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10 Bears’ Takes: What’s next?

With Monday night’s loss, the Chicago Bears drop to (4-10) on the season and are officially eliminated from the playoff race. So what now? Is it time to commence the house cleaning? All of that and more in this week’s 10 takes.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe that at one point the Chicago Bears were (3-2) with a real chance to get into their Week 10 bye week above .500, huh? Since Week 5, they have gone (1-8) and have been wildly outplayed in just about every facet of the game. With just three games left in what has become a lost season, what’s the incentive to keep watching?

The early interview window opens next week for teams starting their head coaching search, so there’s that. Could their ninth loss in 10 game propel their first head coach firing in franchise history? Common sense says yes, while conventional wisdom says otherwise. Either way, the Bears are bad. They are past the point of unwatchable and the wheels have fallen off. So what now?

1. Say what you want about how bad this team is. The fact still remains that this team has not given up on their head coach and that may very well keep Matt Nagy here through the final three games of the season.

Make no mistake. The Bears are a bad football team that make a ton of mistakes. With that being said, what they lack in talent, they make up for in effort. Or at least they try to. Monday night’s 17-9 loss was not much different from what we saw in Week 14 against the Green Bay Packers. There was a clear talent gap between the two teams, but the Bears hung tough and played with plenty of emotion.

Much can be said about Nagy and how this team has performed. Yet, no one can watch this team and objectively believe they have given up on him or in some way “mailed it in.” Things have not gone as planned since the conclusion of the 2018 season and Nagy shares a lot of blame in that. With all of that being said, the stark differences between he and Marc Trestman have been glaring. It was never fair to make that comparison in the first place, but when fans insinuate the team has given up on Nagy, that’s a direct comparison to Trestman. Mainly for the simple fact that in 2014 the team gave up on Trestman and turned into a dumpster fire both on and off the field. That hasn’t happened here, at least off the field. Nagy is almost assuredly gone in three weeks time but he does deserve the credit of never losing a struggling team that has lost eight of its last nine games.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

2. In the spirit of not quitting on themselves, Nagy’s multiple blowups on the sideline at yet another incompetent officiating crew was not only welcomed but warranted.

Count me in the camp that is not remotely upset with Nagy getting a 15-yard penalty for losing his mind on the sidelines after yet another awful showing by an NFL officiating crew on Monday night. Much like this team, Nagy has clearly not given up on himself or this team. That should hold some value. Not in terms of keeping his job, but in the “moral victory” department when he gets his walking papers in less than three weeks. When asked if about it post game, Nagy had this to say “Our guys are fighting their asses off to get off the field and I saw what happened. So, I explained my opinion on it and I don’t regret it.” He doesn’t regret it, nor should he.

One thing is for sure — Nagy is going to go out on his own terms, doing things his own way. In this regard, I 100% respect it. He has little to lose at this point and quite frankly, the Bears have been screwed over by bad officiating far too much this season.

3. Last note on Nagy — Even though this offense has struggled this year, watching Nagy call play on Monday night showed the vast differences between he and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

Monday night was the first time we’ve seen Nagy call plays for the Bears’ offense in multiple months. I know there has been a section of fans who believe that anytime things go poorly on offense, Nagy has somehow magically taken back the play calling duties. Last night should be all the proof fans need to see the vast in-game differences between the two play callers style.

Far too often I saw predictable formations (ie: Them not throwing the ball when Fields was under center), forcing the run, lack of rhythm and historically bad red zone efficiency. As a whole, the offense lacked rhythm, balance and any sort of meaningful down the field attacks (until the game was already out of hand).

I don’t doubt that Nagy can eventually work himself back up to another head coaching opportunity, but I think one thing that has become clear is that he’s not nearly as good of an offensive mind as many once hoped he was.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

4. Justin Fields wasn’t great, but he also wasn’t bad in Week 15. While he rides the rookie rollercoaster, one thing was for sure on Monday night — Throwing the ball was not his issue. It was the smaller, more fixable issues that were a problem.

Last night (like most Bears games) was one of emotional takes and overreactions from fans and general spectators, alike. For some weird reason, a lot of fan’s frustrations were directed toward Fields. Albeit, he didn’t have a great game but as a passer, I saw a lot more good than bad last night. I even had a few beat writers from different teams text me talking about Fields’ bad moments.

Again, I get it. Most people (even outside of Bears fans) want Fields to succeed. He’s a likeable young talent that got the short end of the stick during draft season. He’s also had some self-inflicted issues that he needs to clean up in the offseason (namely, ball security). With all of that being said, he’s in a really bad situation where his coaching staff has no clue how to maximize his talent. He has minimal offensive weapons (more on that in a minute) and his offensive line had given up the third most sacks in the league heading into Week 15.

It’s just hard for me to get too worked up (one way or another) when the situation is so bad around him. Even last night, Nagy’s play calling did not allow him to get into any sort of rhythm. They didn’t challenge down field until it was too late and there were too many plays not made. I’m not going to discount the final three games from a development/experience standpoint, but at this stage the most important thing for Fields moving into 2022 outside of health is getting the right regime in here to maximize his talent.

5. For all of Fields’ flaws as a rookie, the lack of play makers offensively continue to do his development a bigger disservice than has been talked about.

Like I noted above, their offensive line has been bad and the play calling has been even worse. While we can’t simply overlook Fields’ own shortcomings and mistakes, one thing not being talked about enough is how poor his pass catchers have been around him.

Last night, I counted multiple drops. Tight end Cole Kmet had a pair, Khalil Herbert had one late and Damiere Byrd had a bad one on a key fourth down. On top of that, Jimmy Graham should have had a touchdown pass and Darnell Mooney has to do a better job of securing that catch in the back of the end zone.

Simply put — Fields has his own issues, but the large majority of these offensive shortcomings are coming from other areas in which he has no control. A large part of the Bears’ focus this offseason needs to be to get Fields multiple new pass catchers. Without play makers, it’s going to be hard to truly develop him into the player they are hoping he can become.

6. The Bears went into Week 15 missing their entire starting secondary, yet they held Kirk Cousins to under 100 yards passing on the night. Hats off to defensive coordinator Sean Desai on a masterful job getting his unit ready.

If you would have told me (going into Monday night) that the Bears would hold Cousins to 87 yards passing and an explosive Vikings offense to under 200 yards as a whole, I would have assumed the Bears would have won the game. Especially when you consider the Bears were missing their entire starting secondary and are still without Khalil Mack.

Obviously we know that the Bears still found a way to lose by more than a touchdown but them scoring nine points (three points when the game actually mattered) should not take away from what this defense did overall. Not only did the front seven have four sacks and four tackles for loss, but they gave up just five total yards in the second quarter and just seven points in the second half.

The product from Desai has been a mixed bag all year. At some points, it feels like they found a real gem at defensive coordinator and other times, it feels like his chance may have come too soon. Without getting into the rollercoaster of performances throughout the first 14 games, it’s easy to say Monday night’s game might have been Desai’s best work to date. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling, isn’t it? The Bears defense does more than enough to win a game but the offense can’t hold up their end of the bargain.

7. On the topic of fantastic defensive performances — Thomas Graham Jr.’s NFL was one to be excited about, yet him not seeing the field until Week 15 is an indictment on this coaching staff’s ability to evaluate their own talent.

My first thought is that Graham Jr.’s first NFL game (and start) was wildly successful. Especially for a sixth-round pick who didn’t even make the 53-man roster heading into Week 1. On the night, Graham Jr. had three pass breakups and gave up just 10 yards receiving. He was clearly the team’s best defensive back, even in a group of reserves.

Yet, for as good of a performance as Graham Jr. had, it begs the question — Why didn’t he see his first NFL action until Week 15 of a lost season? Again, this is a 2021 sixth-round pick we are talking about. At a position where the Bears have been flat out awful (outside of Jaylon Johnson) this year. They chose to start fringe roster names like Artie Burns, Xavier Crawford and Marqui Christian over a recent draft pick.

Now it’s completely possibly that Graham Jr. was indeed slow to get back into the swing of things after opting out of the 2020 college football season. He did struggle in training camp and the preseason and that should be noted. Even so, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince anybody that it took a full 14 weeks to “develop” him to a point to get him on the field of a regular season game, especially with that type of performance. What this really goes to show is the Bears’ coaching staff has a talent evaluation problem and more so, they lack the ability to adapt off-script when things don’t go according to plan.

I mentioned it on Twitter earlier this morning, but both Graham Jr. and Teven Jenkins should be starting the final three games of the season (with no questions asked) to close out the season. Even if George McCaskey needs to force that into existence. Development and experience is vastly more important than anything else moving forward.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

8. Man, was it nice to see Akiem Hicks back in the middle of this defense. It’s still best not to get caught up in the emotion of it all because Hicks is almost assuredly on his way out after these last three games.

Despite only playing 34 (53%) of the team’s 64 defensive snaps, Hicks was still able to factor in big in the box score and on the field. The 32-year-old finished the game with five tackles (two for loses), four quarterback hits and a pair of sacks. Not bad for his first game in five weeks, huh?

Emotionally, I wish that Hicks could retire a Bear. He’s been one of the more underrated defenders for this team since his arrival in 2016 and has been one of the most likeable players (as a whole) they’ve had in a very long. He gives his all on every play in every game.

With that being said, he’s missed 18 games the past three seasons combined and he’s on the wrong side of 30. He’s also going to command more of a contract than the Bears can afford (and should be willing) to pay. Unfortunately, the Bears are not in a position where they can have another $8 million (or more) per year player on the defensive side of the ball. Even if they did, it can’t be a guy on the wrong side of 30. At this point, Hicks seems to accept that this is his last year in Chicago, even if he doesn’t want it to be. “I just want to play good football and say goodbye to Chicago in the right way”. Hicks said after Monday night’s game.

If that isn’t the exact type of quote that embodies who Hicks is, I don’t know what is. This is going to be an offseason of many tough decisions and many big changes. Unfortunately, Hicks is likely to be one of those, but that should not diminish what he has done for this team since showing over five seasons ago.

9. Move over Richard Dent because Robert Quinn is coming for that single season sack record and may not need the extra game to break it.

Speaking of good defensive performances on Monday night, fans should not overlook the turnaround that Quinn has had in his second season with the team. Heading into 2021, many (including myself) viewed him as one of general manager Ryan Pace’s worst signings. It was hard not to after they gave him $14 million per year and he produced two sacks in his first year. Yet, he is just a sack and a half away from breaking Dent’s single-season Bears record. Even better? He’s got three games to do it.

When Quinn was asked about Dent’s record, he said “I guess it’s a decent individual season,” Quinn continued “Sucks we really can’t (celebrate). The record just changes. For me, it changes the whole feel about it, but I mean, I don’t know, it’s good company to be in, I’ll put it like that. Just tough to celebrate when you’re not really doing well.”

What’s even crazier? Quinn is just a sack and a half off the the league lead, which is currently held by TJ Watt. With three games remaining and matchups against Seattle (39 sacks given up), the New York Giants and a rematch against the Vikings, there’s a very good chance Quinn finishes above the (17.5) mark he is looking to break in the coming weeks.

10a. I think I speak for all Bears fans when I say — Thank God this season is three games from being over!

Some (including myself), had very minimal expectations for this team moving into the season. All it took was looking at their roster and watching this team in the preseason to know it was going to be a tough season. With that being said, it’s been even harder to watch than I had anticipated. Between the injuries, poor play and bad fortune as a whole, most fans just find themselves waiting for Black Monday to arrive.

There may not be a lot to watch over the last few games, but we just have to hope they continue to play the younger players and they flash.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

10b. “Big Game” Kirk Cousins showed up again and it continues to blow my mind how such a quality quarterback can struggle in meaningful games.

Cousins’ final line on the night? (12/24) for 87 yards for two touchdowns and an interception. Yes, Cousins improved to (2-9) on Monday Night Football over his career, but the majority of the credit should go to a quality defensive performance. It continues to blow my mind that such a quality quarterback can have such problems on bigger stages. Statistically speaking, Cousins is having one of his better seasons, but if Monday night’s game was any indication, the Vikings are still going to be hard pressed to make the playoffs with a tough remaining three games on the schedule.