Bears coach Matt Nagy

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Haugh: Where Was Boldness Matt Nagy Promised?

Billed as an aggressive innovator, Nagy was conservative when it mattered most.

David Haugh
October 14, 2018 - 5:45 pm

(670 The Score) From the moment the Bears hired young and innovative head coach Matt Nagy to replace archaic coaching fossil John Fox, Nagy promised to be who he is all day every day -- and Chicago relished such refreshing change.

Nagy even warned everyone that there would be times when his aggressiveness on Sundays might raise eyebrows around town, exciting some and concerning others. On the sheet Nagy uses to call plays every week, he even reminds himself to stay authentic with the big, bold words: "BE YOU."

What happened to that guy in the fourth quarter and overtime of a wild 31-28 defeat to the Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami?

The Bears played to tie or not to lose late against the Dolphins – certainly not to win. When Nagy stopped being the coach he mostly had been through the first four games of his tenure, the game started to get away from the Bears. Each time Nagy lost his nerve, it put the Dolphins in a better position to win.

Bernstein: Bears day totally wasted

The first time occurred in the final minute of regulation when after the Dolphins faced fourth-and-6 at the Bears’ 41-yard line. The Bears had two timeouts left and waited 20 seconds before calling one. A Dolphins punt pinned the Bears at their own 7, where they wisely ran out the final 34 seconds, but the conservative way Nagy managed the clock struck a noticeable contrast. In a game defined by unpredictability, Nagy took the conventional path into overtime. BE YOU?

In the extra session, Nagy again surprisingly played it safe on third-and-4 at the Dolphins’ 35 with 2:10 left by running Jordan Howard over right guard to set up a potential game-winning 53-yard field goal instead of trying to get closer and improve Cody Parkey’s odds. Instead of trusting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to complete a short pass or make a play with his feet to keep the chains moving. Instead of boldly going for the first down.

The handoff to Howard was the third straight running play called by the Bears, an odd time for Nagy to choose to establish the run. Three. Straight. Runs. It was as if Dowell Loggains, the Dolphins offensive coordinator who previously worked for the Bears under Fox, had commandeered play-calling duties.

Nagy’s answer postgame hardly conveyed a coach who expected the positives to outweigh the negatives and let boldness rule the day.

"You can go ahead and throw it and then you’re up here asking me why we took a sack," Nagy told reporters. "You can go all day long on that kind of stuff."

True, but if Nagy called a pass that kept the drive alive and decreased the degree of difficulty for his kicker, he would've been up there celebrating his biggest victory as the Bears' head coach. Instead, Nagy headed for the team bus after looking as upset as we have seen the typically affable 40-year-old, his bad mood a combination of his team letting one slip away and a referee’s call that affected the outcome.

That sequence came early in the fourth quarter when the Bears scored an apparent three-yard touchdown pass to Tarik Cohen that would've increased their lead to 28-13, assuming the extra point was good. The play called for tight end Trey Burton to run what's known as a "pick play," in this case making contact with Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. Every NFL team runs it in the red zone. Sometimes, officials call it, and sometimes they let it go. This time, to the chagrin of Nagy and the Bears, they called it.

"Trey did exactly what I told him to do," Nagy said.

On the next snap, Trubisky never saw safety T.J. McDonald and threw him a gift interception in the end zone. Six plays later, the Dolphins scored on an Albert Wilson 43-yard touchdown reception and tied the game at 21 after a two-point conversion.

Careless throws like that one should keep anybody from celebrating too loudly over Trubisky’s big statistical day. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 316 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for a gaudy passer rating of 122.5 but struggled in the first half and survived some shaky throws he will learn to avoid. The education continues.

The highlight of a scoreless first half came on a 47-yard over-the-shoulder catch from Taylor Gabriel, who held onto the ball as he slid onto the ground. Gabriel showed tremendous concentration and continues to emerge as a reliable weapon for Trubisky. It was one of Trubisky’s better throws in a game that didn’t include enough of them.

On the bright side, the Bears offense scored three touchdowns in the third quarter. Consider that in 2017 the offense scored four third-quarter touchdowns all season – with a fifth coming on a fake punt. Only the Giants scored fewer points in the third quarter last year. That illustrates how much more equipped intellectually the Bears are under Nagy to making halftime adjustments so his team isn’t playing NFL checkers while the rest of the league plays chess. Yet even the most clever of play-callers can’t overcome three costly turnovers – including fumbles by Cohen and Howard, the latter's coming near the goal line.

And, yet, the defense that has carried the Bears all season finally collapsed or else none of Nagy’s decision-making would matter. With backup quarterback Brock Osweiler – Bears Slayer – pressed into action due to an injury to starter Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins still amassed 541 total yards. It’s hard to believe they entered as the 29th-ranked offense. The Dolphins had their share of luck – a tipped pass on third-and-11 landed in the hands of Kenny Stills for a conversion – but were also really good in the clutch.

Osweiler, now 3-0 against the Bears with three different teams, completed 28 of 44 for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Most notably, the Bears entered leading the NFL in sacks per game and exited with Osweiler barely needing his jersey laundered. They never sacked Osweiler. Frank Gore ground out 101 rushing yards. Khalil Mack’s mild ankle injury limited his dominance, but the Bears looked too sloppy and slow as a unit to use that as an excuse.

In a game that invited the Bears to join the group of credible NFL playoff contenders, they decided to pass.

By deciding to run at the worst possible moment.

"Everyone gave everything they had," Nagy said.

That only made it harder for everyone to accept.

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​​​​​