About the time the second half of the Bears-New Orleans Saints game was starting, a thick fog had completely obscured downtown just a short distance outside the confines of Soldier Field. Whether it was part of the fog in which the Bears were playing was a matter for meteorological discussion. But while the murkiness covering the city will disappear, the one engulfing the Bears…not so sure.
Not so sure, because the Bears don't appear to have a fix on the reasons behind their struggles in Sunday night's 36-25 pummeling at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.
And in comments that had a peculiar ring to them, coach Matt Nagy afterwards alluded to wanting to see which of his players were going to step up and exercise more leadership – an odd mission statement of sorts from a coach who likes and presumably knows very well the character and characters within his team. If Nagy doesn't know by now who his leaders are…
And Nagy, who has enjoyed a highly positive media and public ride during his nearly 10 months heading up the Bears, suddenly was talking Sunday about not letting media or anyone else pull the team apart, the beginnings of an us-against-them, message that coaches fall back on to unify a struggling team.
"So what happens is people from outside try to pull you down," Nagy said, "and the last thing that anybody is going to do, whether it's you [media] guys or anybody else outside, you're not pulling us down."
As for grasping what has taken the Bears so far off their rails to this point, "I don't know," Nagy said after his team suffered the biggest margin of defeat in Nagy's 23 games as Bears head coach, a drubbing that stood 36-10 before the Bears scored twice in the final 2:31. "I've got to go back and see it [on film]. I'd love to give you more answers. I just know, not good."
A reasonable and not unusual response after a defeat. If a problem were obvious and there was a simple remedy at hand, Nagy and anyone else would've pulled that lever already.
But the Bears are not finding any ready levers.
"We're struggling as an offense," said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, pointing no fingers on either side of the football. "Right now we have no identity," We're just searching. We don't have any rhythm."
Where that rhythm comes from, on offense, defense or special teams, appears to be a quest within the Bears. Nagy didn't exactly put the problems back on the players, who in fact are typically harder on themselves than anyone else. But he laid down something of a challenge.
"So I'll be really curious to see which players on our team step up and start taking more leadership in times like this," said Nagy, stating that the best leaders come from within the team, the players. "That's what I'm going to be observing. I'm going to be checking that out, and I'll be curious to see where this goes…
"I'm going to be looking for who the leaders are on our team that are going to step up and take control and fix this thing because inevitably what happens is it starts – it's like, you as a leader, you can say so much and do so much, right. You've got to be able to see how guys are reached.
"Again, this is a tough one. It stings. We haven't really been in this situation before, being down that much at a point in the game. The good part is our guys until the end, they fought. It doesn't matter. They fought. We're 3-3, so we've got to regroup. We'll recognize this loss, we'll sit in it tonight, and then we will – we've got to be better next week."
A lot better, in fact.
The Bears had just 85 total yards through three quarters, vs. New Orleans' 349, and finished with 252 total yards – the sixth time in six games that the Bears have failed to generate 300 yards of offense.
Not just the offense is struggling. New Orleans piled up 454 total yards, second in Nagy's tenure only to the 541 the Miami Dolphins put on the Bears last season. Adding to concern is the fact that this performance comes on the heels of the loss to the Oakland Raiders in which the Bears were pushed around for 398 yards – the third-highest yardage total allowed under Nagy and coordinators Vic Fangio and Chuck Pagano.
With an off-week to prepare, the Bears bumbled through a second consecutive defeat, this time to a visiting team playing without its Hall of Fame quarterback, No. 1 running back and No. 1 tight end. Sunday's result left the Bears at 3-3 and in a mosh pit of NFC teams with three losses (five) while the Saints (6-1) were winning a fifth straight game with backup quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, filling in while Drew Brees recovers from a thumb injury.
More than the score or the standings, however, the game cast a deep cloud of doubt as to where exactly the Bears are headed in a season that was supposed to be a major step forward, particularly for an offense that instead has cemented its place among the NFL's worst.
Before the Bears scored those two garbage-time touchdowns, the game was on track to be the fourth time in six games this season – and seventh in the last 11 games, dating back through late last season – that the Bears failed to score more than 16 points. That Sunday's final deficit wasn't worse was through no fault of the Bears. A New Orleans punt return for a touchdown was nullified by a holding call on the Saints protection unit, and kicker Wil Lutz missed field goals from 42 and 52 yards.
"I felt like honestly, we left a lot of points off the board," said Saints coach Sean Payton.
Nagy has rightly pointed out that the Bears did stand at 3-3 last season. But there's a problem – or problems, plural, with that – not the least of which is that it was last year. From their 3-3 point last season, the Bears faced the Jets, Bills, Lions and Vikings, representing a combined record of 24-39-1. None played out to be playoff teams and only the Vikings (8-7-1) managed to finish at or above .500.
This year the Bears' next four opponents consist of the Chargers, Eagles, Lions and Rams – three playoff teams from a year ago and an improved Detroit team.
"So, we will come together with answers, and as every week goes by, we do need to know that time is of the essence," Nagy said. "But being 3-3 – here's what I'll tell them. You ready? I'll just tell you. I talk about horse blinders and earmuffs. Don't listen to anything outside because right now it's not going to be good."