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Bears and Bengals: Who Wins and Why

The chance for this season to quickly descend into darkness exists for the Bears if they lose to the Cincinnati Bengals because it can mean a losing streak and losing the patience of fans with their Justin Fields plan.

Matt Nagy was wrong and he should know it.

The thought he expressed on a simple topic before Thursday's practice indicated he either is not willing to face up to facts or didn't seriously consider the question posed by ESPN's Jeff Dickerson. Nagy was asked simply if Sunday's game at Soldier Field could be a swing game, a fork-in-the-road situation.

The proper NFL answer is yes, because every game can be the turning point and every play in every game a turning point of some sort. It's the nature of the game in shortalbeit longer now17-game seasons.

"It's too early, I think so," Nagy said. "You go back and you think about the other years since I’ve been here and there are probably times throughout the season when that happens but there is also times, you could have looked at last year when we went 5-1 and you could say, 'hey, things are going pretty good.’ And then they ended up not being good.

"And then there are other teams where they start out slow and for whatever reason, it's a big play, it's a big game, and you just start clicking and now you catch fire."

The truth is in a good or bad season there can be several turning points for teams one way or the other and a team that last year lost six straight and lost four straight the previous season can ill afford to start 0-2 because of fear it becomes something much worse.

This game against a Cincinnati Bengals team trying to claw it's way to respectability behind quarterback Joe Burrow and an impressive set of skill position players can start an early Bears descent.

Something like this can also lead to an earlier arrival of Justin Fields as starting quarterback, because 0-2 can become 0-3 really fast when the Cleveland Browns await Sept. 26 in a road game.

It also can lead to a lost season. Good teams don't lose at home to bad teams. If they do, they've got trouble unless they have shown they can win road games or even home games over good teams. The Bears have done neither.

The last truly good team they beat at home was Tampa Bay, on a short work week when several key Buccaneer players were hurt and Tom Brady had a senior moment. The last one before that was in 2018. The last good team the Bears beat on the road was long before Nagy was coach, when coach John Fox got lucky against the Packers on Brett Favre Night in 2015.

There are other ways this can be a swing game. 

The Bears offense has shown no ability to get the ball downfield in the passing game since Nagy arrived. They think they have the potential targets now to do it, but intentionally avoided it last week because of Aaron Donald's presence in the pass rush.

The Bears must show this is a threat against a questionable Bengals secondary so the offense can turn around. The Bengals gave up 336 passing yards last week to Minnesota but still managed to win.

"We did not have obviously enough in Week 1 and we've got to definitely be able to stretch a defense vertically and you can't just dink and dunk your whole way," Nagy admitted.

The 24 first downs and seven straight incursions into Rams territory indicated the Bears could at least move the ball in smaller chunks.

"We just have to kind of fine-tune some stuff and capitalize on some of the other opportunities we have," wide receiver Allen Robinson said.

Getting the deep passing against Cincinnati's man-to-man pass coverage can provide the all-around threat the offense needs to become stronger. In that way it could be a turning point for the offense.

The defense has to make it a turning-point game, as well. The last one was about as bad as it gets for them, particularly their secondary with two blown coverages for long TDs.

"I mean, no mental lapses at the end of the day," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. "That's all that last Sunday was. Just really locking in, knowing what our assignment is, taking the right keys, playing ball.

"I'm not concerned with anything moving forward. It's just locking in and doing what we know we can do."

It also can swing things from a support standpoint. It's the first time they have fans at Soldier Field since 2019 and they know those fans want to see Justin Fields starting. 

They can lose the crowd awfully fast by playing poorly, and the locals will be hollering for Fields. 

"I think that you know what we've been through here this offseason since we drafted Justin and we understand, totally get it and again just a reminder that we all want the same thing, too," Nagy said.  

If Nagy doesn't want to acknowledge the importance of this particular game, at least players seem to know.

"It is a marathon, but this is one league where you have to perform quickly," tight end Jimmy Graham said.

If they all realize this, the losing streak coming out of the gate can be averted.

Otherwise, this can be a turning point toward darkness, or at least toward the point win the crowd wins and Justin Fields becomes the starting quarterback.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven