LONDON — The Bears’ sluggish first half in their 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium might seem like it was because Matt Nagy decided to have his team fly to England Thursday night instead of spending the entire week abroad, as Jon Gruden had his side do. Jet lag is real, after all, as is difficulty sleeping on planes.
But Nagy was quick to dismiss any chatter about the Bears’ travel plan being the reason why they fell behind, 17-0, to the Raiders in the first half.
“It had nothing to do with when we came here and when didn’t,” Nagy said. “It’s about playing football.”
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Perhaps. The Bears were quick to swat away heat-related excuses in the immediate aftermath of their Week 6 loss to the Miami Dolphins last year, a game in which the heat absolutely played a factor. Later in the season, Chase Daniel fumbled four times in a sloppy overtime loss to a bad New York Giants team. That it was cold and rainy wasn’t an excuse after the game.
And after the Bears almost lost to the Denver Broncos in Week 2, the heat and altitude in Colorado that week wasn’t an immediate explanation, either. Players and coaches don’t like to make excuses in the aftermath of defeats.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara understood why some would make the jet lag excuse for the Bears, though ultimately did not buy it.
“I think it’s a right statement to make because I’m sure you guys didn’t think we were the same defense you saw back in the states,” Amukamara said. “I’m sure people want to, okay, how come they’re coming out flat? I feel like that’s a right statement to make.
“But for me personally I don’t think that was it. If you do that I think you kind of discredit what Oakland did scheme-wise. I felt like they just had a great cause and that first series, they punched us in the mouth and it just seemed like we weren’t able to recover in that first half.”
There are plenty of reasons to believe, though, that the Bears’ suboptimal first half was not the product of jet lag. First: This team stormed back in the second half, taking a 21-17 lead before the third quarter was even over. Their defense gave up a game-sealing touchdown, yes, but it came after a deflating running into the kicker penalty and an ensuing fake punt conversion (on which the Bears, too, thought they’d recovered a fumble before replay overturned it). The effort was there, and the energy certainly was there, in the second half.
Perhaps more importantly: There are plenty of examples of teams coming to London later in the week and winning. The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in 2018 while following the same travel plan Nagy’s Bears did. The Kansas City Chiefs, with Nagy on staff in 2015, flew over Thursday night, practiced Friday and beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
And Amukamara’s Jaguars landed in London on a Friday in 2016 and beat an Indianapolis Colts team coached by Chuck Pagano that had been in England all week.
“I don’t think the sleep has anything to do with it, for me,” Amukamara said. “But I’m sure each guy is different.”
Plus: The Bears’ game Sunday kicked off at 6 p.m. local time — noon back in the central time zone. So even if the Bears’ internal clocks were messed up, they still played during a normal window.
The better explanation is the Bears just got beat on Sunday, especially in the first half. Maybe the Raiders are better than expected. The Bears have sure looked worse than expected — as in a Super Bowl contender — through five games in 2019.
So actually, it would be a good thing if the Bears lost today because they were tired from an inconvenient week of travel. Because the alternative is far more unsettling.