Going into the Bears-Dolphins game on Sunday, a question in Chicago and in more than a few corners of the NFL was: Are the Bears for real?
After the amalgamation of failures behind their error-riddled 31-28 overtime loss to the Dolphins (4-2), the answer was: Yes, the Bears (3-2) are for real.
But the real what exactly?
“We win and lose as a team,” insisted quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, “and today we lost. But the important thing is we stuck together. We fought hard, a lot of ups and downs, battled, overcame adversity. Just have 100 percent faith and trust in what Coach Nagy is putting.
“We were in a great spot. We had our shots.”
For real on defense?
The exalted Bears defense that had given up barely 16 points per game allowed 31 points and 541 yards to a Miami offense without its starting quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and with a backup quarterback (Brock Osweiler) who came in with his only practice being Friday’s session, which typically is little more than a refresher walk-through.
The NFL’s sack-leading defense, which also led the league in forcing three-and-outs, never sacked the largely immobile Osweiler and limited Miami to a three-and-out on just two of the Dolphins’ 13 possessions. Behind a makeshift, injured offensive line, the Dolphins rushed for 161 yards.
For real on offense?
Trubisky followed his massive game against Tampa Bay with 22-of-30 passing for 316 yards, three touchdowns and a 122.5 passer rating. But a forced fourth quarter throw into the Miami end zone was intercepted, costing the Bears a virtually assured three points and giving the Dolphins the football for one of its four straight second-half scoring possessions.
The offense turned the football over three times, twice in the red zone and twice in the fourth quarter.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Trubisky said, “myself included.”
For real on special teams?
Cody Parkey’s 53-yard attempted game-winner was wide right in OT. The kick needed to be 53 yards because the Bears were stuffed on a third-and-4 run by Jordan Howard, and coach Matt Nagy was in no mood to explain the run-vs.-pass call, even whether it was just a play to move the ball into better position for a kick.
“We could do that all day long,” Nagy replied with a touch of irritation. “You go ahead, you throw it and then [the media is] up here asking me why you took a sack. So, you could go all day long with that kind of stuff.”
For real as a discipline-coached team?
The offense had a touchdown pass to Tarik Cohen nullified by a pass-interference penalty on tight end Trey Burton. Linebacker Leonard Floyd drew two 15-yard penalties, one for picking a Miami ballcarrier up and slamming him to the ground.
Trubisky took a delay-of-game penalty in the first quarter, and a goal-line fumble was lost by Howard on a play on which the Bears were flagged for an illegal formation. A second illegal-formation flag was thrown in the fourth quarter.
“There’s a lot that you could say about it,” Floyd said. “’We haven’t played in a week.’ ‘The weather is quite different from Chicago.’ It’s a lot of things you could say, but at the end of the day, we got to execute and we didn’t do a good job of that.”
What lessons this time?
Nagy was visibly testy with questions afterwards and without some good reason. He has made a point of noting that he has learned a little bit more about his football team with each passing week. On Sunday against the Dolphins, he learned even more, although not necessarily what he’d hoped to.
His team had successfully rebounded from a loss (Green Bay). It responded well to a victory (Seattle) with another victory (Arizona), and then a third (Tampa Bay). The “challenge” Sunday was how his team would perform after a complete off-week break, with Nagy giving players the entire week off after the 48-10 mashing of Tampa Bay.
This time the Bears, who confessed to a bit of complacency back in the opener when they effectively eased up with a 17-0 halftime lead at Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers apparently injured, appeared to come out complacent with the news that Tannehill was out and Osweiler starting.
This time the Bears sleepwalked through the first half, the first scoreless first half since week 12 last season against eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, and didn’t get into the end zone until their first possession of the third quarter.
“We didn’t do well the first half,” Nagy said. “We didn’t score many points, zero in the first half. But you know what our guys did is they battled. They came out and we scored 21 points in eight minutes. When you do that, something … That’s a good thing. And so they battled, and we had the lead throughout the rest of the game, and credit to Miami for making good plays.”
The problem was that while the offense was on its way to 28 second-half points, the defense seemed to rise up – Kyle Fuller nabbed the second of his two interceptions, leading to a second Bears touchdown in the span of less than four minutes – and then go into its Green Bay shell.
Miami ran up 266 combined yards on its next four possessions, scoring two field goals and two touchdowns with an offense that the Bears had virtually shut down on five of its first six possessions, two on Fuller interceptions.
Not an exact indicator of anything conclusive, but the prospect of Tannehill out and Osweiler in was on the minds of the defense.
“There was talk about it [Saturday] night, and everybody heard the talk,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “But we weren’t sure, and we found out what it was today just before the game.”
So now what?
If there was any complacency and whether or not that played any part in the Bears’ two losses of 2018, it is unlikely to be present around Halas Hall or Soldier Field this week with New England next for a team that still is statistically at the top of the NFC North.
But the Bears are one of seven three-win teams among the 16 in the NFC (plus division-leaders Los Angeles with 6 and New Orleans with 4). The Packers could make it eight three-win teams tomorrow when they host San Francisco on MNF.
Maybe the problem is at the “top.” Teams for which Nagy was on staff (Philadelphia, Kansas City, Bears) are a woeful 1-6 against teams with Miami coach Adam Gase on staff (Denver, Chicago), albeit both serving as assistants, not head coaches. Before this time.
“As a team, it’s frustrating because coming out in the third quarter, we see what our identity is,” said running back Tarik Cohen. “And then to let that slip away and come away with a loss here is just…
“We have to do better, and we have to get back to the drawing board.”