LAKE FOREST — Soul-crushing defeat or character builder?
Speed bump that only slows the Bears on their road to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, or the loss that ultimately keeps Matt Nagy’s team home for the postseason?
Those are the pertinent questions after the Bears’ 24-23 season-opening loss to the Packers in Green Bay, a game in which the upstart visitors led 20-0 with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter but still found a way to lose.
Bears players were quick to point out afterward that it was no time for finger pointing, and that’s accurate, since there was plenty of blame to go around after a fourth-quarter collapse in which they were outscored 21-3.
“It was one that hurt,” coach Matt Nagy admitted in the postmortem Monday afternoon at Halas Hall. “We’ve got to have that finish mentality. We can’t talk about it. We’ve got to do it; everybody included. I think our guys need to understand that close isn’t good enough, which they will. We need to use this to get better.”
That onus falls on Nagy, who was adamant that his team would respond the right way.
“If you have the negative, pessimistic approach to it, then that’s all wrong,” he said. “We’re not gonna have that. We’re not gonna have it as coaches; we’re not gonna have it as players. We’re gonna learn from it, and it’s my job as a head coach to make sure they learn from it. Trust me, I’ll be harder on myself more than anybody.”
But, as Nagy admitted, he doesn’t know for sure how anyone will respond.
“I’m about to learn where we’re at as a staff, where I’m at as a coach and where they’re at as players,” he said. “That’s the most challenging part, and that’s why they bring me in here, for these type of situations. It’s not going to be rosy the whole time -- it’s not. (But) we’re not going to lose our confidence at all, I promise you, from this game. We’re going to learn from it (and) stick together. It’s going to make us stronger, and hopefully we’re all sitting here at the end of the season and we can look back and reflect and say, ‘This helped us more than it hurt us.’ ”
A lot of that will depend on how QB Mitch Trubisky responds. He was efficient early, completing 11-of-14 for 109 yards and a 99.1 passer rating in the first half. But he seemed tentative and conservative late, connecting on six of his final 12 passes for just 35 yards and a 56.3 passer rating.
“The first thing he said to me on the bus was, 'How can I get better?’ ” Nagy said. “That’s the best part about him and where we’re at right now.”
Red-zone performance would be a good place for Trubisky to start. After the Bears’ TD drive on their opening possession, he completed three of six passes in the red zone for a net of zero yards.
But growing pains are to be expected from Trubisky, who ran an offense last year with training wheels and was never asked to be more than a game manager. But he’s not the only reason the Bears had four separate possessions that went three-and-out and another that ended after four plays.
The greater disappointment Sunday night was that a veteran defense couldn’t hold a big lead in the fourth quarter. First-half splash plays from Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith were nowhere to be found in the second half. All the big-money guys came up small, including $56-million CB Kyle Fuller, who dropped a potential game-clinching interception late in the game and was toasted earlier on Geronimo Allison’s 39-yard TD reception.
Nagy said he isn’t worried that there will be any lingering adverse effect on Fuller, and his exceptional play last year would indicate the same.
“The one thing with Kyle is, he’s so mentally strong,” Nagy said. “That’s what I love about him. He pretty much stays the course, and you have to be that way as a corner. They took a shot with the ‘August Special’ with 81 (Allison) down the sideline and (Rodgers) made a special throw and he made a special catch. Kyle played that about as well as he could. You’ve got to give credit to them. I thought it was good defense and it was great offense.”
“Good” is an accurate description of the Bears’ performance Sunday night.
They were just good enough to get beat.