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Nagy hopes Fields can start Bears' season finale

Bears head coach Matt Nagy and QB Justin Fields.

Coach Matt Nagy spoke to the media via Zoom Monday, one day after the Bears recorded their second straight win with a 29-3 drubbing of the Giants at Soldier Field. Here are three things we learned from the session:

(1) Nagy hopes that rookie quarterback Justin Fields will be healthy enough to start Sunday's season finale against the Vikings in Minnesota.

The first-round draft pick from Ohio State has missed the Bears' last two games with an ankle injury. Fields sustained the injury Dec. 20 in the second quarter of a 17-9 loss to the Vikings at Soldier Field but finished the contest. 

"We'll get him in here the next couple days and see where he's at and then be able to get him going for Wednesday practice," Nagy said. "And again, it's always going to come down to his health. It's always going to come down to medically where he's at, where we feel he's at, and then we go play ball."

The 11th overall pick in the 2021 draft, Fields has appeared in 12 games with 10 starts as a rookie, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating. He's also rushed for 420 yards and two TDs on 72 carries and been sacked 36 times.

After compiling a 20-2 record in two seasons as a starter at Ohio State, Fields has lost seven straight games to fall to 2-8 as a rookie this year. Quarterbacking the Bears to a win over the Vikings would be a great way for Fields to cap a disappointing season.

"He's put a lot of time and effort into this year, into developing and becoming a better quarterback," Nagy said. "What this will enable him to do is finish on a high note and do everything he can to have a great week of practice mentally, physically, be there for his teammates, which I think says a lot for these guys.

"These guys are battling. Regardless of our record right now, you're seeing players that want to play. You're seeing players that care about their job. You see players that care about their teammates. You see players that care about winning.

"Justin's a part of that. And even though physically he hasn't been able to [play], he's still a part of it with us as a team. To be able to come out here and hopefully get him healthy to where he can help us win a game, I think it would be great for him to do that. And again, that's all we can ask for from him."

(2) Nagy has been pleased with the growth he's seen from Sean Desai in his first year as Bears defensive coordinator.

After spending eight seasons with the Bears—six as a defensive quality control assistant from 2013-18 and two as safeties coach in 2019-20—Desai was promoted last January to replace the retiring Chuck Pagano.

"The good thing with Sean is going into it, at the NFL level, he never experienced calling plays, and I thought right from the very beginning he's done a great job of adjusting and adapting to the NFL game," Nagy said. "The thing I like about Sean is he is extremely calm, and he does a great job of making sure that the guys feel that. There's no panic. He's super smart. He does a great job of scheming with those coaches and preparing. He's evolved this year. It's been neat to see."

The Bears defense will enter the final weekend of the regular season ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards, allowing an average of 315.6 yards per game. In Sunday's win over the Giants, the defense did not permit a touchdown for the first time this season; yielded a season-low three points, 151 total yards and minus-12 net passing yards; registered a safety and produced four takeaways and four sacks.

"You see it in a lot of games where the defense has come out and schematically done a great job," Nagy said. "The guys play hard. [Desai's] coaches are doing a great job with him. It's really neat to see. I think when you have a young guy, first-time coordinator who continues to grow, that's all you can really ask for."

(3) Nagy believes that turnover ratio is one of the key factors that has kept the Bears from having a winning season since his first year in 2018.

The Bears led the NFL with 36 takeaways and had a plus-12 turnover margin in 2018 when they won the NFC North title with a 12-4 record. Each subsequent year, their takeaways and turnover ratio have decreased—to 19 takeaways and an even ratio in 2019, to 18 takeaways and a minus-4 ratio in 2020, to 16 takeaways and a minus-11 ratio with one game remaining in 2021.

"What's the turnover ratio? Do you take the football away on defense? And do you respect the football on offense?" Nagy said. "You can have fun today and look at a good stat and check out the turnover margins in the NFL right now, and I'll bet you there's some playoff teams in the top 10. That matters."

The research that Nagy suggested shows that seven of the league's top eight teams in turnover ratio have either clinched playoff berths or can do so with a Week 18 win: the Packers (plus-16), Colts (plus-16), Cowboys (plus-13), Cardinals (plus-11), Patriots (plus-10), Bills (plus-8) and Buccaneers (plus-8). The only team with a turnover margin of at least plus-eight that has been eliminated from the playoffs is the Bears' Week 18 opponent, the Vikings (plus-9).

Before registering four takeaways, including two interceptions Sunday against the Giants, the Bears had mustered only five takeaways, including two interceptions, in their previous 10 games.

"It's contagious," Nagy said. "[Sunday], you saw what happens. We end up getting some turnovers, some takeaways. You get sacks, you get a safety. Sometimes it goes that way. You look at the Cincinnati Bengals game at the beginning of the season, we had four takeaways. And then there's some times you go through a drought. That's normal. That happens.

"When you go through a drought on defense and you don't get takeaways, offensively, you've got to respect the football and you've got to score touchdowns. When you can get those three phases to have complementary football in the turnover margin category, you'll have a higher percentage chance of winning."