Matt Nagy at the first-quarter pole: Culture and personnel changes have NFC North looking up at 3-1 Bears


When John Fox was brought in to replace Marc Trestman, the first real order of business was to change the losing culture that had taken root in the void created by Lovie Smith’s ouster. The culture did change but not with growth on the field to stave off three straight losing seasons.

The next iteration was Matt Nagy, a coach from the offense-based tree of Andy Reid with a mandate to change the football culture, first from a five-year rut of losing, and second from a sluggishness that had become the norm after all but two of the 25 years since Mike Ditka were played under coaches (Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Smith) from a foundation on defense.

Coaches typically divide seasons into unofficial fourths, and Sunday’s 48-10 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the first fourth of Nagy’s first season. It was a win that improved the Bears to 3-1.

But it also was a victory that included:

· a six-touchdown, 483-yard output by an offense that included 10 plays of 20 yards or longer;

· four sacks and three interceptions by a defense that throttled the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense and has allowed steadily shrinking point totals (24-17-14-10);

· and special teams that converted both its field goals and allowed Tampa Bay to start no possession farther out than its own 28.

“It feels like we are complete team,” said linebacker Danny Trevathan who had one of the interceptions and two of the six Buccaneers passes broken up. “It's first time we've done that for four quarters straight. The team is happy where we are at but we are still hungry. You want to see that from your team. Heading in the bye week, come back hungry coming off of it.”

The win put the Bears at 3-1 for the first time since the 2013 team opened with three straight wins under Trestman and ended a slide of three straight 1-3 beginnings with Fox. It also left them ensconced in first place in the NFC North, ahead of the Packers (2-1-1), who crushed the Buffalo Bills 22-0; the Vikings (1-2-1), who lost Thursday to the Los Angeles Rams; and Lions (1-3), who lost to Dallas on a time-expiring field goal.

The results to this point have vindicated Nagy, who has espoused patience for his offense and earned the confidence of all phases of his team.

“I'm not surprised because, first of all, I'll say this: It's only four games into the year,” Nagy said. “We wanted to have a fast start. I mean, you go back to April 3 when we got together as a team. We talked about who we wanted to be and what our goal was. And so what happens is when you start believing in that thing and then you start doing it in real games, you get tighter as friends. You get tighter as teammates. You get tighter as coaches.”

Coaches and players may not necessarily get tighter in the week off. But with success comes confidence and also a stronger belief in what coaches have been teaching and scheming. That was already in place with Nagy but the results through the first quarter, which were within a dropped gimme interception in Green Bay of being a 4-0 start, reinforce that, particularly with a young quarterback needing to trust a new offensive system.

“It's just constant communication between me and Coach Nagy, being on the same page, knowing what plays he really likes and what plays I'm comfortable with,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky. “It's just going to continue to grow and evolve going forward, and we're going to have that constant communication of knowing where each other's at.”

The off-week comes relatively early, second-earliest in the NFL in fact. The preference typically is for it to fall closer to midseason, but that is frequently in the interests of letting injured players heal. The Bears have come through their first Nagy quarter virtually injury-free compared to most of the last five years (cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper were out Sunday, and linebacker Sam Acho sustained a pectoral injury), but the break at this early point effectively allows an extra week of orientation, particularly for an emerging offense.

“What we can do now is kind of reflect at 3-1 where we're at,” Nagy said. “We understand it's a super-long season, and I just got done telling the guys [after Sunday’s game], ‘Listen, whether you're 1-3 or 3-1, never get too high and never get too low. Just stay the course. Trust me on this.’

If you do that and you go ahead and take care of yourself over the bye week, your mind and your body -- and it's good for us at week 4 or week 5 because of the long preseason. It feels like the middle of the season to us. So they'll do that, and they promised me they're going to come back very focused, and then that's going to be the challenge is week by week we'll be in basically Week 5 for us, or Game 5, coming up.”

After a first quarter against exclusively NFC teams (Green Bay, Seattle, Arizona, Tampa Bay), the Bears come out of the off-week into a four-game blitz of the AFC East: Miami away, New England and the Jets at home, and Buffalo away.

If there was a negative coming out of Sunday it was the possible suspension of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who was ejected in the second quarter after pushing a game official at the end of a fracas with a member of the Tampa Bay offense. Hicks threw his shoulder pads and jersey into the stands after the ejection, a response likely to increase the NFL’s disciplinary actions.

But for now the Bears are what – and where – their record says they are.

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