Now the Real Test Begins for Optimistic Bears
Ever the optimist, Bears coach Matt Nagy on Friday saw the improved offense, Mitchell Trubisky's continued development, David Montgomery's 75 rushing yards and had to wonder aloud what's possible for his team.
Even against a schedule in the final quarter of the season with monumental difficulty, he likes to think the impossible is possible.
"We know we have our hands full the next coming games, but as long as we just hone in on the Dallas Cowboys at home—and we've been doing that all year—who knows?" Nagy said. "We're in a position where we need help. But none of that matters if we don't handle our business."
The business is cutting down on silly penalties, continuing to run effectively and get bigger gains in the passing game.
The Bears committed too many penalties with 10 for 89 yards. They had a lame fourth-and-6 illegal formation penalty on Anthony Miller to wipe out a fourth-down gamble that failed anyway, Riley Ridley running onto the field too late for a 5-yarder and an illegal-man-dowfield penalty against Cody Whitehair in the brain-cramp classification on offense. The defense contributed roughing penalties on Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith.
The formation and substitution penalties in particular infuriated Nagy.
"It can't, No. 1," Nagy said. "And so what’s going on right now is that we have some different personnels, we have some different people playing different positions and there’s some newness.
"What we need to do as a staff is we need to make sure that we’re detailing all that and that especially in those situations, you have a fourth-and-6, you can’t have that So we’ll get that fixed."
Still, when they weren't buried in yellow laundry, they moved the ball and defended well enough.
The second-best running day of Montgomery's career contributed greatly to removing pressure from Trubisky. Even there, they had two penalties wipe out nice runs.
"You could just feel our offensive linemen getting to the second level with their blocks," Nagy said. "David was running hard. I mean, he was breaking tackles. He had, what, a 14- or 15-yard run that called back. And so his average might have been even higher and he might have gotten close to cracking 100 yards with a couple of the penalties that we had.
"But you felt that, I felt it as a play caller. You felt like you were getting to second-and-5, second-and-4 more than second-and-9 and second-and-8 and that's a credit to our offensive line."
It was a line with Cornelius Lucas at right tackle for injured Bobby Massie. This was the third game since they moved Cody Whitehair back to center. The inefficiency in blocking was largely from Javon Wims getting a pair of illegal blocks in the back trying to prevent defensive backs from disrupting runs in the backfield.
They had the running from Montgomery when the blocking developed.
"So I just think that David has really really good vision, he has great feel for where defenders are going to be and then when they get there he does a great job of breaking tackles, has good contact balance," Nagy said.
Finally, there was Trubisky and a passing game that averaged a robust 8.5 yards per attempt. Most of the year they've been stuck between 5.0 and 6.5, which is what you might expect from a team with a rookie quarterback but not one in his third season. Getting it downfield to Miller on third down plays for 35 and 32 yards impacted that yards per attempt greatly.
Nagy saw it all as a matter of timing.
"So the decisions that he made were on time and I think this offense is built on timing, and when you make the right decision on time, usually good things happen," Nagy said. "I think you felt that, there's a lot of plays yesterday—even after the fumble that was overturned with Anthony Miller, the next play we hit A-Rob over the middle.
"That's just an example when you go back and watch that. That's the timing of this offense—when you throw the ball, three-hitch throw and they popped a zone on us and he threw it to the right guy in zone, it's hard to stop."
The timing on the throws and the success can lead to better things for Trubisky.
"Probably you know the biggest thing is just the confidence that you felt from him making conviction throws and then just the one interception that occurred you never felt like something bad was going to happen on the next play," Nagy said. "You didn't feel that on the sideline. He came back and just started firing away.
"Guys were making plays and the run game was going."
Trubisky has won three straight starts over the Lions. In winning three of their last four, the Bears won games three times over opponents in last place.
The big test is whether they can do it against better teams, and they'll get the chance because they face three current division leaders and a wild card team in their final four.
"Regardless of who our opponent is and sometimes players play better vs. some opponents, I said it last night: It's been three games, really four games now that Mitch has really stacked some strong games together with decision making," Nagy said. "And again, others have stepped up and we got a nice balance going and can it improve? Yes, absolutely. But we like what we did yesterday."
All in all Nagy sees it as an achievement because they've stuck together through tough times during a four-game losing streak.
"I just think it’s a credit to our players for battling through what we've gone through because of what we've done, right?" Nagy said. "It's putting ourselves in this position. But to keep fighting. And that's what I like most about it.
"That's why last night (in Club Dub) felt so good in that locker room: Because we understand that we’re continuing to fight. Is it perfect? No. Can we be better? Yes."