By Dan Bernstein–
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) What we all saw Sunday was, at least in part, the point of the Bears’ new coaching hire.
It’s clear that a productive and unpredictable offense is a necessity more than luxury in the current NFL, and a concurrently aggressive approach to risk and reward is part of deploying it successfully when it matters most. We can say that because coach Doug Pederson’s choices worked in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, giving us the chance to extrapolate some kind of meaning that applies locally.
The trick play on fourth-and-goal that ended up with quarterback Nick Foles catching a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton is getting the bulk of the attention, but the truth is that play was lifted from the Bears’ own playbook after they ran it with Cam Meredith and Matt Barkley in Minnesota in 2016. Do consider the fact that the Bears were only facing third down and trailing 17-0 at the time, as opposed to running it on the biggest stage in sports.
Gutsier still was the Eagles’ fourth-and-1 call from their own 45, trailing by a point with 5:39 to go. Foles’ two-yard completion to Zach Ertz extended what would be the touchdown drive that put them ahead for good, with the downside having likely been ballgame the other way. Ignore Cris Collisworth’s misguided analysis that going for it was the obvious choice there — it wasn’t, and Collinsworth was having a rough go of it, just minutes later completely misunderstanding the application of the catch rule for an established ball-carrier breaking the plane with possession.
A better understanding of statistical data is finally pushing risk-averse coaches against their self-protective instincts in general, but this was someone doing it in front of the whole world with everything at stake, playing thin margins and walking off with the trophy. And while it’s true that Bill Belichick himself has been one of those out front in setting the new normal, the day would instead belong to his counterpart.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace clearly sees some of this in new coach Matt Nagy, in both the creativity of tactics and expectation of the Bears taking reasonable chances more than playing back on their heels. John Fox had lived on the other side of those calculations, generally content to worry about what could go wrong rather than get excited for some positive possibility, and the game now increasingly rewards the opposite.
It’s good for all of us if more games resemble Super Bowl 52, with scoring on the upswing, teams pushing relentlessly and trading touchdown blows on every possession. It’s more entertaining when NFL coaches bet on their offenses to gain a yard instead of choosing to give the ball to the other team.
That’s the world in which the Bears want to live, as far away as that can seem on a day like today.