Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky hands off to Darnell Mooney on Sunday. | Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Viewed through the lens of the draft, the Jaguars aren’t incentivized to win. Bears coaches were studying Vikings film last week when they came upon a clip they wanted to show their players.
Two weeks ago, the Vikings missed a field goal with the game tied at 24, giving the Jaguars the ball at their 41 with 13 seconds left. The Jaguars — presumably in an eager race to the bottom of the league and for the first pick in the draft — took a shotgun snap and handed off to running back James Robinson, who ran left behind a guard and two wide receivers. He sprinted for 15 yards, the Jaguars spiked the ball to stop the clock and missed a 62-yard field goal.
The Vikings won in overtime, but the one-win Jaguars stood out to Bears coach Matt Nagy. He’ll keep hammering that point home all week before the Bears travel to Jacksonville for Sunday’s game.
“They’ve been in a lot of tight games. … ” he said Monday. “So this team is fighting and they’re playing hard. And we know that. So the last thing we’re going to do is look past anybody, and that’s just not where we’re at. So we’re going to be completely focused.”
The Bears, for once, have something to play for the rest of the season. To earn the NFC’s last wild-card playoff spot, they need to beat the Jaguars and Packers and hope the Cardinals lose to either the 49ers or Rams.
Sunday, though, the Bears will be in a new position — favored for just the third time all year. And trying to keep their focus through Christmas week.
Nagy is on alert.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “So that’s the way we approach this thing. We fought through this six-game losing streak. We’re currently on a two-game win streak, but that means nothing. And so after that sixth game that we lost, what we … talked about is, ‘We have four games that are guaranteed to us,’ and all we could do is try every way possible to win four.
“Now we’ve won two, but you can’t get to four without three.”
Game 4 might give the Bears a similar feeling. The Packers can clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs — and a first-round bye — by beating the Titans on Sunday night. If they do, their Week 17 game won’t mean anything to them, short of trying to beat their rival. The Packers might not be tempted to bench their starters against the Bears, though, knowing they have the following weekend off.
When the winless Jets defeated the Rams on Sunday, the Jaguars claimed the spot as the league’s worst team, putting them first in line to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, should he decide to leave school early. The Jaguars will finish with the No. 1 pick as long as they lose their last two games.
Tanking isn’t as common in the NFL as it is in the NBA or Major League Baseball. Once on the field, players don’t go half-speed. Decisions about who to put on the field, though, can be manipulated. The Jaguars, who fired general manager Dave Caldwell last month, have started three different quarterbacks this season: Gardner Minshew, Jake Luton and, yes, Mike Glennon. Minshew has started the last two games, losing to the Titans and Ravens by a combined score of 71-25.
Viewed through the lens of the draft, the Jaguars aren’t incentivized to win the rest of the season.
Then again, neither were the Jets before they beat the Rams 23-20 on Sunday to become just the fifth NFL team since 1978 to win as at least 17-point underdogs.
Nagy will use that game as an example all week, too.
“If anybody watched that Rams-Jets game … you can see what it means to play in the NFL,” Nagy said. “It does not matter — your record.”
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