative would he shape for his first of 16 performances in 2018? How exactly would the acts play out on both the offense and defense? Could Nagy craft a storybook ending to his and a new era’s debut under the national spotlight?
We’ll he got the first few acts perfect with almost stunning precision. But that tricky ending, yet again, escaped him.
In a scenario frighteningly like his last story in Kansas City, Nagy saw his first two acts build the Bears a lead before things fell apart in the last two. A 17-0 lead grew to 20 early in the second half, but then the offense wasn’t as efficient, stopped finish drives, and the defense lacked an answer to the team’s antagonist down the stretch.
Instead of the ushering in a new era against the Packers, a familiar story played out with Aaron Rodgers, who rallied the Packers to a 24-23 win, bringing a nightmare end to what was a fairytale start for the Nagy era.
“That’s a tough one for us, it stings,” said Nagy of the defeat – the team’s fifth-straight loss on opening day and fifth-straight to Green Bay. “I want our guys to feel that. They understand. I want our coaches to feel it. We talked about finishing and we didn’t do that.”
Boy did they start, though. A ten-play, 86-yard drive that featured everything from three-man backfields to Charles Leno Jr. lining up at receiver to a number of short and long passes. Tarik Cohen was getting a healthy amount of touches and Mitchell Trubisky had an option touchdown to open up the era.
Another long drive got a field goal before Khalil Mack decided to ramp things up. He led the rush on Aaron Rodgers that led to a Roy Robertson-Harris sack that knocked the quarterback out of the game. The linebacker then stopped a Green Bay drive by ripping the ball out of DeShone Kizer’s hands the got on the board when Robertson-Harris’ pressure forced an errant pass into the hands of Mack.
When he plowed into the endzone, the Bears were up 17-0, Mark Morrison was being played on the broadcast and elsewhere, while the dream scenario was coming true. What a script Nagy and his coaches had written.
“That was the first half. We know how we played in the first half. We played well,” said receiver Allen Robinson, who made three of his four catches on teh night in the first 30 minutes. “In the second half, we have to come out and do the same thing.”
So what happened? An encore of a forgettable moment for Nagy in Kansas City.
In that Wild Card game against the Titans, the Chiefs were shutout in the second half and saw an 18-point halftime lead evaporate in a 22-21 defeat. It was even more extreme on Sunday, as the Bears’ offense grabbed a 20-point lead on a field goal drive early in the second half then gained just 17 yards.
During that time, the Bears’ pass rushed struggled to get more pressure on a hobbled Rodgers, who struggled with that injured left knee suffered in the second quarter. Geronimo Allison bested Kyle Fuller on the first touchdown catch, then Randall Cobb ran through the defense for a 51-yard gain on another scoring drive.
Even when the Bears drove down the field and eat up 6:22 of the clock, they had the peculiar call on third-and-one to pass after a strong few rushes by Jordan Howard. That pass fell incomplete, the Bears settled for a field goal, and then Rodgers found a wide open Cobb who raced downfield for a 75 yard touchdown, just a few plays after Fuller dropped a sure interception.
A forgettable eight plays followed that score, which was continued only by a late hit on the first fourth down by Clay Matthews. One the second fourth down, Trubisky never got a pass off and loss the ball on a sack.
The ending to this story, frankly, was a disaster.
“I don’t really even know that we made a statement. We’re close, we know how close we are,” said Trubisky, who threw for just 46 yards in the second half. “These guys continue to believe, continue to work their tails off. Credit to the offensive line for giving me time and to the receivers for making plays. We just feel like we are real close.”
But something is still missing. There seemed to be something missing from the playcalling in the second half, though Nagy specifically said that team didn’t take their foot off the gas in the second half. The defense, so strong in the first half, couldn’t make the adjustment to stop the heroic Rodgers’ story angle from coming true.
Maybe it’s just experience. It was Nagy’s first game as a head coach, and he’s still young in the world of solo play calling even with his time in Kansas City. He’s still evolving in scripting games, and he’s only really did so for the starting offense for about a half in the preseason.
It sure didn’t look that way in the first half, but the finish needed a lot of work, and Nagy certainly knows that.
“You can feel it tonight. That’s OK, that’s allright to feel tonight. Feel bad, be pissed, all that,” said Nagy of the defeat. “But once we get back tomorrow we learn from it. We look ourselves in the mirror, including myself, start with myself, and we see how we can get better and that’s what we’ll do.”
No need to tinker with the first half. That part of the story is just fine. It’s just those final acts, got to fix those. The waiting gallery want the dream ending, not the nightmare that played out at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.