Haugh: Bears No-Show In Embarrassing Loss

The Bears were outclassed in a 36--25 loss to the Saints at Soldier Field.

David Haugh
October 20, 2019 - 8:50 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Over the bye week, Bears coach Matt Nagy gave his players and assistants four vacation days to refresh mentally and physically.

Then his team took Sunday off.

The Bears had two weeks to prepare for this embarrassment on the lakefront? If only the Bears could blame the jet lag or a time difference on their pathetic effort in a 36-25 loss to the Saints at Soldier Field. Something’s definitely missing in these Bears, and time’s running out as they approach midseason with little sense of direction.

"Right now, we don’t have any identity," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "We’re just searching."

That was the most accurate Trubisky was all day. The Bears missed a great opportunity to turn their season around against a short-handed Saints team, but please resist believing that they were blown out because they missed injured players. The Bears didn’t miss defensive tackle Akiem Hicks or right guard Kyle Long as much as they missed a capable NFL starting quarterback and a consistent play-caller whose commitment to the running game is as weak as the running game itself.

The Saints defense overmatched Trubisky, who played with a harness on his left shoulder and apparently no compass in his right one. Saints coach Sean Payton outschemed Nagy, the second straight game the Bears have lost that head-to-head matchup on the sidelines. And the Bears' so-called running game managed a meager 17 yards, which they used to get on one handoff back when they had a running game that did more than run in place. They only ran the ball seven times.

"I don’t know," Nagy said. "I have to go back and see. I just know, not good."

Related: Bernstein: Bears stumbling into crisis

It was worse than that. On a day the Packers and Vikings asserted their place atop the NFC North, the Bears bottomed out in the Nagy era. This game was more lopsided than the score suggested. Nothing that happened after the Bears fell behind 36-10 with 4:33 left matters, because the Saints exhaled as any team would after taking a 26-point lead in what was supposed to be a hostile environment. Instead, the Bears made the Saints feel welcome in their home and let them turn an afternoon football game into a Mardi Gras party. By the way, Club Dub is closed until further notice – though the locker room did get pretty loud postgame, according to Nagy.   

"When you have one side playing really well and the other trying to figure things out ... for us, as a team, the frustration and emotions can challenge you individually," Nagy said. "That’s something completely normal."

Little else about this day was.

The Bears had two meaningful plays, and both came on special teams. The first came after the Saints blocked a punt in the first quarter and Bears punter Pat O’Donnell alertly batted the ball out of the back of the end zone, ensuring a safety instead of a touchdown. The other came when Cordarrelle Patterson raced 102 yards with a kickoff return for a touchdown that made sports scientists drool. In the end, neither factored in the outcome of a blowout nobody saw coming. This was stunning domination.

No Alvin Kamara. No Drew Brees. That posed no problem for the Saints, who rode the poise of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the power of running back Latavius Murray. After three quarters, Murray had outgained the entire Bears offense. All the pregame talk about the Saints missing Kamara, one of the game’s most explosive players, neglected to acknowledge the experience of Murray, a dependable veteran with 931 career carries. Murray ran roughshod over the Bears defense the same way Josh Jacobs of the Raiders did two weeks earlier in London. Murray’s final four-yard touchdown run could've been filed under the category of waltz.

Bridgewater won his fifth straight start in place of Brees, looking as comfortable in the pocket as a tourist strolling the museum campus. Teddy Ballgame completed 23 of 38 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns with only one sack from the once-feared Bears pass rush that has gone missing. There were lots of No. 52 jerseys all over Soldier Field on Sunday but, alas, none in the Saints backfield. Has anybody seen Khalil Mack?

The Bears offense did nothing to help the defense – and the defense reciprocated. You can point to the Bears offense possessing the ball for only 22:34, but getting off the field requires tackling the ball carrier, a task with which the Bears defense struggled mightily as the Saints amassed 424 total yards. Everyone can agree that both sides were overwhelmed too often.  

Only gamblers and Nagy apologists care about the 15 points the Bears scored in the final minutes after the Saints took a 36-10 lead. That merely temporarily diverted attention from the fact that the Bears are nowhere near where they expected to be after six games, a full-fledged crisis by NFL standards – especially for a team that spoke so openly about contending for a Super Bowl. Championship contenders find ways to compensate for injury losses. Pretenders get exposed. After six games, the Bears clearly are the latter. Sure, they were 3-3 at the same juncture last year. But that was before the league caught up to Nagy and the Bears offense had developed an identity for having none. This feels different too.

The mounting frustration showed on Nagy, who started his postgame news conference voicing concerns over emotions possibly dividing his team and closed it glaring at a veteran scribe who harmlessly shook his head at a couple of Nagy’s answers. Nagy talked about giving out "horse blinders and earmuffs" to block out the noise expected around Chicago this week – "We need to pull together," Nagy said – but offered no solutions to the real problems that plague this team. What’s wrong with the running game, Coach?

"I don’t know," Nagy said.

He's paid handsomely to find answers. The hard truth lies in an underachieving offensive line and an overrated quarterback. Trubisky lacked, well, everything again: poise, accuracy and awareness. On the second series, for example, Trubisky missed an open Taylor Gabriel on third-and-5. Gabriel ran the correct route and the offensive line built the proper pocket, but Trubisky threw an inaccurate pass. That can’t happen.

Perhaps the element most obviously missing from Trubisky’s game was confidence. He threw tentatively until a garbage-time scoring drive late in the game that the Bears likely will overvalue. The numbers tell a lie: 34-of-54 for 251 yards with two touchdowns and an acceptable passer rating of 86.3. There was nothing about Trubisky’s performance Nagy can classify as acceptable. There's little evidence to inspire hope for development.

In our ongoing evaluation of the 2017 NFL Draft that saw the Bears pass on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in favor of Trubisky, it’s not that the Bears picked the wrong quarterback in the first round as much as the quarterback they chose barely resembles a first-round draft choice anymore. Forget measuring Trubisky against Mahomes or Watson; the Bears are reaching a critical point in which they’re going to have to decide whether Trubisky gives them the best chance to win this season or beyond before considering someone else.

Asked directly if he was still committed to Trubisky as the starter, Nagy never hesitated.

"Absolutely," Nagy said.

He sounded just as resolute about concealing any decision whether to cede play-calling duties to someone else. A rattled Nagy only made one promise.

"Something will change," he said.

After a second straight bad loss, everything must.

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.