Bears’ Matt Nagy punted away his team’s best chance to come back against Packers

Matt Nagy picked the worst possible time to coach not to lose. It might turn out to be his final misstep as the Bears’ head coach.

He called for a punt on fourth-and-inches from the Chicago 36 with his team trailing the Packers by 11 points early in the fourth quarter Sunday night. He almost got away with it when Amari Rodgers muffed the punt and Damien Williams recovered at the Packers’ 20, but a penalty on Chicago’s Kindle Vildor for running out of bounds nullified the turnover.

So Nagy had another chance to go for it, this time from his 32. Nope. Another punt. Green Bay took over at its 29. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers said, “Thank you very much” and proceeded to grind out an 8-minute, 38-second touchdown drive that left Chicago trailing 45-27 with 4:33 to play.

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Nagy said after the game that he considered going for it, but he chose field position instead. He was unwilling to risk giving Rodgers a short field even though the Bears were in dire need of points.

“Thought about it, but then thought that at that point in time you are a little bit backed up,” he said in his postgame press conference. “You could be aggressive there and go for it. I don’t think you’re wrong if you go for it, but I don’t think you’re wrong (if you don’t), either, and you saw what happened when we punted it.”

Nagy didn’t bring up any math in his postgame answers, but here’s one number: According to Stathead, the Bears came into the game 5 for 7 on fourth and from 1 to 3 yards. Being backed up shouldn’t have mattered given that overall success rate, not to mention the distance and, especially, the situation. The Bears were in four-down territory at the point, period.

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Chicago (4-9) was barely clinging to playoff hopes. It had just blown a two-touchdown lead at Lambeau Field. Nagy’s time as Chicago’s coach is believed to be short. Being bold in a pivotal moment was required. The mindset should have been to get the game back to a one-score margin in the shortest time possible and then take their chances with the defense against Rodgers. 

Nagy talked postgame about how much he and his staff work to put the team in the best position to win each week. He did the opposite in that moment.

Chicago’s defense bears responsibility after the decision by not playing good complementary football. The unit’s failure meant the game was essentially over by the time the offense got the ball back. But Nagy set the stage by ensuring Green Bay took possession in a two-score game.

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Nagy made another curious decision on the Bears’ next drive; he elected to kick a field goal to make the score 45-30 with 1:22 to go. Had he instead gone for it and gotten seven or eight points out of the drive, Chicago would have needed just an additional touchdown and a field goal rather than two more touchdowns to tie.

The Bears did get a chance at one of those desperation scoring plays by recovering an onside kick, but Justin Fields threw a game-ending interception on fourth down with 46 seconds remaining.

But they were in desperation mode because Nagy chose not to do what was required a few minutes earlier: play to win.

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