Haugh: Bears In Disbelief After Cruelest Of Endings

Cody Parkey's late missed field goal led to a most bitter playoff exit.

David Haugh
January 06, 2019 - 9:47 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Matt Nagy’s eyes looked moist Sunday at Soldier Field as the stunned Bears coach tried to find words to explain the inexplicable and describe the indescribable.

Everybody in Chicago could relate to Nagy’s feeling. Nobody else could do it either, not even those of us paid for their prose. This was cruel irony, tortured poetry, the darkest day in a Bears season defined by so many bright spots. This was impossible to process without a cooling-off period of months – not minutes.

"It hasn’t hit me yet," Nagy said after the Bears’ 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the wild-card round shook a city. "It’s a difficult one to swallow. It stings to lose."

The sting eventually will go away, perhaps by the time Nagy leads the Bears to the Super Bowl. The memory never will. This was that indelible, that improbable.

In the hokey Hollywood script, kicker Cody Parkey’s game-winning 43-yard field-goal attempt would have hit the left upright, bounced off the crossbar and gone through the goalposts to give the Bears their first playoff victory in eight years. But fate delivered a reality too improbable and absurd for any movie plot, with Parkey clanking his sixth upright of the season as the ball caromed off the crossbar on its way to the ground in the north end zone.

Seeing it happen made it no easier to believe. Just like that, the Bears' season ended with a thud off the upright that felt more like a gut punch to every Grabrowski hoping for a happy ending. The NFL’s unluckiest player, Parkey, allowed the league’s luckiest, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, to keep the Philly magic going after perhaps the Bears' most bitter postseason exit ever.  

"It’s one of the worst feelings in the world to let your team down," Parkey said as reporters surrounded his locker. "I 100 percent take that loss on me."

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It’s easy to agree. Nagy valiantly tried to lighten Parkey’s burden and spare the kicker the scorn coming his way, but that was an unacceptable miss under ideal conditions, the kind nobody in town will soon forget or forgive. All the pregame talk about playoff legacies referred to quarterbacks, not kickers, but this threatens to be the biggest part of Parkey’s. Eagles defensive lineman Treyvon Hester's fingers slightly tipped the kick, but local history will always pin the miss on Parkey's weak right leg. 

In a somber Bears locker room, team leader Kyle Long attempted to soften the emotional blow for Parkey.

"I just told him, ‘Dude, you had half our points,'" Long said. "At the end of the day, it’s a team."

Perhaps, but all of Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s good front-office decisions last offseason were rendered moot by the worst one, the one to sign Parkey to a four-year, $15-million contract with $9 million guaranteed. By the time Parkey left the building late Sunday night, some enterprising Bears fans probably started a GoFundMe page to raise a good chunk of that if Pace promised to cut him immediately. The Bears will need more time to determine how to address the biggest weakness on a team good enough moving forward to perennially compete for Super Bowls, but until they do, Nagy stayed true to his character in promising to put Parkey the person ahead of the player.

"We’ve got to support each other," Nagy said. "It’s hard."

It made it all the more difficult knowing the Bears had played well enough on both sides of the ball to beat the Eagles. The defense failed to protect a fourth-quarter lead but limited a Eagles offense clicking the past month under Foles to 16 points, which should be good enough in the playoffs. The offense suffered through bouts of inconsistency, especially early, but quarterback Mitchell Trubisky came through with enough clutch throws in the fourth quarter when the Bears needed him most and put his team in position to win.

"The city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback," Nagy said.

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Trubisky completed 26 of 43 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown, including three straight completions on a go-ahead touchdown drive that ended with Allen Robinson’s 22-yard score to put the Bears up 15-10 with 9:04 left. Trubisky followed that up when the Bears got the ball back with 48 seconds left and two completions moved them to the Eagles' 25-yard line. He did his job in a way that removed doubt.

Had Parkey done his as well, Chicago would have spent Monday celebrating a quarterback who had come of age and a defense that survived the NFC’s hottest quarterback. Instead, everyone is left to pick their jaws up off the floor on their way to work on a cold Monday in January regardless of what the thermometer says.

"I don’t think you could write that story," Nagy said, still in disbelief.

It began more predictably on a 39-degree afternoon, with a feeling-out process that turned the first half into field-position battle as 60,138 fans waved white towels and whipped themselves into a frenzy at the sound of an air-raid siren.

The Bears benefited early from the precision punter Pat O’Donnell, who rose to the occasion. O’Donnell landed two punts inside the 10, one at the 1-yard line, to help the Bears defense get off to a good start. The Eagles made a share of mistakes before halftime that gave the Bears a chance. Foles threw two first-half interceptions, the first a ball Roquan Smith wrestled from the arms of Wendell Smallwood and the second on a floater that Adrian Amos picked off in the end zone. Amos learned his lesson from two plays earlier when he played the man instead of the ball and allowed a 28-yard completion to Golden Tate, who made a circus catch. Challenged again, Amos didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Later in the quarter, an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty by Nigel Bradham on third down kept alive a Bears' drive that ended with a Parkey field goal. Parkey’s first field goal ended a series that included Michael Bennett’s unnecessary roughness penalty – he jabbed Kyle Long in the face – after a stop on third-and-5.

Controversy followed an incompletion with 26 seconds left in the first half. Eagles cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc ripped the ball from Anthony Miller’s grip after Miller hit the ground. Officials ruled it an incomplete pass but reviewed the play because Miller appeared to come down with possession before LeBlanc caused the fumble. After an exceedingly long review, a vague explanation only caused more confusion.

The gist: No player recovered the fumble so the ruling on the field stood. Had the fumble been recovered, the implication was it would've been called a catch and a fumble. The whole sequence created more conversation than impact. Four snaps later, Parkey kicked a 29-yard field goal to give the Bears a 6-3 halftime lead.

When Parkey nailed his third field goal from 34 yards at the beginning of the fourth quarter, confidence grew on the Bears' sideline.  

But just like Parkey’s final, fateful kick, it was misplaced.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.​​​​​​​