MINNEAPOLIS – The season is over. The drama is not.
The Bears lost Sunday’s season finale, 31-17, against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. They finished the season with a 6-11 record, and head coach Matt Nagy’s future hangs in the balance.
Now, the attention turns toward team chairman George McCaskey. The end of this season couldn’t come soon enough after the team was 4-10 through Week 15. At that point – and really long before that point – this train barreled toward its inevitable destination.
At least, that’s how it might have felt for Bears fans.
Speculation will run rampant over the coming hours about Nagy’s and general manager Ryan Pace’s futures. Until official word comes from the team, until McCaskey breaks his nearly year-long silence, nobody knows what ownership is truly thinking.
But after the game Sunday, Nagy sounded like a coach proud of what he and general manager Ryan Pace have built, the young players they have developed.
“There’s a good thing going here right now,” Nagy said. “There’s a really good franchise quarterback that’s here that’s going to be good for a long time, and both Ryan and I were a part of that.”
Unfortunately that franchise quarterback, rookie Justin Fields, was sidelined by COVID-19 and did not play Sunday.
Nagy’s firing feels inevitable. McCaskey’s decision to keep him last year was unpopular among a segment of fans, and doing more of the same would be widely unpopular this time around. That’s not to say McCaskey should base his decisions off what the fans think.
No, Sunday’s game provided another reminder why this era of Bears football needs to be flushed.
The Bears blew a 14-point lead and were outscored 31-3 to end the game. If this was Nagy’s final game, he ended his tenure with his trademarked stubbornness. Six times the Bears faced fourth down, three of them ended with Andy Dalton sacks and one went for an interception. They converted just once.
Three of those failed conversions came on fourth-and-1, the second of which was mere inches from the goal line. Rather than hand the ball off to bulldozing running back David Montgomery, Nagy called a play-action pass. Sack. Turnover.
Later, on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Dalton threw a ball up for grabs that Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson intercepted and returned for a touchdown – effectively putting a nail in the coffin.
“It was frustrating,” Dalton said. “Fourth downs are important plays. They tend to be the difference in this game today. So, it’s unfortunate we were unable to convert and make the plays when we needed to.”
The defense played well in the first half, but later imploded. Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson gashed the Bears secondary in the second half. Both Jefferson (five catches, 107 yards, one touchdown) and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (three catches, 103 yards, one touchdown) totaled 100 receiving yards. Quarterback Kirk Cousins finished 14-for-22 passing for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Afterward, Nagy stood in front of a crowd of reporters at U.S. Bank Stadium and answered questions with his usual calm, cool and collected demeanor. Make no mistake, though, he was making his case.
“When sometimes adversity can strike, people can start acting different,” Nagy said. “Ryan’s not different. I’m not different. Too much respect. You do things the right way and I’m proud of the way we’ve handled all of this together, and the players that we’ve talked about, selected, our coaching staff, all of it.”
Nagy is 34-31 during the regular season as head coach of the Bears, with two playoff losses. This season’s 6-11 finish marks his first losing season in four years.
He may have been making his case far too late. He argued that this team is close to a breakthrough. The results on the field Sunday said otherwise.
“When you hit a little bit of a snag, and you lose a few [games], the players are the ones that get you through that because they’re great leaders, they’re high-character people that are great football players,” Nagy said. “The more of those that you have, you win a lot of games and then you have an opportunity to get in the dance and win the whole thing. That’s what this team has right now. It’s there, and that’s what I’m selfishly proud of, with Ryan, of what’s here – and then again the excitement of Justin at quarterback because Justin’s going to have a very bright future.”
Nagy and Pace walked out of U.S. Bank Stadium side by side. Long after the players had cleared out of the locker room, Nagy and Pace made the walk from the locker room, across the home sideline and back toward the opposite tunnel where the team bus awaited.
They walked – as they have done everything during their partnership – together.