Bears’ big jump sets up shot to KO de­fend­ing champ Ea­gles

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Sports - BY AN­DREW SELIG­MAN

Not long af­ter he was hired, Matt Nagy watched the Su­per Bowl with his wife at a bar near the Chicago Bears’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity. His good friend Doug Ped­er­son was coach­ing the Philadel­phia Ea­gles to their first Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship.

The place was just about empty. He even had to ask for the game to be turned on.

“It was awe­some,” he re­called.

Nagy hopes things don’t go so well for his pal when the NFC North cham­pion Bears host the Ea­gles on Sun­day in a wild-card game packed with sto­ry­lines. Chicago (12-4) is in the play­offs for the first time since the 2010 team won the divi­sion, mak­ing a huge jump in Nagy’s first sea­son af­ter four straight last-place fin­ishes. The Bears are on a 9-1 tear; the Ea­gles (9-7) have won 5 of 6.

Chicago quar­ter­back Mitchell Tru­bisky will make his first play­off ap­pear­ance.

Ea­gles quar­ter­back Nick Foles – last year’s Su­per Bowl MVP – will try to de­liver an­other stand­out per­for­mance while fill­ing in for Car­son Wentz. He’s 6-0 in those sit­u­a­tions the past two sea­sons.

Foles was par­tic­u­larly good the past three games with Wentz side­lined by a back in­jury. He tied Philip Rivers’ NFL record in last week’s win over Wash­ing­ton by com­plet­ing 25 con­sec­u­tive passes. He

will start this one af­ter leav­ing with a chest in­jury against Wash­ing­ton.

Al­shon Jef­fery will play in Chicago for the first time since the star re­ceiver left the Bears af­ter five sea­sons to sign with Philadel­phia in 2017. Chicago’s Trey Bur­ton will try to beat the Ea­gles this time af­ter throw­ing a touch­down to Foles on a trick play – “Philly Spe­cial” – in the Su­per Bowl vic­tory over New Eng­land.

There will be Long brothers – Chicago guard Kyle and Philadel­phia de­fen­sive end Chris – on op­pos­ing teams.

And there will be two coaches on op­po­site side­lines with a strong bond formed while work­ing un­der Andy Reid in Philadel­phia and Kansas City.

“I told him at the own­ers meet­ing this past off­sea­son, he got that Su­per Bowl, right. I’m try­ing to fol­low his lead here,” Nagy said. “He prob­a­bly doesn’t want to hear that right now, but I want to stick on that path. Ton of re­spect for him.” The feel­ing is mu­tual. “Right away, you (could) tell that he was go­ing to work him­self up the ranks,” Ped­er­son said.

Some things to know: No-name sec­ondary: The Ea­gles have re­lied on back­ups and re­serves af­ter los­ing three-fourths of their start­ing sec­ondary to sea­son-end­ing in­juries. Sec­ond-year pro Ra­sul Dou- glas and rookie Avonte Mad­dox have stepped up at cor­ner­back since starters Ron­ald Darby and Jalen Mills went down.

Vet­eran Corey Gra­ham re­placed safety Rod­ney McLeod. Mad­dox even played safety when Gra­ham was out. Sec­ond-year pro Tre Sul­li­van also has filled in at safety and for­mer Bears de­fen­sive back Cre’Von LeBlanc has played nickel cor­ner­back with Sid­ney Jones out of the lineup. The group has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly the past month.

“They’ve both set­tled into those roles well and they’ve made enough plays for us to win five of our last six and get in,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz said of LeBlanc and Sul­li­van.

Dou­glas, who played just 10 snaps in the first five games, led the team with three in­ter­cep­tions. The an­chor in the sec­ondary is Mal­colm Jenk­ins, who played ev­ery de­fen­sive snap and an­other 136 on spe­cial teams.

On tar­get: Like Foles, Tru­bisky is on a roll .

The No. 2 over­all pick in the 2017 draft, he threw three in­ter­cep­tions in a 15-6 vic­tory over the Los An­ge­les Rams on Dec. 9 af­ter miss­ing the pre­vi­ous two games be­cause of a shoul­der in­jury. Since then, he’s been mak­ing all the right reads.

Tru­bisky has a 109.7 rat­ing the past three games, com­plet­ing 63 of 83 passes for 644 and three touch­downs with­out an in­ter­cep­tion.

Back­field by com­mit­tee: Af­ter re­ly­ing on un­drafted rookie Josh Adams for a bulk of the car­ries fol­low­ing sea­son-end­ing in­juries to Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, the Ea­gles are split­ting the ball car­ry­ing among Adams, vet­eran Dar­ren Spro­les and Wen­dell Small­wood. Adams ran 11 times for 50 yards last week. Small­wood was 12 for 53 and Spro­les had seven for 24.

Mov­ing on? Bears de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Vic Fan­gio in­sisted he was pre­par­ing only for the Ea­gles, not any head coach­ing in­ter­views.

“I’ve done zero on that sec­ond part,” he said.

The 60-year-old Fan­gio never has been a head coach. But he has in­ter­viewed for sev­eral open­ings, in­clud­ing the one that went to Nagy in Chicago.

In his four sea­sons with the Bears, Fan­gio has trans­formed a de­fense that ranked among the worst in team his­tory. The Mon­sters of the Mid­way led the NFL in rush­ing de­fense, take­aways (36) and in­ter­cep­tions (27) while ty­ing for third in sacks (50).

The turn­around: The Bears posted their best record since the 2006 team went 13-3 on the way to a Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance. Nagy won more games than any other rookie coach in fran­chise his­tory, af­ter John Fox led Chicago to a 14-34 record over the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons. The Bears also went 7-1 at home com­pared with 7-17 un­der Fox.


Philadel­phia coach Doug Ped­er­son saw his Ea­gles get hot, win­ning 5 of 6 down the stretch to make the play­offs and keep alive their dream of de­fend­ing their Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship.


Matt Nagy en­gi­neered a big turn­around in Chicago, lead­ing the Bears to the play­offs for the first time since 2010 af­ter four straight last-place fin­ishes.


Ea­gles cor­ner­back Avonte Mad­dox plays against the Min­nesota Vik­ings. Mad­dox has turned into a do-it-all de­fen­sive back in a sec­ondary dec­i­mated by in­juries

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