Matt Nagy knows that the offense can and must play better. But after Sunday's gritty 23-16 win in Carolina raised the Bears' record to 5-1, the coach wasn't about to let that reality dilute the celebration.
"I don't want to take away the excitement from our team that we're 5-1," Nagy said after the Bears defense recorded three takeaways and four sacks and held the Panthers to one touchdown on three red-zone possessions.
With their third victory in as many road games this season, the Bears moved into first place in the NFC North, a half-game ahead of the Packers (4-1), who lost to the Buccaneers 38-10 Sunday in Tampa.
"It's hard to explain the feeling that we have in this locker room, the 5-1 [record] for our team right now," Nagy said. "That's not easy to do. I told our guys that we're fighters. We have a bunch of fighters on this team, guys that fight to the end in all three phases. Can we be better on offense? Absolutely. But our defense and our special teams, I thought, really played well and put us in great situations."
The three takeaways by the Bears defense were a season high. The final one preserved the win as safety DeAndre Houston-Carson produced a late game-saving play for the second straight week, registering his first career interception on a Teddy Bridgewater pass with 1:28 remaining.
In addition, the NFL's No. 1 red-zone defense forced the Panthers to twice settle for field goals in the first half after Carolina had first-and-goal at the 7 and 3.
"Our defense is showing all year long why they're consistently good in the red zone," Nagy said. "That's a good football team on offense that's well-coached, so I was really happy with that part. They flipped the field for the offense and just as a unit on defense, it was a fun one."
The Bears offense, meanwhile, scored two touchdowns and converted 7-of-14 third-down plays. But the unit was limited to 261 total yards, including just 63 on the ground on 25 carries, an average of 2.5 yards per attempt.
"I think sometimes in this world it's really easy to say, 'Man, we're just looking for 50 points a game and [to] get the run game going,' and we need to, trust me," Nagy said. "It's hard right now and we're trying to figure out that 'why' part. We've got to fix it, and we've just got to keep working.
"The good thing is that we're 5-1, and when we do get this thing clicking, it's going to be a lot of fun. We're doing enough right now to get the wins, and I refuse to take away the excitement that we have as a team right now in that locker room."
“We have a bunch of fighters on this team, guys that fight to the end in all three phases.” Bears coach Matt Nagy
The defense gave the Bears an immediate lift Sunday as Tashaun Gipson Sr. intercepted a deflected Bridgewater pass on the game's third play from scrimmage and returned it four yards to the Carolina 7. Nick Foles followed with a 9-yard TD pass to Cole Kmet on third-and-goal—but not before the Bears had drawn a delay-of-game penalty immediately after calling a timeout.
Nagy lauded the touchdown as "a special throw and a special catch with great protection," but he clearly wasn't pleased about the timeout and penalty.
"I had to cool down a little bit on the sideline to say the least after how that went," Nagy said. "But I did. I sat down and I relaxed.
"We did a great job getting the football [on defense]. We're rocking and rolling. We're down here in the red zone [thinking], 'Let's go get a touchdown. Let's make it nice and clean,' and instead, it's choppy. You've got to take a timeout because we're not in the right formation and then a delay of game because of that. Gosh, let's go. I love [the touchdown], but let's go.
"We got the touchdown. What's unfortunate here is that what I hate talking about all this time is that our defense played lights out today. I understand we want to look at all the negatives and stuff. But really, what's pretty cool is that our defense played lights out today. They played awesome against a good offense. I just want to be careful of getting too much of that. I'm pretty excited right now. We're 5-1."
Nagy will be even more excited if the offense catches up with the defense—ideally as the Bears head down the stretch and into the playoffs.
"At some point we have to figure out what those answers are and the 'why' part, and that's what we'll do," Nagy said. "Wouldn't that be awesome to get this offense rolling as you're going into the end of the year and into the playoffs and then it starts clicking? That's what we've got to do.
"We're going to be super fired-up about 5-1, and winning on the road is hard. We've got some things we've got to clean up, and we will do that."