DENVER — While most of us were focused on the Broncos-Raiders matchup during last week’s Monday Night Football doubleheader, it turned out that a sequence from the earlier Saints-Texans game ended up having the biggest impact on the Bears’ improbable 16-14 win over the Broncos Sunday.
“(Matt) Nagy, he’s like a god himself,” Bears cornerback Buster Skrine said. “We watched the Saints game and how they did the same thing. He said it on the sideline, he said, ‘Hey, the Saints did it. We can do it, too.’ That’s exactly what happened.”
Many players were referencing the heavens after the Bears somehow managed to move the football 40 yards in just 30 seconds to set up Eddy Pineiro’s 53-yard field goal as time expired to win the game. Skrine, who just moments earlier had committed an awful offsides penalty on a missed Broncos extra point that would have won the game for the Bears, called Pineiro his “guardian angel.”
The ending was so bizarre that you can’t really rule out angels playing a role, but so did Mitchell Trubisky, Allen Robinson and referee Adrian Hill. Yet we’ll start with Nagy, who had a tough game in the Bears’ Week 1 loss to the Packers, but was masterful Sunday in Denver.
A week ago, Nagy made it clear he was going to watch the Broncos’ Monday night opener against the Raiders, but just as that game was starting, the Saints pulled off their own miracle finish and apparently Nagy was still watching. Trailing 28-27 with 37 seconds left, Drew Brees got the ball at his own 25-yard-line. The Saints had one timeout. Three passes later, with only six seconds left on the clock, Brees hit Ted Ginn Jr. at 40-yard-line. Ginn immediately went down and the Saints called their last timeout. Will Lutz jogged out onto the field and nailed a 58-yard field goal to win the game.
“It was almost the exact same situation, it’s crazy,” Nagy said, explaining why he decided to show that sequence to his team this week. “We talked through it, we asked questions, they answered them.”
So there the Bears were Sunday, trailing 14-13 with 31 seconds left on the clock after Skrine’s offsides penalty wiped out Brandon McManus’ extra point and Vic Fangio boldly went for two points instead, giving the Broncos the lead. The situation couldn’t have been more demoralizing. The Bears were absolutely cooked — and not just because of the 90-degree heat and “f***ing altitude,” as Khalil Mack so eloquently put it.
But that’s not how Nagy looked at it. 31 seconds left. One timeout. Ball at their own 25-yard-line. It was almost the exact same situation he had just shown his team.
“We went up and down the sideline to all the offensive guys and said, ‘We just watched this. Let’s go do the same thing.’ And they believed it. They did it. We said you need one second and the ball. If you have one second and the ball, you have a chance to win,” Nagy said.
And yet the Bears barely had that one second. If not for an extremely questionable roughing the passer call on Bradley Chubb — one of three disturbingly weak roughing calls in the game — the field goal probably doesn’t happen. Trubisky followed that up with three straight incompletions before the Bears were flagged for having 12 men on the field. It was 4th-and-15 from the Bears’ own 40 with nine seconds left. No one inside Empower Field at Mile High could possibly have thought the Bears would win at that point.
But there was Trubisky, making his only highlight play of the game — a clutch highlight at that — scrambling and hitting Allen Robinson for 25 yards. Robinson got down with just one second remaining and Nagy called his final timeout.
And this time, the kicker made the kick. 53 yards. Right down the middle.
“It means everything,” Pineiro said. “I’ve been working my butt off. All the stuff that I’ve been through, the Augusta silence, the kickers getting cut left and right, all the crazy things going on, it was a pretty cool moment to have this opportunity.”
Consider it another validating moment for Nagy, whose kicker competition tactics in the offseason were often questioned and criticized. Sunday, the winner of that competition saved the game, and maybe the Bears’ season.
It also saved columns like this one from being about how the offense lacks any kind of identity. Or about how the quarterback continues to struggle. Or about how the Bears hardly look like a Super Bowl caliber team, despite a Super Bowl caliber defense.
But the reality is that Nagy had a great day. As ugly as it was, his commitment to the run and insistence on keeping Trubisky from committing a back-breaking turnover were exactly what the Bears needed to beat the Broncos. And Nagy was masterful with his timeouts in the final few minutes, resisting his instinct to challenge a fourth down spot that he never would have won, before calling timeout on the next fourth down because Mack was on the sidelines sucking wind and he needed him on the field. Had Nagy challenged the spot, he either would have had to answer questions about Mack not being on the field on a crucial play or he wouldn’t have had the timeout to use before the game-winning field goal.
“I really wanted to challenge that,” Nagy said. “To me, there were 30-something seconds left. If that’s close, that’s a win or loss situation.”
Indeed, if the ball had been ruled short of the first down, the Bears would have won the game. But Nagy trusted his coaches up in the booth and also gave credit to defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano — a former head coach — because they “were talking through some things about how we were going to handle (this situation). It was a collaboration that we agreed we were not going to challenge that.”
In the end, after the Bears gave up a touchdown, wiped out a missed extra point via penalty, allowed a successful two-point conversion to give up the lead, and yet somehow got the ball to the Broncos’ 35-yard-line with one second left, Nagy just about tackled the official to call that last timeout.
And his kicker made the kick, leaving just one question from this reporter to Eddy Pineiro: Do the Bears finally have their kicker?
“I think they do, yeah,” Pineiro said, with a smile that could have stretched from Denver to Chicago.