While the Chicago Bears are currently in first place in the NFC North, it’s fair to examine why they have consistently struggled on defense in the fourth quarter of games.
The Chicago Bears are back to being playoff contenders, right? Their record certainly indicates so. At 6-3, the Matt Nagy-led Bears hold a slim lead at the moment over the rest of their division rivals for a playoff bid. However, win-loss records in early November can ultimately prove to be very misleading, especially if fatal flaws get exposed in critical games down the stretch.
Aside from the dreadful kicking game which could haunt the Bears down the stretch, another less-talked-about problem is the fourth-quarter letdown in games where the Bears seemingly get way too complacent on defense. Even blowing once-comfortable leads late.
Putting this ongoing issue into perspective: The Bears’ defense has surrendered a combined 83 points through the first three quarters in their nine games played this season. That’s 9.2 points on average given up to opposing offenses heading into the fourth quarter. Pretty remarkable.
While the defensive play through three-quarters is reminiscent to the ’85 Bears, the Bears’ fourth-quarter performance thus far has been a completely different story. In nine fourth-quarters alone, the Bears’ defense has surrendered 89 points, just shy of 10 points on average. That’s worrisome, especially considering that the Bears blew fourth-quarter leads in two of their three losses thus far.
If the Bears are true playoff contenders, rather than just pretenders, they’ll need to clean up their bad habit of taking their foot off the gas pedal once the fourth quarter rolls around in a hurry. The Bears still have some tough games coming up against playoff contenders: Facing the Minnesota Vikings twice, the Saint Louis Rams, and the arch-rival Green Bay Packers to end the regular season. Those games are no shoo-in wins for this Bears squad.
The Bears might be able to play relaxed in the fourth quarter when they’re beating up on bad teams. They’ve already proven they can still win comfortably, despite giving up 12 points in the final quarter to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Still, if the Bears want to prove that this is their year to make some playoff noise, they need to give maximum effort as a collective unit on both offense and defense for a full 60 minutes.
If not, expect another late-game collapse or two, possibly in games that could very well decide who ends up winning the NFC North. The Bears must not continue playing lethargic and sleepy-eyed just because they have more than a one-score lead in the fourth. NFL opponents, regardless of their win-loss record, are still playing for pride even if they’re non-playoff teams.
Matt Nagy should be well aware of this fact, even though he’s just a first-year head coach. If anything, he out of all coaches can easily relate to blowing a late-game lead in the fourth quarter of a pivotal game.
Just simply flash-back to last season’s 22-21 AFC Wild Card Playoff loss his Kansas City Chiefs suffered against the Tennessee Titans. While Nagy was not the head coach of the team, he served as Offensive Coordinator. Although well-regarded for his overall body of work that season, Nagy couldn’t manage to guide the Chiefs’ offense to score any second-half points in that game. Furthermore, he witnessed the Titans rally back from a 21-10 fourth quarter deficit to win the same, sending the Chiefs an earlier-than-expected playoff exit.
Now that Nagy is managing the Bears, it’s his responsibility to break his team of any bad habits picked up earlier as the season winds down. This will be a great test to see just how influential Nagy is to this young Bears team as they try to learn on the fly how to become a true playoff contender once more.
The Bears have already proven that they’re playing ahead of schedule, winning despite a couple of hiccups along the way. Maybe they can continue doing so. But that’s hardly a great recipe for sustainable success down the road.