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Chicago’s Kicking Curse Has Put Its Season on the Ropes

A last-second missed field goal brought back bad memories of the Bears’ appearance in last year’s playoffs, but the team has issues with much more than just its special teams unit

Eddy Pineiros 41-yard field-goal attempt goes wide left and the Bears lose to the Chargers 17-16 Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

“Look, we’re not hiding from what happened last year,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy reportedly told the Chicago Bears rookies in the first team meeting after the NFL draft. “We’re going to run up into the face of the problem and fight it.”

Nagy said this immediately after playing a video of the infamous double doink. The Bears lost to the Eagles 16-15 in the wild-card round when Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field goal bounced off the left upright and then the crossbar, ending the Bears’ best season in years with two resounding thuds. Parkey was cut two months later despite video replay showing the double doink was tipped by Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester and was officially ruled a blocked kick.

That did not stop Chicago from beginning a borderline-unprecedented search for a replacement. The front office created a position for a full-time kicking consultant, the first such job in the NFL. The special teams staff began using “doppler technology” to judge the flight paths of kicked balls, as MLB statcast does for baseballs. The Bears made the decision to invite eight kickers to their rookie minicamp where Nagy showed the aforementioned video. Then he took it up a notch. As detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Kalyn Kahler, Nagy had all eight kickers line up for a 43-yard kick, the same length as Parkey’s miss, in front of the entire Bears team. The music that was blaring throughout practice was turned off, leaving the kickers to try in silence. Six of the eight missed, and six of the eight were cut (though not the same six who missed). On the Monday after the rookie minicamp, the Bears traded for Oakland’s Eddy Piñeiro to compete with the other two.

Piñeiro won the job, and when he kicked a game-winning 53-yarder to beat the Broncos in Week 2, it seemed the Bears’ kicking issues were behind them.

So much for that. On Sunday, down 17-16 with two seconds remaining and their season seemingly hanging in the balance, the Bears turned to Piñeiro to hit a 41-yarder to win the game. It wasn’t quite Double Doink II, but the kick was 2 yards shorter than Parkey’s try. It was Piñeiro’s second miss of the day, and the loss dropped the Bears to under .500 after Week 1 for the first time in two years.

The loss puts the Bears at 3-4 on the season. They have already matched their loss total from last season when they won the NFC North at 12-4. This season the Bears are in dead last in the division. Green Bay and Minnesota entered Sunday with six wins each, putting Chicago in early danger of missing the playoffs. The missed kick came against the Chargers, who have the worst legacy of missed kicks in the 21st century, making the loss even more embarrassing. (The Chargers may be getting karmic retribution. Opponents have missed nine field goals and four extra points against them this season, the most in both categories.)

It is tempting to look at Chicago’s kicking situation, laugh, and chalk the loss up to bad luck, but there were plenty of other reasons the Bears lost, most of them falling on the shoulders of Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago had three drives that ended inside the 10-yard line with a field goal attempt (Piñeiro made all three of those). One of those field goal attempts came on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with one second left in the second quarter after Nagy called a run play on second-and-1 with 25 seconds left; Trubisky barely managed to spike the ball before time expired. Piñeiro kicked a field goal to give the Bears a 9-7 lead entering halftime, but Chicago fans booed players as they ran into the locker room. Nagy’s play-calling was already under fire entering this week after the Bears were destroyed 36-25 by the Saints last week in a game nowhere near as close as the score might indicate. The Bears ran the ball just seven times in that game.

“I know we need to run the ball more,” Nagy said on Monday’s press conference. “I’m not an idiot.”

This week was a reflection of Trubisky’s struggles. One drive before the final missed kick, Trubisky took a 6-yard sack on third-and-10 at the Chargers’ 40-yard line, turning what could have been a long field goal attempt into a punt attempt with just over two minutes left. A drive earlier, when the Bears were up 16-10 with under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Trubisky was strip-sacked and gave the Chargers the ball at Chicago’s 26-yard line. Los Angeles scored three plays later to take the lead, 17-16. The drive before that, Trubisky threw an interception that gave the Chargers even better field position (the Chargers missed the subsequent field goal).

Chicago’s defense was excellent. The Chargers were 2-of-10 on third down, Philip Rivers was picked off once, L.A.’s run game was held to just 36 yards on 12 carries, and the offense was kept to just 11 first downs, the fewest the Bears have allowed since 2016. But once again, the offense could not do enough. Piñeiro missed the game-winner, but if Nagy and Trubisky had done their job, the Bears would have been running out the clock at the end of the game, not trying to take the lead.

On Thursday the Bears held a players-only meeting and were tight-lipped about what they discussed. But the issues that led them to initiate that meeting will only be exacerbated by another loss, and more may be coming. The Bears’ remaining games are against the Eagles, Lions, Rams, Giants, Lions, Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings—one of the toughest remaining slates in football.

”We get to play the best game in the world in the best city,” Trubisky said after the loss on Sunday. “It’s not too late to turn this around.”

But if the Bears want to turn their season around, they’ll need to acknowledge their real problems, not just the convenient ones.