There came a moment late in Monday night’s Vikings-Bears game when it became clear that nothing was going to happen on the football field—that nothing even could happen on the football field—that would redeem a viewer’s choice to continue watching. The second half had by then been underway for an impossibly long time, somehow elongating and deepening winter itself, driving the bitter cold of Soldier Field into our homes and hearts. Kirk Cousins would drop back, scan the field, process nothing, and take a sack. Sometime later the Bears would run the ball up the gut on third-and-6, and then punt. Sometime later (possibly years? Decades? What century is this?) Cousins would take another sack, and then the Bears would stumble through another wasted series, and a bone-white Moon hung dead in a frozen night sky, and one team would punt to the other, and nothing mattered, and the agonizing process would chug through another endless revolution, in flagrant defiance of the human concept of time.
You needed some reason to watch other than what was happening on the field, which was puke. It was embattled Bears head coach Matt Nagy who provided that reason, by having a game-long meltdown on the Chicago sideline. The pressure is mounting for Nagy as this lost season winds to a miserable end. Nagy assumed emergency play-calling duties Monday night after offensive coordinator Bill Lazor returned a positive COVID test last week and was forced to miss the game. Rumors have been swirling for weeks that Nagy’s fate is essentially sealed, and that he will soon be fired. Nagy’s poor son was taunted with a “Fire Nagy” chant by opposing fans at a recent high school football game, and fed-up Bears fans gave Nagy the business again Monday night. However Nagy is handling all this in his personal life and throughout the work week, on the sidelines Monday night he looked like a desperate man at the very end of his rope.
Near the end of the first quarter, Bears safety Deon Bush made helmet-to-helmet contact with Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin on a third-down incompletion, and was flagged for a late hit. Nagy, already vibrating with anxiety, blew a gasket:
Nagy was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for absolutely tearing into referee Terrence Miles. Referee Scott Novak declined to repeat after the game what precisely Nagy said to earn the flag, but explained that coaches are penalized when their normal hostility toward the refs “crosses a line and it’s inappropriate.” Nagy, defiant in defeat, felt he said what needed to be said. “Our guys are fighting their asses off to get off the field,” he explained after the game, presumably still radiating frustration. “I stated my opinion on it. And I don’t regret it.”
The first half of this game had some small amount of non-Nagy intrigue, even while the football on the field was objectively dreadful. I submit that the second half was roughly as bad as regular-season football ever gets. The Vikings, up 10–3 at halftime, managed a long scoring drive on their first possession of the third quarter, and then the teams combined for five consecutive dreary three-and-outs. The Vikings managed one (1) first down over the entire rest of the game. At one point they recovered a muffed punt at Chicago’s 37-yard line following a three-and-out, then lost four yards on three plays and punted, again, from Chicago’s 41-yard line. Chicago, not to be outdone, managed 25 total yards of offense across four consecutive drives during what it pains me to describe as the “competitive” portion of the game, then turned the ball over on downs on consecutive trips into Minnesota’s red zone. Only an offense as utterly bereft as Chicago’s could possibly have lost this game: Despite facing a secondary stripped by COVID-19 of literally all starters, Cousins threw for a grand total of 87 yards, on 24 attempts.
It was after another utterly hopeless stalled Bears drive—possibly their one-millionth of the second half—when the realization set in: Hoping that Nagy’s Bears would gather their wits long enough to throw the game’s conclusion into doubt was like hoping apples would grow from a fence post. The only uncertainty left—certainly the only one worth exploring—was whether Nagy could suppress his fury long enough to finish the game. No head coach in history has ever been ejected from an NFL football game, which seems impossible but also seems like an opening that has been waiting a very long time for Matt Nagy, specifically, to fill. This was the opportunity of a lifetime! Seeing Nagy finally release all the anger and frustration and get bounced from a game would’ve been, by a jillion miles, the best possible thing this slog of a game could’ve produced. And for a long while history seemed imminent, as Nagy continued flipping out on Chicago’s sideline, undeterred by his unsportsmanlike penalty. He very nearly came unglued again late in the third quarter, when the referees gave a favorable spot to Cousins on a third-down scramble:
That is as emphatic a review-flag toss as has ever featured in an NFL football game. It seemed inevitable, at that point, that Nagy would either get himself tossed with another outburst, or his head would simply explode right there on the sideline, showering his stunned players in red-hot giblets. The camera found Nagy following Damiere Byrd’s muffed punt at the start of the fourth quarter, when it seemed reasonable to expect Nagy’s eyeballs to rocket out of his skull. It found him again when Chicago’s first crisp drive of the entire game—an 11-play, 81-yard dash featuring some nifty quarterbacking from Justin Fields—ended on downs following an unsuccessful Nagy challenge of an incomplete pass in the end zone, and no one would’ve been surprised to see an ax-wielding Nagy chasing around the nearest referee.
As with everything else about this game, the Nagy spectacle ended in dreary disappointment. He seemed to settle into a condition of bitter resignation following that wasted drive, and by the time Chicago’s next drive stalled at Minnesota’s 14-yard line, Nagy had the dead-eyed thousand-yard stare common to head coaches of nowhere-bound football teams. The Bears are toast, and Nagy is too. His late summoning of composure in this loss perhaps preserves his chance of going out with dignity, but as a miserable viewer of Monday night’s absolute fiasco of a football game, I very much would’ve appreciated the fireworks of an ejection. It probably would’ve meant something to a cold and bewildered crowd of frustrated Bears fans, too. If nothing else, it would’ve taken Nagy out of earshot of their final rounds of that “Fire Nagy” chant, a mercy that even Nagy ultimately deserves. At any rate, that relief will arrive soon enough.