Bears fans might take at least some solace in considering the possibility that their team’s putrid offensive performance Thursday night vs. the Green Bay Packers was coach Matt Nagy’s attempt to pay homage to the franchise’s forefathers on Chicago and the NFL’s official centennial season kickoff. After all, Nagy arrived to Soldier Field donning the signature fedora hat of George “Papa Bear” Halas and called for the T-formation on the offense’s first play for the second year in a row before his offense proceeded to muster only a field goal in a performance that wasn't exactly a solid display of modernized football.
It also might be easy to think that the Bears’ first-string offense, which played no more than five preseason snaps, was simply rusty, and that an outstanding defensive effort by the Green Bay Packers is to blame for Chicago falling to find the end zone in a wholly disappointing 10-3 defeat to kick off their NFC North title defense.
Much closer to the truth is that young QB Mitch Trubisky looked eerily similar to the wide-eyed quarterback in the first two-plus quarters of his playoff debut in his most recent game at Soldier Field, the crushing wild-card defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. And Nagy, who struggled that night to adjust following the late scratch of Trey Burton, shares plenty of the culpability.
"I think he saw it okay," Nagy said, after a long pause, of his quarterback's field vision. "But that's not -- again, I didn't help him at all. I didn't help him. I've got to help him. And then we've got to get the run game going. That's 15 rushes in 65 plays, you're down 7-3, but we -- again, that's something that we're going to as a staff get back together and we're going to figure out."
Burton was inactive again, but Nagy said the Bears were preparing for that possibility all week. It was assumed the reigning Coach of the Year was also preparing to fully unleash top pick David Montgomery after he was mostly hidden during the preseason along with the rest of the starters. Instead, the rookie received only seven touches for 45 yards despite making the offense's most positive contributions outside of Allen Robinson.
Remember, it was the Packers, under rookie head coach Matt LaFleur, who rolled out Aaron Rodgers’ first new offense since his first year as the starter. It also wasn’t pretty — Rodgers managed only 203 yards and one touchdown — but it wasn’t the Bears’ horror show.
Trubisky struggled to see the field and make sound decisions, barely avoiding several interceptions before getting picked in the end zone on the Bears' last-gasp drive en route to a 59.5 completion percentage, 226 yards (5.4 YPA) and 64.2 rating. Nagy called things too conservatively when it was time to be aggressive — for instance, a QB keeper on third-and-inches early in the second half following a three-and-out — and looked to be aggressive when perhaps a more measured approach made more sense (the Bears had 15 carries in a game they never trailed by more than a touchdown).
"I definitely feel like I let a lot of my teammates down and the fans down with the way I played, and I definitely felt like I could have done better," Trubisky said to open his press conference.
But his curious close begs the question of whether he really thinks of his performance.
"I felt like it was coming out of my hand really well," he said. "I felt like I was seeing the defense pretty well for the most part, and I was putting it in spots where guys could make plays. But overall it just wasn't good enough and it wasn't enough for my team to win. I think we've just got to be better as a team, I've got to be better and look at myself and watch this film and make sure I come back and improve from it."
Perhaps the perfect microcosm of the night came early in the fourth quarter with the Bears somehow — read: their defense also picking up where it left off last season — only trailing by four points. After Trubisky appeared to finally be finding some rhythm with back-to-back connections to reach plus territory for only the fourth time all night, LT Charles Leno was flagged on back-to-back plays, joining linemates James Daniels and Kyle Long in the penalty parade. Then, Taylor Gabriel was called for pushing off, negating a 50-yard reception and setting up first-and-40. First-and-40!
The Bears of course failed to pick up another first down, squandering their best chance of the half. Their yeoman defense nearly got the ball back after only a couple Packers first downs, but Kyle Fuller was called for illegal contact, nullifying what would’ve been Leonard Floyd’s third sack of the evening. The Packers would tack on a field goal to make it 10-3, which has rarely felt more insurmountable.
And what was supposed to be a celebratory night by the lakefront morphed into the Bears faithful booing Trubisky and the offense. Not a defense that surrendered only 10 points, or a kicker under the microscope who actually converted his only attempt in his NFL debut.
It’s only one game. Bears fans don’t have to think back far to remember how their team used the hurt of last season’s Week 1 heartbreak as fuel. But to begin a season with Super Bowl ambitions that hinge more than anything on the growth of Trubisky and an offense that’s now supposed to have everything it needs, Thursday’s biggest development was Trubisky and the the unit's arrested development.
"We just didn’t have anything really come to fruition for us," Long said. "We were knocking on the door. We were in the damn driveway and we couldn’t get in the front door. I trust these guys. We got tough dudes in this room and we’re looking forward to another opportunity next week."