5 things to watch for in the Thanksgiving game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, including the Matt Nagy scrutiny and Andy Dalton’s return — plus our Week 12 predictions
For a short week, the lead-up to the Chicago Bears’ game against the Detroit Lions on Thursday has had a whole lot of drama.
An injury to rookie quarterback Justin Fields and the return of veteran Andy Dalton as the starter . A report that coach Matt Nagy had been told he will be fired after the Thanksgiving game and Nagy’s subsequent denial . And — oh, yeah — the Bears trying to move past a five-game losing streak after giving up game-winning drives in the last minute of the last two games.
Now the Bears face the Lions, whose own ongoing drama is that they haven’t won a game since Dec. 6, 2020. The opponent? The Bears.
As Thursday’s kickoff approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.
Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1)
- Kickoff: 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Ford Field in Detroit.
- TV and radio: FOX-32, WBBM-AM 780, WCFS-FM 105.9, WRTO-AM 1200 (Spanish).
- The line: Bears by 3. Over/under: 41½.
- Sign up now to get Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts first
1. Man in the spotlight
When Nagy’s bosses didn’t issue a statement Tuesday about a Patch.com report that Thursday’s game will be Nagy’s last, they left the coach open to days of speculation about his job status.
In a nationally televised game between two NFC bottom dwellers, and without Fields playing, Nagy’s future will be the talk of the broadcast.
Nagy did his best to handle the questions at his Tuesday news conference, noting he at that point hadn’t talked with Chairman George McCaskey, President and CEO Ted Phillips or general manager Ryan Pace this week because of the short preparation time for the Lions.
“You can’t focus on that,” Nagy said of job speculation. “You have to stay focused on what you do every day, which is football and the X’s and O’s and all of that. It’s important to do that. … Our job is to focus on day to day and winning this game on Thursday. And that’s it. That’s as simple as I keep it.”
The Athletic reported McCaskey met with Bears players and coaches Wednesday to tell them the report that Nagy would be fired after Thursday’s game was not true.
Whoever is coaching the Bears on Thursday has a lot to worry about after the 16-13 loss to the Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Like, for example, not getting embarrassed again by a Lions team that has only a 16-16 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers separating them from 0-10.
The Lions’ win against the Bears last year at Soldier Field sparked a barrage of questions about Nagy’s job status. The Bears then won three straight, made the playoffs and decided to keep Nagy on board.
And now here they are again.
2. Pressing question
How will Andy Dalton fare in his first start since Sept. 19?
Dalton said Tuesday that he still believes he’s a starter in this league, and while Fields recovers from injured ribs he suffered during the loss to the Ravens, Dalton will have a chance to show it.
Dalton made just two starts before he lost his job to Fields earlier this season while he was out with a bone bruise in his left knee. He has completed 48 of 73 passes for 471 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in four games. That includes passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against the Ravens.
Dalton’s experience — 144 starts over 11 seasons — made it easier on the Bears to turn to their backup with limited practice time this week.
“It’s just talking through everything and making sure we’re on the same page of how we want things run and how we want to execute on some of these plays,” Dalton said. “In a short week, there’s a lot of walk-through. It’s a lot of just talking through it. There’s a lot of mental stuff that you go through. All of that stuff is really important as it leads up to the game on Thursday.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Dalton’s veteran presence makes his teammates feel comfortable as he leads the team for the first time in months.
“He exudes pretty good confidence to the group, the way he carries himself and the way he goes about his business,” Lazor said. “When you’re out there with him, whether it be at a walk-through or whatever, they feel like he’s going to be ready.”
3. Keep an eye on …
After missing the Lions’ loss Sunday to the Cleveland Browns with an oblique injury, quarterback Jared Goff was limited during the team’s walk-throughs this week.
Goff and Lions coach Dan Campbell left open the possibility that Goff could start instead of Tim Boyle, who threw for 77 yards with two interceptions in his first career start against the Browns.
Goff’s return — it’s a game-day decision, he said — would be a bigger obstacle for a Bears team that gave up game-winning scoring drives late in the last two games. The Lions listed Goff as questionable for Thursday, though the Detroit Free Press reported he “seems to be trending toward starting,” barring a setback.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai spent a lot of time Tuesday talking about the issues in the secondary that led to the Ravens’ late touchdown drive, including a busted coverage on Sammy Watkins’ 29-yard catch to the 3-yard line. Desai said the blame for that miscommunication fell on more than just cornerback Kindle Vildor.
But he acknowledged Vildor is going through a rough patch, especially after Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley stayed away from cornerback Jaylon Johnson and often targeted Vildor.
“I would say Kindle has been in a little bit of a rut,” Desai said. “And it’s hard when you’re the only corner getting targeted because Jaylon’s targets have been down. And Jaylon puts out his fire because he got that one target early in the game where, to his credit, he knew what was happening.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, well, we can’t go to Jaylon anymore,’ so they went to Kindle and they went to him often. And he’s a young corner. … He’s going to have to go through those growing pains a little bit. He’s going to have to endure it, and it’s a good challenge for him to make sure he’s mentally tough enough to go through that.
“And we’re here to support him to go through that. And we’ve got to make sure that we help him out when we can help him out, and even if it’s rotation — or whatever it is that we’ve got to do to make sure he is put in a situation that he can excel in — to help him kind of come out of it.”
4. Odds and ends
While the loss to the Ravens was ugly, two Bears defensive players turned in sparkling performances.
Outside linebacker Robert Quinn had 3½ sacks, five tackles, three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble, and inside linebacker Roquan Smith had 17 tackles, including two for a loss.
“In games like that, these superstars have got to play like superstars, and they did,” Desai said. “It’s a high-level football game. There aren’t many inside linebackers that are making that many tackles against that run team. … Roquan, the level of play that he’s playing at right now is a little out of this world.”
Smith’s 17 tackles were a career high, but he said he doesn’t pay much attention to his own accomplishments.
“I just know when I go out there, I’m the best player out there,” Smith said. “So that’s my thing. Just go out there week in and week out and show that.”
5. Injury report
Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson said there has been “constant improvement” as he tries to get over a hamstring injury that kept him out of Sunday’s game against the Ravens.
“I’m continuing to push through and trying to do what I need to do to make myself available,” Robinson said. “That’s always my No. 1 priority is being out on the grass.”
The Bears estimated practice designations Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after their walk-throughs, and Robinson was listed as not having practiced all three days. The Bears listed him as doubtful, while Fields, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (ankle) and running back Damien Williams (calf) were ruled out.
Safety Eddie Jackson (hamstring), safety Teshaun Gipson Sr. (chest), defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (ribs) and receiver Marquise Goodwin (shoulder) were listed as questionable, while wide receiver Darnell Mooney (foot) was limited Wednesday but was not given a designation for the game, meaning he should play.
The Bears also flexed receiver Isaiah Coulter and linebacker Sam Kamara from the practice squad to the active roster for Thursday’s game.
For the Lions, receiver Trinity Benson, outside linebacker Trey Flowers, offensive tackle Matt Nelson, cornerback AJ Parker and guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai are out, and defensive end Michal Brockers and running back Jermar Jefferson are questionable.
Brad Biggs (9-1)
Injuries have taken a toll on the Bears, and that’s a lot for the organization to overcome on a short week. More troubling is the black cloud hanging over Halas Hall. It’s an ominous time for the franchise, and there’s no way to account for how much that will affect players and coaches, no matter how much they strain to block out questions about the future.
Lions 20, Bears 17
Colleen Kane (9-1)
After the wild few days the Bears have had, I don’t think anybody would be shocked if they lost Thursday, even to the lowly Lions. No matter if Matt Nagy should be fired or not, Bears ownership put Nagy and his coaches and players in a horrible position by not addressing the report about his job status publicly, though at least George McCaskey reportedly refuted it to players Wednesday. It could have a legitimate effect on how the team plays, and the fact that a few key veterans are injured won’t help as the Bears try to overcome the distractions. We don’t know what Andy Dalton will give the Bears, but his experience — and probably his motivation too — equips him to step in and lead a decent performance, even on a short week. The Bears defense’s late collapses have been concerning, even more so because Sunday’s happened against Ravens backup Tyler Huntley. But defenders such as Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn turned in monster performances. I’m guessing players like that will help the Bears rise above the mess at Halas Hall this week.
Bears 26, Lions 20
Dan Wiederer (9-1)
If you can’t pick the Bears this week, you may not be able to pick them again until deep into 2022. Yes, they’re on a short week and fighting the doubts that accompany a five-game losing streak. Yes, Justin Fields is out with injured ribs. Yes, the questions on whether Matt Nagy will still be coaching the team come Monday have created a new wave of confusion and ire inside Halas Hall. But the Lions are still the Lions. And the Bears’ last three trips to Ford Field have all produced energizing victories. Happy Thanksgiving, Chicago!
Bears 24, Lions 23