The emotional grind: Bears, Nagy, must stay even-keeled to become contenders
By Robert Zeglinski
When a football team is irrelevant, cast into the shadows, and an afterthought, the time between games in a 17-week season becomes monotonous.
Not only do the days get tired and feel wasted, the entire year is mostly justifiably ignored in the grand scheme of things. Most casual onlookers from the outside are waiting it for to be over. Like looking at the clock in grade school and seeing the minute hand move at an excruciating snail’s pace, you exasperatingly look at the calendar in October and think, “Wow, there’s really three more months of this, huh?”. That’s when apathy sets in. That’s when it’s time not to get caught up in the emotions of a team that’s a complete non-factor.
This was the case for the Bears for most of the last five seasons. A franchise stuck in muck rarely playing relevant football past the month of September, let alone the late fall and early winter. Pride was the name for those Bears players that featured well, and those that stuck around through the darkness of mostly meaningless seasons on the field. One would be forgiven if they didn’t care about the day-to-day operations of Bears teams with minimal light, and minimal hope on top of it.
In 2018, the conversation and magnifying glass on the Bears has intensified. That’s what happens when talent comes together. That’s for better, and for worse.
Following a difficult and emotional 31-28 defeat in overtime in Miami on Sunday, the Bears are still in first place in the NFC North for the first time since 2014. This is the longest they’ve held onto that mantle, meaning three consecutive weeks, since early 2013. Beyond the obvious eye test of a roster that’s bought in to a collective message, every advanced statistic points to this being one of the best teams in football in Matt Nagy’s inaugural season as head coach.
Listen to the immediate reaction following an expected victory over the Dolphins, though, and the sky is falling. The Bears are pretenders. They always were. Mitchell Trubisky makes one mistake in a late interception, despite being the primary reason Chicago fought back against Miami, and he is again a bust. The referendum on the young quarterback’s career written before it’s had an opportunity to play out. An elite defense that suffocated three straight opponents, and was essentially suffocated by the heat of the Florida weather, has now returned to being merely average.
This, well, this … it’s not how to react to the ebbs and flows of an NFL’s team season in the forefront. When the Bears are bad, a good portion of the city of Chicago largely ignores them. They’re not worth the emotional investment. When the Bears are adequate, more eyes and ears are tuned in, but it’s still not so dedicated. When the Bears are good (like they objectively are this season), every play, let alone game, is the Alpha and the Omega. The difference between the end of the world, and wholesale rebirth.
If that’s how anyone is going to treat the Bears’ newfound relevance by dwelling in the peaks and valleys of a long four-month campaign, those people’s sensibilities won’t last long. Football is an unpredictable, insanely cruel, unbelievably brutal, and amazingly beautiful game. To let it consume you at it’s highest and lowest points is to surrender to a machine that cares not for your thoughts and feelings, only to push on.
If the Bears operated the way many do after hard-to-swallow defeats (and overrated victories), they would’ve never become a sound football team again under Nagy. They would’ve read the press clippings (or tweets in the modern era) and succumbed to the relentless criticism and praise of their play. The fact that Nagy emphasized how the Bears will move forward after losing to the Dolphins is an excellent sign of what’s to come. This is a week-to-week league, and that’s how the Bears are going to treat their schedule. What’s done is done.
“This is not a Debbie Downer organization,” Nagy espoused in his first comments on Monday after the Bears returned from Miami. “We’re a winning team.”
The winning, relevant teams are those that can look past their shortcomings and persevere. They are those that can overcome small road bumps and string together wins as confidence blooms. Think of Mitchell Trubisky’s poor start in Miami followed by a lethal outpouring of 300 yards and four touchdowns in one half to put the Bears in position to win. It’s as if a poor offensive start never happened.
The smallest mistakes don’t phase good, relevant teams, nor do adverse situations where their backs are against the wall. Think of an absolutely exhausted Bears defense running on fumes in overtime on Sunday finding a way to make a goal line stand with an Akiem Hicks forced fumble on Dolphins running back, Kenyan Drake. A lesser team with no resolve would’ve folded in those circumstances. The Bears, instead, rose to the occasion against all odds and gave themselves a chance, the final result not withstanding. It’s as if the previous 65 minutes never happened.
If one of the youngest rosters in the NFL can persevere despite these issues that arise in every game, and even in occasionally losing a game they probably should’ve won: then it’s best to follow their lead. The Bears are going to have more gut punch losses under Nagy. They’re also going to surprise and delight you more often than you think. All you can do is get up off the mat when they disappoint. Relevance won’t allow you to ignore this team for long.
“My message to the team last night was we’re frustrated that we lost,” Nagy said Monday. “That was a tough environment. But the guys stuck together and fought until the end.”
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.