For 45 minutes Sunday in Minneapolis, the Chicago Bears kicked the Vikings all over the football field, claiming a 12-minute advantage in time of possession, running 61 plays to the Vikings’ 33, outgaining them 318 to 165, and they held a 17-10 lead. Yet in the end they still found a way to lose 31-17.
How’d they do it?
At the end of the third quarter, the Bears were 3 of 10 on third down and 1 of 3 on fourth down, leaving them with only those 17 points on six trips inside the Vikings’ 25-yard line.
They would finish the game 1 of 6 on fourth down, converting their first attempt at the Vikings’ 44 by handing off to David Montgomery for a 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1.
The Bears then failed on their next five fourth-down attempts, dropping back to pass on all five, including three straight shots at fourth-and-1 at the Vikings’ 13-, 1- and 49-yard line, respectively.
If ever a loss landed squarely on the shoulders of a head coach this one was it.
The game, of course, was meaningless.
But to watch his troops battle furiously for him, flying all over the football field – particularly on defense where they were flawless for three quarters with the exception of a mental lapse in the final 36 seconds of the first half that led to Minnesota’s first three points – and then at every opportunity to put the Vikings away, seeing Nagy repeatedly put his players in positions to fail went from bewildering to unbelievable as the afternoon wore on.
There simply can be no argument at this point that Nagy’s greatest accomplishment this season and one worthy of admiration is that he never lost his locker room.
His players like him, trust him and battled for him right up to the bitter end Sunday.
Perhaps more than anything that was what made this loss the most difficult of the season to watch.
With repeated opportunities to reward their faith and performance, Nagy insisted on doing it his way. It was counter to what almost any experienced analyst would agree was the right way, and as each outcome proved, clearly the wrong way.
By the time he refused to give the football to Montgomery again – the best offensive player on his team – after the third straight fourth-and-1 had sandwiched a failed fourth-and-5 attempt, it struck me it was almost as if Nagy was determined to seal his own fate by writing his own epitaph on his Bears head coaching career.
As much as Nagy struggled Sunday it still takes players to win and lose games. Nagy did get ample assists from Andy Dalton and an offensive line, which after slowly improving in fits and starts all season finally collapsed in the second half Sunday.
The Dalton who showed promise against the Bengals in Week 2 before injuring his knee has never been seen again.
Certainly the strange and unpredictable machinations of the quarterback room as a whole have contributed. On Sunday, Dalton was again slow to react, often inaccurate and repeatedly failed to find open receivers, a critique often fired at rookie Justin Fields in his time under center.
After rushing for 68 yards on 16 attempts in the first half, the line cleared holes for just 22 yards on nine carries in the second half and allowed Dalton to be dumped seven times on the day, three times in the fateful fourth quarter.
If ever one game encapsulated a head coach’s entire tenure, it almost certainly was Sunday’s final disaster of the 2021 season.
A great start by a club that looked like it could play with almost anyone in the league was tarnished first by one frustration after another in the second and third quarters and eventually punctuated in the fourth by just too many crushing wounds to its own feet.
Nagy is a good man with a few special qualities you’d long for in any head coach. But while it is an open question as to how much help he had getting here, he left no doubt Sunday, it is time for change in Chicago.