Confidence in diminishing supply as Bears lose third straight and slide deeper down in NFC

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Bears coach Matt Nagy has talked about confidence, support systems, things like that in reference to building a football team. Sometimes a step toward building confidence in a group or individual is showing real belief in them.

On Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, with chances in the final minute to move his rookie kicker closer than 41 yards from a game-winning field goal, Nagy instead showed a lack of that confidence in his team’s ability to gain a few yards and hold onto the football.

Regardless of whether 41 yards was close enough or not, Nagy evinced a lack of confidence in his quarterback other than to take a knee on a first down with 43 seconds remaining rather than try to shorten the field-goal distance. In his rookie running back who’d already rushed for 135 yards. In his offensive line that had created the openings for those 135 yards.

What Nagy cited immediately after the 17-16 loss to the Chargers was all that could have gone wrong. The coach who dismissed questions of his decision because he doesn’t deal in what-if’s proceeded to do exactly that.

 

“I'm not even going to get into that,” Nagy said initially of his Trubisky-kneel decision, then got well into that. “I have zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. [The Chargers] know you're running the football, so you lose three, four yards, so that wasn't even in our process as coaches to think about that.

“We were in field goal range [at the Chargers 32-yard line], and then we got the {Mitch Trubisky 11-yard] scramble, so [running or passing to get closer] didn't even cross my mind.”

With those 43 seconds remaining and his kicker facing a make-or-lose field goal from 41 yards, Nagy had Trubisky take a knee instead of trying to move the ball closer to improve the chances for kicker Eddy Pineiro, who had already missed a 33-yard try off the right upright in the first half.

On the four plays prior to the kneel-down, running back David Montgomery had rushed for 2 yards on a second-and-1 situation in the final possession, and Trubisky had run for 11 yards and completed two passes for 31 yards.

Pineiro missed this kick as well, leaving the Bears (3-4) with their third loss in a row and the seventh game in the last 12 in which they scored 16 or fewer points.

The situation Sunday recalled a 2013 game at Minnesota when then-coach Marc Trestman chose to have Robbie Gould try a 47-yard field goal on a second down in overtime. Matt Forte had rushed on five straight snaps without losing yardage on any, but Trestman said afterwards that, rather than move the football closer to improve the field-goal chances, he feared a fumble, penalty, turnover or loss of yardage.

Gould missed the kick and the Vikings went the other way – to the Chicago 16 – for a winning kick of their own.

Now what?

Maybe this Sunday is just what this season is going to be for the troubled Bears. Last week they were booed coming off the field at halftime losing by two points to New Orleans. This time, after a first half in which they ran 13 red-zone plays without getting one into the end zone, they heard boos leaving at halftime leading by two points.

The Bears lost one game at home all last season. They were 10-2 in NFC games. Sunday’s loss was their third in four home games this year and left them with a worse record than 10 of the 15 other NFC teams.

A season that started with considerable promise, even in spite of week one’s 10-3 sleepwalk against Green Bay that now seems almost eerily prophetic in terms of that the offense would become, now turns decidedly surlier on a struggling Bears team.

This marks the first time under Nagy that the Bears have a losing record later than after the first weekend of the season.

Of their remaining nine games, only one (Nov. 24 vs. NY Giants) is against a sub-.500 team. The second quarter of the season wraps with a trip to Philadelphia (4-4) next Sunday, the first of the five remaining road games against teams currently a combined 14-6 in their home venues.

“It’s not what we expected,” said wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. “Our hopes were high going into the season. At the same time, with the group of guys we have in here, I don’t think 3-4 is something we can’t overcome. As long as we lean on each other we’ll be ok.”

Doubt can be contagious

A lack of confidence can spread, in different directions. Players predictably voiced public confidence in the coaching decisions but after failing to score more than half the time over the last dozen games, a spot of doubt in their own abilities or the plans they’re operating under would not be the first time that has crept in.

As far as Nagy taking the ball out of the offense’s hands and putting it all on a rookie foot, “it's Coach's call,” Trubisky said. “He knows what's best for this team. Whatever he calls, that's what we're going to do. We're going to stick behind it.”

Nagy might be excused for having some doubts about his offense. The Bears reached the Los Angeles red zone four times in the first half and came away with zero touchdowns, just three field goals and Pineiro’s miss.

The Bears’ lone touchdown came in the third quarter when Trubisky and the offense took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards for a score, the last four coming on a run by David Montgomery, who totaled 135 yards on 27 carries in a run game that finished with 162 yards on 38 carries, including quarterback scrambles, for a 4.3-yard average.

But in the fourth quarter alone, Trubisky also threw an interception that gave the Chargers the football at the Chicago 20 (they missed a subsequent field goal), then fumbled on the next possession. The Chargers recovered that Trubisky drop, which came when Los Angeles defensive end Joey Bosa bull-rushed left tackle Charles Leno back into Trubisky, who did not have two hands on the football.

That was turned into a touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Philip Rivers to running back Aaron Ekeler with 8 minutes to play, leaving the Bears for the third week in a row needing to fight through a growing crisis.

“We’re good,” Montgomery declared. “We [are] all trust and together. Those are the two words we use. Those are the biggest words that mean the most. We just stick together and make sure we handle this bit of adversity.”

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