Hearts raced around Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night as reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes scrambled 10 yards in the Chiefs' first of four meaningless exhibition games.
Mahomes wisely slid near the goal line rather than risk a collision and smiled at coach Andy Reid after getting up. Reid chuckled nervously postgame saying that near-miss told him it was time to pull Mahomes. But everybody understood it would have been no laughing matter had the Chiefs quarterback sustained even the slightest of injuries.
Back in Chicago, that cued a debate over how Reid's surprising decision to play Mahomes affects Bears coach Matt Nagy's approach with quarterback Mitch Trubisky heading into Friday's second exhibition game against the Giants. A Reid disciple, Nagy did everything after his arrival but stock the Halas Hall cafeteria with Gates Bar-B-Q sauce in copying the Kansas City way.
But after Trubisky handed off three times on the first series in the Bears' exhibition opener against the Panthers, Nagy sounded fine with the idea of his starting quarterback not throwing a pass until the regular season starts in September.
Whatever Nagy decides about Trubisky's workload — or anything else about the preseason, for that matter — he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Winning more games in his first season than any Bears coach in history earned him the right to handle the next few weeks the way he wishes.
That wasn't the case last year when an unproven Nagy sat an unproven Trubisky and other regulars in the exhibition game traditionally treated as the final dress rehearsal.
But it is now, with Trubisky immersed in Nagy's offense and the Bears a legitimate Super Bowl contender if key players stay healthy.
Nagy not only changed the culture at Halas Hall — he altered the atmosphere all over town. As the record crowds in Bourbonnais illustrated, skepticism didn't show up this season for the first time in years. Reports about the Bears focus on chemistry more than controversy and, beyond the comedic kicker situation, genuine football issues center around minor needs such as backup offensive linemen and tight end depth.
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When Nagy kidded Sunday that he could get in the face of his players without fear of alienating any because "we don't have turds on this team," it was as funny as it was true. When general manager Ryan Pace took over in 2015, the three most accomplished offensive players — Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett — also were the hardest to handle. That's no longer the case. Pace restocked the roster with talent and character, acquiring and drafting guys with small egos and big appetites for winning, guys who still like being coached.
So if Nagy wants to sit Trubisky or saw enough of rookie running back David Montgomery in his debut against the Panthers to hold him out of the remaining three exhibition games, great. If Nagy believes the best way to make tight end Trey Burton a factor for all 16 games involves giving his sports hernia as long as possible to fully heal, terrific. In addressing the preseason plans, Nagy talked about "protecting" the players. It sounded safe but sensible, which the Bears can afford to be in Nagy's second season.
More urgency surrounds Pace's approach the next three weeks than Nagy's. Neither Elliott Fry nor Eddy Pineiro — why did the Bears trade for a kicker who never has kicked in sub-40-degree temperatures? — has distinguished himself enough to remove doubt. Pace's pursuit of Ravens backup kicker Kaare Vedvik confirmed those doubts. The Vikings beat the Bears to the punch by trading the Ravens a fifth-round draft pick for Vedvik. Any other backups worth pursuing? Joey Slye of the Panthers? Cole Hedlund of the Colts?
The onus falls on Pace to answer the only real persistent question of preseason. Nagy's priority remains getting this Bears team in the best condition possible, physically and mentally, for the Packers on Opening Night.
Adjust accordingly. The Bears aren't a young, developing team. They are a championship-caliber roster planning for a 19-game journey.
Sit the entire No. 1 offense the rest of preseason. Nothing those players encounter against the Giants, Colts or Titans the next three irrelevant games will prepare them for the next four important months more than practicing against the No. 1 Bears defense. This isn't 1978, 1998 or even 2018. You don't have to like it to accept it. Only two dates should be circled in the Bears locker room: Sept. 5 and Feb. 2, 2020.
The Bears have the NFL's top defensive unit, which will allow them to play field-position football. They have one of the league's brightest young coaches. They have a promising quarterback who has enough weapons and an overpowering offensive line to win meaningful games. They have explosive Pro Bowl-caliber returners.
The Bears have all the elements to make 2019 a special season. That means Nagy must do whatever he can to bar injuries.