With Bears eliminated from playoffs, focus shifts to future at GM and coach

The lament seared through the ESPN broadcast Monday night. As Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy considered challenging a call in the second half of his team's 17-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, one fan at Soldier Field spoke for many.

"After further review," the fan could be heard yelling, "we suck!"

It was that kind of night for the Bears, who wasted a relatively strong defensive performance in a mistake-filled defeat at the hands of their NFC North rival. In the process, the Bears became the fifth NFL team to be eliminated from playoff contention, a long assumed outcome that will shift the focus squarely on the future of general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.

Nagy called offensive plays Monday night, with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on the COVID-19 list. He received one of the Bears' five personal fouls for arguing with an official and acknowledged afterward it was an "emotional game." He took responsibility for the Bears' offensive woes -- "It starts with me and it ends with me," he said -- but insisted he appreciated his players' investment in the game.

"It would be one thing if our guys came out and said, 'You know, we've got four wins and we're ... at a point where we're going to check out,'" he said. "And our guys don't do that."

The NFL has instituted a new rule that allows teams to start interviewing 2022 coaching candidates on Monday. Would that prompt chairman George McCaskey to make a move in the coming days? The Bears have had two playoff seasons since hiring Pace in 2015.

McCaskey has decisions to make, and now -- if he didn't know before -- he won't have to take into account a late-season playoff run.

Promising trend: After replacing their entire defensive secondary because of COVID-19 absences, the Bears held Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to his lowest passing total in 118 career starts. Cousins managed 87 yards on 24 attempts, of which he completed 12. While the secondary held its own, the Bears pulled it off mostly because their pass rush harassed Cousins all night. They sacked him four times, including two by defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and two by edge rusher Robert Quinn, the most Cousins has been sacked this season. As they build for future seasons, no matter the identities of the general manager and coach, the Bears should know they can build around aspects of their defenses.

QB breakdown: Quarterback Justin Fields produced efficient passing numbers, completing 26 of 39 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown on the game's final play. But he couldn't get the Bears into the end zone on four trips to the red zone, the team's worst performance in the red zone since 2010. Fields added two more fumbles to his NFL-leading total of 12, losing one, and took a total of three sacks -- two of which lost 14 yards. He has had worse starts this season, but it's hard to imagine that anyone watched his performance Monday night and thought he was on his way to becoming one of the NFL's next great quarterbacks.

Pivotal play: There were two, and both were penalties. The first occurred when the Vikings faced third-and-18 in the third quarter. Bears cornerback Teez Tabor was penalized for a low block as he tackled Vikings tailback Dalvin Cook for a 5-yard gain. The 15-yard penalty gave the Vikings a first down. The second occurred later in the drive, when Bears defensive lineman Trevis Gipson shoved Vikings tight end Luke Stocker after Cook had lost two yards on third-and-3. Those two penalties totaled 30 yards, converted two third downs and put the Vikings in position to score their second touchdown and take a commanding 17-3 lead.