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On the Notion of Apathy Among Bears Fans.

| December 9th, 2021


We got apathy, my friends. That’s right we got apathy here in the Windy City. With a capital A, and that rhymes with J and that stands for Just Get this F’n Season Over With.

John Patrick Shanley’s brilliant play Doubt opens with a simple line that sets the ideological foundation for the entire evening: “What do you do when you don’t know?” A similar question can be asked for the current state of the Bears fan base: “What do you do when you don’t care?”

(Okay, that’s two theatre references in two paragraphs. I think that’s enough.)

Justin Fields was the antidote to apathy this season. Every game he played, every snap he took, allowed fans to commit emotionally because Fields is going to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears for at least the next several seasons. His development, his flash plays, were all that 2021 was supposed to be about and those moments would provide hope for 2022 and beyond. To a large extent, they have. Fields has a long way to go but he has shown the kind of excitement he can bring to this organization, under the right tutelage.

Without him, what were fans left with to care about?

  • The team is out of contention. There’s no potential playoff berth with which to concern oneself.
  • The head coach will not be here next season so the performance of the roster under his leadership – on both sides of the ball – is inconsequential. By and large, we know who is good, who is not good, and who will be interesting to watch under new coaches.
  • Does it really matter how the young players – Kmet, Mooney, Borom, etc. – develop in this failed program? Is it even development? If they don’t fit what the next coach wants to do offensively, they may not even be on the team. Investing in hypotheticals is not an exciting proposition.
  • Injuries have ravaged them. What started at left tackle this summer has permeated the rest of the roster. It could still be fun to watch the Bears defend Aaron Rodgers with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks out there but without them?

Fans want to care, even when the team isn’t winning. That crowd in Seattle was passionately supporting the Seahawks Sunday as they fought the Niners for their fourth win of the season. Why? Because they still have emotional stock in a coach and quarterback who have brought them tons of success. The Lions fans that showed up in Detroit Sunday were in tears as they beat the Vikings for their first win of the year. Why? Because they hope against hope this will be the coach who rights the ship, and it all starts with that first victory.

But this coach is righting any ships. He is weeks (if not days) from walking the plank. And not only has he been unsuccessful as the head coach, but his offenses have been wildly unentertaining. (Most of the Fields-based entertainment had little to do with Matt Nagy.) Every one of us knows exactly what we’re going to see when whatever non-Fields plays quarterback. And every one of us knows it’s going to be a long, boring failure. How is it possible to commit emotionally to an athletic contest when the outcome is negatively predetermined?

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Dannehy: After Sunday Night’s Loss, Matt Nagy Should Be Handed His Walking Papers

| December 8th, 2021

If the Chicago Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, it should be the last game Matt Nagy coaches.

It was worth seeing if Nagy could mount a charge down the stretch and the Bears had a decent game plan against Arizona. They might have won the ballgame if not for a shocking number of dropped passes and horrendous interceptions. But they didn’t win and, after yet another press conference about “finding out the whys”, it’s clear Nagy will never discover the answers.

The Bears are going to lose to the Packers this week and that loss will eliminate them from playoff contention. There’s a good chance it will be embarrassing, but that’s become a minor consideration when deciding when to fire Nagy. The more important point is about timing.

The team has a short trip home and with the next game being on Monday Night Football, Chris Tabor will have the extra day to settle into the role of head coach. They won’t want to do it after the Minnesota game because it will be a short week. The following week will also be shorter than usual as they play in Seattle on Sunday afternoon. (Besides, the Bears might win that game and they won’t want to make the move right after a win.)

Given the rule change that allows teams to interview coaches over the final two weeks of the regular season, it would be irresponsible for the Bears to wait any longer. There is already one team that will be champing at the bit to interview potential new coaches. By the start of Week 17, there could be several more.

If the Bears intend on taking a look at college coaches, they could do so immediately after Nagy is fired.

While Jim Harbaugh would surely wait until after Michigan’s season is over, Ohio State’s Ryan Day or Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald might be more willing to jump to the pros immediately, considering they are not competing for a national title. Even if Harbaugh wants to wait to announce his departure, the Bears could still feel out his interest.

In two weeks, they could turn their attention to NFL assistants. Theoretically, the Bears could have their new coach picked out before the regular season even ends.

There could be hold-ups since NFL teams have to grant permission before the Bears interview any assistants. Considering this is the first year with the new rule, there’s no way of really knowing if teams will actually allow assistants to look at other jobs during the course of the regular season.

If reports that the Bears are already doing background checks on other coaches are true and Nagy’s last-ditch efforts to save his job have fallen flat, the Bears need to move on to the next chapter. The importance of doing so can’t be overstated.

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Dannehy: Nagy Deserves Chance to Fight for Job

| December 1st, 2021

While “Fire Nagy” chants fill even the smallest stadiums in Illinois, the Chicago Bears are doing the right thing by giving their coach at least a chance to fight for his job. Had the Bears lost to the Detroit Lions, that story would be different.

Perhaps it can be argued that a last-second win over the worst team in the league shouldn’t matter, but keep in mind that the Ravens, Browns and Vikings were also taken to the wire by Detroit, with several of them deserving to lose. There’s no such thing as a bad win, especially when draft status is not impacted.

Thanksgiving’s victory isn’t likely going to mean anything, but giving Nagy a chance to dig out of this hole will surely look good to candidates interested being his replacement. (Firing Nagy mid-season, a year after making the playoffs, might turn off some candidates.) Since there would be no actual benefit to firing Nagy right now, why risk eliminating any potential replacements? Especially considering the most interesting rumor involves one of Nagy’s good friends, Ryan Day. While the Bears being “in the hunt” is a punch line today, it might not be a week from now.

Sunday, the Bears face a team from the southwest, at noon, on what is expected to be a cold and rainy day. Nobody likes the term “Bear weather,” but there have been plenty of warm-weather teams who have struggled to deal with it over the years. The Cardinals are very good, but they’re young, wounded and have their own coaching distraction to worry about. Likely working for a contract extension, Kliff Kingsbury didn’t even shoot down the rumors about Oklahoma.

The Cardinals have a top-10 offense and defense, but if ever there was a chance for a massive upset, this is it.

It’s likely going to take nine wins to make the playoffs, and if the Bears win Sunday that won’t be as far-fetched as many believe, especially if the team can get back to running the ball and playing defense like they did earlier in the year. (They’ll also need their young quarterback to replicate his Pittsburgh performance a few times down the stretch.)

The most likely scenario is a loss for the Bears — probably even an ugly one. That coupled with a sure loss to Green Bay next week will seal Nagy’s fate. The Bears will be out of the playoff hunt and can move on from Nagy with time to interview coaches before the end of the season, thanks to a recent rule change.

Fans can hate Nagy all they want, but those looking at the job from a distance will look positively on two playoff appearances in two years. They may see things they think they could do better, but nobody will paint the picture fans have of Nagy matching the incompetence of John Fox and Marc Trestman. They’ll see a coach who made the playoffs with horrible quarterback play and they’ll know how difficult that is to accomplish. They also know what all coaches know: If you don’t win enough, you won’t have a job for long.

Nagy is still a winning coach and has dug out of holes before. The Bears have nothing to lose by giving him the opportunity to do so again.

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Bump: George McCaskey Should Fire Matt Nagy.

| November 22nd, 2021

UPDATE 11/21/21. There is no reason to recap Sunday’s train wreck loss to the undermanned Baltimore Ravens. This is over for Matt Nagy. Time to make it official. Waiting no longer makes sense.

This piece originally ran after the Tampa game.


Nate Tice, son of the the legendary Mike Tice and one of the better young NFL analysts got me through Monday with a Twitter thread.

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Not having any desire to sit through Sunday’s debacle again, it was nice to see Tice confirm what I had believed in real time: that Justin Fields had zero chance to succeed in Tampa. This was Cleveland redux and the entirety of the blame falls onto the shoulders of the head coach. The game plan made no sense. The offense, now in fourth season, makes no sense. And we are now at that moment in the development of this young quarterback where the most important question has been answered. Matt Nagy is not now, and will never be, the right man to maximize the ability of Fields.

A source close to ownership texted me Monday morning that Halas Hall was “fed up” with the head coach. They should be. But being fed up is not enough. George McCaskey should fire Matt Nagy. Today, next week, on the bye, whenever. But Nagy shouldn’t make it to the end of the season. If only for the symbolism alone, a message to the fans that this simply isn’t good enough.

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What the Next Six Days Will Tell Us About the 2021 Chicago Bears Moving Forward

| November 19th, 2021


There are three possible outcomes for the Chicago Bears over the next six days. (I’m ruling out ties, which I may come to regret by the end of next week.) Each outcome brings with it a very specific emotional trajectory for the remainder of the 2021 season.

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Outcome #1 – The Sweep

Emotional Outcome: JUICE!

If the Bears win their next two games, they move to 5-6 and put a significant amount of juice into the remainder of the regular season. The six seed in the NFC is a 5-4, quarterback-less Saints team. The seven seed just made Cam Newton their starter.

The juice would start at Soldier Field, on December 5th, against the Arizona Cardinals. Justin vs. Kyler. A fired up building on the lakefront. Christmas only 20 days away!

It is highly unlikely Matt Nagy can still earn his way back onto the sideline for 2022, but the only way that conversation can start is by winning these next two, while Justin Fields progresses.

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Outcome #2 – The Shutout

Emotional Outcome: MAKE IT STOP.

The McCaskey family is opposed to firing coaches in-season, with Marc Trestman pushing them as close to the line as they’d ever come. That year, what prevented them from making the move was their desire to clean house – removing Trestman and GM Phil Emery – and they thought it best to make both moves once the season ended.

But if the Bears fall to 3-8, including a loss on Thanksgiving to an awful and untalented Lions team, the outcry may be too great to ignore. Nagy will have lost the fans, and the locker room. With a new, two-week, regular season interview period open for head coaches, ownership may see no reason to leave Nagy in the job for a meaningless month.

And that’s all the remainder of the schedule would be: meaningless. The results would not matter, not even artificially. All that would matter is a few highlights from Fields and the development of young talent like Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Larry Borom and – hopefully – Teven Jenkins. December and early January become de facto preseason games.

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Outcome #3 – The Split

Emotional Outcome: EH.

Isn’t this what every fan expects? Be relevant, or be terrible. The problem with the Bears under Nagy – since the end of the 2018 season – is they’ve been neither.

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The Midseason Progress Report: QB, HC, GM

| November 15th, 2021


Quarterback

Pre-Bye Grade: B-

A few sentences: A quarterback’s rookie season is difficult to evaluate but the Justin Fields trajectory is that of a player who is going to be around a long time. He flashed big plays, even when struggling, and has translated those flashes into two dynamic performances against two solid opponents. B- is a fantastic grade for a rookie at this stage.

% Chance of Returning: 100

Thoughts on Return: Fields is the most dynamic player at quarterback in Bears history. All focus now shifts to building a roster to support him. (That means protection. Fields will make the skill guys better.)


Head Coach

Pre-Bye Grade: D-

A few sentences:  The Bears lose to every good team they play. They never have a sideline advantage. They commit too many penalties. They make too many mistakes. Details are constantly ignored. The only thing keeping this grade from the basement is the development of Fields, for which Matt Nagy must be given at least some credit.

% Chance of Returning: 7.8

Thoughts on Return: The only way Nagy can plausibly return as head coach is if Fields dominates the second half and the Bears find themselves either (a) in the postseason or (b) seriously contending for a postseason spot, the final week of the season, with a winning record. Neither of those things is going to happen.

Based on some conversations with folks close to ownership, the team is ready to find the next coach.


General Manager

Pre-Bye Grade: A+

A few sentences: Many are going to see that grade and think, “What the hell drugs is he on?” But Ryan Pace drafted – in this year’s draft – what looks like a franchise quarterback. That’s all that matters in this league. I don’t care what the old quarterbacks and tight ends cost. I don’t care what he’s doing with the cap. If he got the QB correct, and it looks like he did, everything will become easier for Bears in the years to come.

(This is not Pace’s grade for his tenure. Just his grade for this season, pre-bye.)

% Chance of Returning: 56.5

Thoughts on Return: It is close. But it’s looking slightly more likely that Pace will be allowed to choose another coach. He had a good draft in 2020 and a potentially transformative draft in 2021, including the selection of a franchise quarterback. Ownership could see these two years as a young GM making progress, lay the failures of the last few years at the feet of Matt and Mitch, and keep stability in their front office.

Bears ownership chose to keep Pace after 2020. He drafted Fields in 2021. Why would they fire him now?

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Bye Week Thoughts: Fields Buying Nagy 2021, Kmet Progression, Bye Weeks Songs & More!

| November 11th, 2021


Nagy Should Get Rest of Season

Many had targeted this week, the bye week, as the optimal time for the Bears to move on from Matt Nagy as head coach. But Justin Fields’ performances against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers – two good defenses, two teams playing for everything – will likely guarantee that Nagy sees out the remainder of this campaign.

And that’s the right decision.

This season needed to be entirely about Justin Fields and his development. (It hasn’t been, of course.) Over the last two weeks, the club is actually seeing tangible evidence of that development. Why would they do anything to stunt that progress in-season? The wins and losses don’t matter. The defense doesn’t matter. The weird personnel usages and return men bringing the ball out from five yards deep and penalties all over the place, they don’t matter. All that matters is Fields and Fields is currently an overwhelming positive. The Bears can’t disrupt that.

Nagy should (and likely will) be fired the second the 2021 season concludes. And if Fields continues on his current path, the head coaching candidates will be circling this vacancy like one of those dirty crows that circles your golf cart when you’ve got an open protein bar on the seat. An argument could be made that the new two-week window to interview coaches at the end of the regular season should expedite the process, and that argument is valid, but this is going to be THE destination coaching spot of the off-season. It comes with a quarterback. And these jobs rarely do.


Cole Kmet Continues to Rise

Kmet’s last four games: 4/49, 5/43, 3/24, 6/87.

His 17-game projection: 53/546.

But more important than the numbers is the rapport now developed between the tight end and the quarterback. Fields has found his security blanket and Kmet is cementing his role as a pivotal part of The Justin Fields Project in 2022, joining David Montgomery and Darnell Mooney as charter members.

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Dannehy: Defensive Failures, Under His Hand-Picked DC, Another Nail in Nagy’s Coaching Coffin

| November 4th, 2021


Sean Desai dressed as Mel Tucker for Halloween. And he was the spitting image.

It was just another failure of Matt Nagy’s tenure; the second straight game in which Desai had no answers for his opponent and the third time this season in which his defense has been completely outclassed. Desai’s squad has allowed more than seven yards per play twice already this year, after the Bears did so just once in Chuck Pagano’s 33 games.

There are excuses for Desai, but they don’t really add up. The Bears had injuries, but they still had good players on the field. One could argue that Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Robert Quinn, Jaylon Johnson and Roquan Smith are all better at their jobs than any of the team’s offensive players.

It isn’t just that they struggled against a 49ers offense that was average at best coming into the afternoon. The Bears were gashed on every single play. The 49ers gained 8.6 yards per play. In the 55-14 blowout loss to Green Bay in 2014, the Packers gained seven yards per play. The only time Tucker’s unit gave up more than eight yards per play was a 54-11 loss to Philadelphia in 2013 — and that was still nearly half a yard less per play. The only reason the 49ers didn’t score 50 points is because the Bears controlled the time of possession with a nearly 15-minute advantage.

The 49ers went into the game as an average offense. They came out as juggernauts..

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Nagy and Pace Have Only Themselves to Blame

| November 3rd, 2021


After some Monday morning conversations with several people – both inside Halas Hall and around the league – I came away, for the first time in 2021, believing there was little chance of either Matt Nagy or Ryan Pace returning to the Chicago Bears in 2022. The program, the entire program, seems to have reached its conclusion. And it begs a simple question: why are we here?

When Nagy and Pace selected Justin Fields, they should have had the built-in cushion of this season. After receiving the vote of confidence from George and Ted at the end of the 2020 campaign, and then being allowed to choose the quarterback of the future, they could have sold the whole of Bears world on Fields’ long-term development being more important than any short-term results. Like it or not, they could have wiped the last several seasons off the ledger and started fresh.

Instead, they mangled the whole thing.

They didn’t have a contending roster on their hands but they naively, confusedly, acted like they did. They refused to give the rookie quarterback even so much as the opportunity to win the starting job this summer for that very reason. Then, when forced into action due to injury, they’ve seen their young quarterback struggle to find rhythm with any of the starting skills guys because of a complete lack of reps with them all summer long.

And because they pretended like they had a contending roster, they needed to contend! And there was simply no way that was going to happen. Nagy and Pace installed pressure on themselves to achieve the unachievable in 2021. Listen, the reason the franchise is not a contender this year is entirely their fault, but that almost doesn’t matter. They were given a second life. First, from ownership. Then, with Fields. They could have totally changed the conversation to a future with Justin Fields and built an entirely new program around him.

But instead, they tried to shoehorn Fields into the old program; a failed program. George McCaskey was looking for every possible reason to keep these men in their jobs, to not go through another exhausting search, but they have almost left him with no choice.

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Two Stats Defining the 2021 Chicago Bears

| October 25th, 2021


Stat #1

The Chicago Bears have now played three of top five teams in the NFC. The combined score of those three games was 96-31.

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Stat #2

The top five teams in the NFC are Arizona, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Dallas (in no particular order). Their yards per game, when averaged, is 404.26. The Chicago Bears are averaging 255.4 yards per game.

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Summary

In a league that is designed and officiated for maximum offensive output, the Bears are simply not playing modern NFL football. And they have zero chance to compete with the league’s best teams consistently until they do so.

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