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Chicago Bears

Arkush: It's one thing to know a trap, another to avoid it

Bears coach Matt Nagy reacts during the second half against the New York Giants on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. The Bears lost, 30-27, in overtime.
Bears coach Matt Nagy reacts during the second half against the New York Giants on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. The Bears lost, 30-27, in overtime.

NFL games are played on the field, not on paper, and the New York Giants did more to earn their 30-27 overtime victory Sunday than the Bears did.

But was Sunday a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty day?

If your focus is on the Bears making the playoffs, I think you have to go with the former. With everybody else in the NFC North also losing Sunday, the Bears retain a 1½-game lead – plus a tiebreaker over the Vikings – 3½ over the Packers and four games over the Lions with only four games to play.

And the Bears proved they can run the football ... until they couldn’t, or at least chose not to.

If you’re in the half-empty camp, we warned all week that the trip to New York could be a classic NFL trap would be very frustrating if it were true, but I’m not sure that it is.

The Bears appeared well-prepared for the Giants; sadly, Chase Daniel was awful.

No one NFL player can be solely responsible for a team’s loss, but Daniel’s two interceptions and four fumbles were crippling, although he recovered three of the fumbles himself and Taquan Mizzell recovered the fourth.

Daniel’s first interception was a pick-six on the second play of the game, and the second came two minutes into the second quarter at the Giants’ 14-yard line, with the Bears driving to take the lead after tying the game late in the first quarter and in full possession of all the momentum.

His first fumble was a drive killer – coming on the Bears’ first possession after his second pick, and the last three all came on the Bears’ lone possession in overtime, making it virtually impossible for them to tie or win the game.

We all have bad days, and Daniel certainly had one.

It doesn’t explain, however, how or why after Jordan Howard’s and the running game’s best 30 minutes of the season, coach Matt Nagy elected to eliminate both from the game plan.

Howard rushed 13 times for 68 yards (5.2 yards a carry) in the first half, Tarik Cohen had 30 yards on eight carries (3.8), and the team was 26 for 106 (4.1), including a 1-yard touchdown run from Akiem Hicks.

Nagy’s reaction to that success was to hand the ball off twice to Howard in the second half – the only two handoffs of the half – and drop to pass 33 times.

In overtime, Howard got the ball and ran for 7 yards on the Bears’ first play, and never touched it again.

Daniel then dropped to pass four times and fumbled three more snaps. It did look as if one of his fumbles was going to be a handoff to Mizzell, although why Mizzell was on the field and what he has done to share playing time with Howard is one of the great mysteries of the modern world.

This is not a case of some media clown claiming he knows more about offense than the head coach, and I actually understood the timeout he called setting up the Giants’ field goal at the end of the first half and refuse to criticize people with hindsight.

I also did not have any problem with his foregoing a two-point attempt to try and win the game in regulation.

We all know Nagy has forgotten more about offense in the past 20 minutes than I’ve learned my entire life.

But the Bears won the first half, 14-10, lost the rest of the game, 20-13, and you don’t have to be a football savant to know they would probably have won the game if they’d stayed with their first-half game plan.

The Bears are the most improved team in the NFL right now, in a great spot to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and the biggest single contributor has been Nagy.

It’s exciting.

But all of that said, they will have almost no chance against the Rams next week, or any team in the playoffs, if Nagy continues to manage games the way he did Sunday and continues to refuse to figure out how to leverage one of his best offensive players to his team’s best advantage.

• Write to Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush at harkush@profootballweekly.com or on Twitter
@Hub_Arkush.

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