After watching tape of Monday night's 29-27 loss to the Steelers, Bears coach Matt Nagy discussed three things that stood out to him in the game:
(1) Nagy praised quarterback Justin Fields for the late touchdown drive he engineered, a special throw and the rookie's development the past two weeks.
After Chris Boswell's 52-yard field goal extended the Steelers' lead to 26-20 with 2:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, Fields proceeded to lead the Bears to the go-ahead touchdown. On back-to-back plays following the two-minute warning, the first-round draft pick completed a 39-yard pass to Allen Robinson II and followed with a 16-yard TD strike to Darnell Mooney, giving the Bears a 27-26 lead with 1:46 to play.
"It's one of those moments where really all of us as a kid growing up, you live for those moments," Nagy said. "You never know how people are going to react, and I said last night, that smile that I saw on his face [before taking the field] was neat to see because it just gives everyone confidence, and it was almost like he knew what was going to happen. I was proud of him for that moment. That's a big moment for him."
While the passes to Robinson and Mooney were impressive, Nagy felt that Fields' best throw of the game was a 28-yard completion to tight end Jimmy Graham down the middle of the field early in the fourth quarter. The play set up Mooney's 15-yard TD run on the next snap that drew the Bears to within 20-13.
"[Fields] had several what I quote as special plays and the one that stands out to me was the one down the seam to Jimmy Graham," Nagy said. "That's probably a top-three throw in the NFL this season. With who he had in his face, the way he threw it, the accuracy, the timing, etc., that's a special, rare throw. When you see those throws, you get excited."
Fields has shown major growth in his last two starts. Against the Steelers, he completed 17 of 29 passes for a career-high 291 yards with one TD, one interception and an 89.9 passer rating. A week earlier versus the 49ers, the former Ohio State star connected on a career-high 70.3 percent of his passes and rushed for 103 yards, the most by a Bears quarterback since Bobby Douglass' 127 yards in a 1972 loss to the Raiders.
"We feel a lot different now," Nagy said. "We feel better as to the types of plays we're putting in that fit him, that fit our offense. Trying to find that match and that balance. The last two weeks, his decision making and timing has been really, really good, and then he's taking shots downfield, which is great. We're not hitting on all of them, but when you still take those downfield [shots], they can't sit on you all the time.
"But then you get to these moments, these critical parts of the game that you've seen in back-to-back weeks now that he's making plays, I think what you're seeing and feeling is a guy who's getting more and more confident, not just by every game but by every play. The game is getting a little slower for him on defense. He's seeing things."
(2) Nagy lamented the rash of penalties the Bears drew.
They were assessed 12 penalties for 115 yards, the second most in both categories in Nagy's four seasons as coach, topped only by when the Bears were flagged 14 times for 129 yards Nov. 4, 2018 in a 41-9 win over the Bills in Buffalo. They actually committed 16 infractions in Pittsburgh, but four were declined by the Steelers.
On Monday night, the Bears settled for a field goal after a penalty nullified Fields' 1-yard touchdown pass to Graham. Fields had two other completions erased by flags, a 16-yarder to Robinson and a 15-yarder to Jakeem Grant Sr.. Defensively, a taunting penalty extended a Steelers drive that resulted in a field goal that gave Pittsburgh a 26-20 lead.
"Lots of penalties," Nagy said. "We know that there's a lot of yards in there. We've got to be more disciplined. We've got to be better there. That starts with me."
Two of the penalties were so controversial that a pool reporter was asked to seek explanations from referee Tony Corrente. One of the calls was for taunting on outside linebacker Cassius Marsh, who celebrated a key third-down sack of Ben Roethlisberger by taking two steps toward the Steelers bench from the middle of the field. The NFL has placed an emphasis on calling taunting penalties this season.
"It's something that in the moment, you have to be super careful of being in the gray with this new rule, with the taunting," Nagy said. "And any gray that you give them, they can make a decision on and it can be subjective, and that's part of the rule.
"I'll also say it's a very emotional game and an emotional time in the game. And so, you have that balance of somebody that's fighting their ass off to make a play, and then who makes the play and is excited. Isn't that a part of loving the game—the passion, fire, fun—right? That's a part of the game. But when you're in the gray, there can be consequences.
"I think that's the balance of us teaching that, understanding the emphasis and that's the decision that they make. The tough part is that he made a great play in that moment and it's getting overshadowed by that, and I think that's a learning tool."
(3) Nagy praised the defense for registering four sacks and limiting the Steelers to 4.2 yards per play, but he was disappointed the unit failed to force a turnover.
The defense has produced just one takeaway during the Bears' four-game losing streak, recovering a fumble late in the third quarter Oct. 24 against the Buccaneers when Tampa was comfortably ahead 35-3. The unit has just one interception in its last seven games—by safety DeAndre Houston-Carson Oct. 10 in a win over the Raiders.
Houston-Carson was involved in the only takeaway the Bears produced in Pittsburgh on special teams. He scooped up a fumble that was forced by Joel Iyiegbuniwe on a punt return and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown that drew the Bears to within 23-20 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Bears committed two turnovers in the game and are now 0-5 this season when losing the turnover battle. Fields had a pass intercepted at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Cam Heyward and Grant lost a fumble on a kickoff return.
"We talked all week about getting turnovers and takeaways, protecting and respecting the football," Nagy said. "No takeaways on defense and special teams we lost that fumble. The good thing is we ended up with that big score, which was good … Cam Heyward made a great play on the three-step tipped pass. We knew he did it all year long and made a nice tipped-pass interception, so that was big. Good play by them."