After watching tape of Sunday's thrilling 27-23 season-opening win over the Lions, Bears coach Matt Nagy on Monday discussed three things that stood out to him, including the need for consistency and the impressive NFL debuts by two rookies:
(1) Nagy was elated that the Bears showed the resiliency to turn a 23-6 deficit entering the fourth quarter into a dramatic win. But they wouldn't have had to rally from 17 points down if they had performed better on both sides of the ball in the first three periods.
Entering the final 15 minutes, the offense had been held to a pair of Cairo Santos field goals and the defense had uncharacteristically permitted two touchdowns and one field goal on three Lions drives.
"Our guys stuck together and turned it up when we had to," Nagy said Monday. "The problem is we can't get in that situation early on. You can't dig that hole."
While the Bears were able to establish an effective running game, they were unable to sustain drives in large part because they failed to convert their first seven third-down opportunities.
"That's unacceptable," Nagy said. "You just can't have that. You're not going to win in this league, so that's got to get fixed."
In the first half, the Bears were forced to settle for field goals on each of their two trips inside Detroit's 20-yard line.
"In the red zone—I said it to you last week—touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns," Nagy said. "You have to have touchdowns, and we did in the fourth quarter. But let's do it the right way. Let's start from the beginning. Let's not go three-and-out to start the game. Let's get a third down. Let's move the sticks. We're going to be very hard on everybody and making sure we hold everybody accountable at all times to do your job."
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky fueled the rally by completing 8 of 10 passes for 89 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But the aerial attack had sputtered during the first three periods when Trubisky connected on 12 of 26 passes for 153 yards.
On the ground, the Bears amassed 149 yards on 28 carries, with David Montgomery rushing for 64 yards on 13 attempts and Tarik Cohen gaining 41 yards on seven carries—his most productive game on the ground since Dec. 9, 2018 when he rushed for 69 yards on nine attempts in a Sunday night win over the Los Angeles Rams.
"We all collectively start looking at the tape and you say, 'OK, where are we at? What are the issues?'" Nagy said. "Well, I think No. 1, we did a really good job at being able to have successful run plays. We were successful in the run game, which helps out the play-action, so that's a start.
"Decision-making, as you go through the tape, there's some times that I think that Mitch can be better with some of his decision-making, and he needs to, and he will. What we keep going back to is, 'OK, then you get to the fourth quarter and you end up having three really good throws for touchdowns.' He was 8-for-10 and at, some critical times, made some critical throws.
"The biggest thing that we have to get to is the consistency throughout the game. We've got to be more consistent and we need to help the offense in general do that, and when you asked the question about Mitchell, he needs to do that as well."
(2) Nagy was pleased with how Bears rookies performed Sunday, particularly second-round cornerback Jaylon Johnson and fifth-round receiver Darnell Mooney. Their NFL debuts were even more impressive considering that all offseason practices and preseason games were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Johnson's welcome-to-the-NFL moment came in the first half when he got steamrolled by receiver Marvin Hall on a 26-yard reception. But the Utah product rebounded to make an impact of his own.
First, Johnson generated the game's only takeaway when he deflected a Matthew Stafford pass that was intercepted by Kyle Fuller. The Bears converted the turnover into Trubisky's game-winning 27-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller. Johnson, who played all 78 snaps on defense, later secured the victory by batting away Stafford's desperation pass in the end zone as time expired.
"Jaylon Johnson, one of his biggest strengths—and not many people know and they're soon to find out—is that he has a short memory and he has a lot of quiet confidence to himself," Nagy said. "You have to have that in this league, especially at that position. He's got great ball skills. … We're really excited to see his future, and we feel really good about him as a draft pick."
Mooney, meanwhile, played 21 of 65 snaps on offense (32 percent) and caught three passes for 38 yards, including a long of 19 yards. Nagy hinted Monday that the Tulane product had earned an expanded role moving forward.
"The lights were not too bright for him yesterday, not at all," Nagy said. "You saw his first catch he had, right over the middle there at about 20 yards. He caught the ball, went to his knees and had enough recognition to get back up and try to run. You saw the moves he made on his second catch on the left on the spin route.
"It was very encouraging to see where he's at. We were kind of just trying to get a feel as to how much he can handle. It was only like 20 or 21 plays that he played. I would suspect for us to tell you without giving you a number, we were really impressed with how he played and I think you're going to definitely see more of him."
(3) Nagy wasn't happy with what transpired late in the first half on either side of the ball, but the Bears coach doesn't regret employing an aggressive and attacking mentality on offense.
When the Bears took over at their own 11 with 1:05 left in the first half, Nagy was focused on scoring points before halftime to snap a 6-6 tie instead of running out the clock and heading into the locker room.
But the Bears went three-and-out and burned just :14 off the clock without forcing the Lions to call a timeout. Cohen stepped out of bounds after a 3-yard reception and Trubisky followed with a pair of incomplete passes, leading to a punt from deep in Chicago territory.
Taking over at the Bears' 48 with :40 remaining in the half, Stafford completed passes of 7, 16 and 24 yards on consecutive plays to set up D'Andre Swift's 1-yard touchdown run, which gave the Lions a 13-6 lead with :19 to play in the half.
"When you go for it like we did, this is not being stubborn, this is a mentality that we have right now," Nagy said. "Now there are things that go into this where you have to be smart; you can't be reckless with it. You have to be smart when you make that decision. But we felt right then and there with a minute to go, we weren't calling seven-step drops there to hold onto the ball and take a sack.
"It was quick game, ball out. So we just wanted to not just go run, run, pass, give them the ball, flip the field. We wanted to keep that aggressive mentality with some high-percentage throws. The first one, we ended up throwing it to the flat on the left-hand side. And there are some things we can do at the line of scrimmage on that play. And we ended up going to the left there to 29 (Cohen). And then the second play we took a shot with a one-on-one match-up to 17, to Anthony. And we just missed that.
"On the flip-side, what we've done is we've explained to our team as a whole, but especially to our defense, 'Hey, listen, we're going to be attacking and aggressive, so if that does happen and we go three-and-out, go ahead and get the damn stop afterwards.' So when you punt the ball and they get the ball at the plus-48-yard line with :40 to go, at worst give up a field goal, at worst, not a touchdown.
"That's where we're learning as a team, like 'Hey, we're going to be aggressive and then we've got your back if it doesn't work out.'"