Haugh: Be thankful that one’s over, as Bears beat Lions to end losing streak and cap chaotic week they helped create

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(670 The Score) After the Lions won the coin flip Thursday at Ford Field, they chose to defer, so referee Adrian Hill naturally asked Bears game captain Christian Jones what he wanted to do.

Not paying attention, Jones answered: “Defer.”

Defer? DOH!

The referee quickly shook his head and told Jones he couldn’t defer, while the rest of America watching the Thanksgiving showcase snickered in our living rooms.

The Bears took the ball despite Jones’ gaffe but, honestly, struggled all game to find their focus.

It was that kind of day after one of those kind of weeks for a team in utter disarray.

Cairo Santos kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bears a badly needed 16-14 victory over the Lions, ending a five-game, 46-day losing streak that truly felt longer. There are 30 teams in the league that probably could’ve beaten the Bears under Thursday’s circumstances, but the NFL schedule mercifully sacrificed the winless Lions.

“What I care about are these players and coaches … they deserve this,’’ embattled coach Matt Nagy said. “When there’s distractions, it’s how you handle it. I can’t tell you how much this win means."

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The Bears won this game because somebody had to or, frankly, because the Lions tried harder to lose it. Detroit’s commitment to futility included penalties for having 12 men on the field during a PAT and taking back-to-back timeouts, a clinic in incompetence that helps explain how the Lions blew a fourth-quarter lead you just knew they would blow.

A dull game got interesting after the Lions took a late lead when Jared Goff hit wide-open tight end T.J. Hockenson on a corner route by the pylon for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 left in the third quarter. That made it 14-13, Lions. That drive was spurred by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jones – another disciplinary lapse by a Bears defensive player leading to points, imagine that.

But if the Bears made bad mistakes, the Lions were worse.

In the end, the difference came down to Andy Dalton, who led the Bears on an 18-play, 69-yard drive that ate the final 8 minutes, 30 seconds on the clock to set up Santos’ game-winning kick.

“To get down in that position was a testament to our guys’ no-quit attitude and a commitment to get it done,” said Dalton, who addressed the team at Nagy’s behest. “I just spoke from the heart. That’s all it was … talked about what we needed, in the moment."

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If Dalton’s words made a difference, this game had more eloquence than excellence.

The Bears and Lions arrived at Ford Field having combined for three victories and a tie. Not since 1987 had a Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit featured two teams that had combined for three wins or fewer, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Lions hadn’t beaten an opponent since last Dec. 6, when they beat the Bears. The Bears hadn’t won since Oct. 10, a seven-week span in which Chicago sports fans saw Tony La Russa win a game with the White Sox more recently than Nagy had with the Bears.

A classic, this wasn’t. Desperation was in the air for both teams at kickoff.

The Lions scored first in predictable fashion, picking on the cornerback opposite Jaylon Johnson. Past Bears opponents have found that a clear path to the end zone.

Veteran cornerback Artie Burns – starting for Kindle Vildor, whose breakdowns on the final drive helped the Ravens win last Sunday – got beat on a nifty double move by receiver Josh Reynolds for a 39-yard touchdown pass.

How interesting that the weeklong controversy surrounded the shaky future of Nagy, the head coach, yet the Lions exploited the cornerback issue created by Ryan Pace, the general manager. Pace’s mismanagement of Kyle Fuller’s contract situation, which created a gaping hole on the depth chart when the Bears released Fuller last offseason, raises questions about Pace every bit as valid as the ones about Nagy.

They should be a package deal, their futures aligned as tightly as their shared philosophies. An organization that brags about collaboration between their top two football guys can't execute separation when deciding their futures.

Under increased pressure, Nagy enjoyed a better day on the sideline. The most memorable example came when he showed shrewd judgment in challenging a call that resulted in Goff fumbling when Trevis Gipson jarred the ball loose on a Robert Quinn sack – his 11th of the season. The takeaway gave the Bears the ball at the Lions’ 39 with 2:23 left in the first half – a golden opportunity that was squandered when Dalton inexcusably threw a pick in the end zone to cornerback Amani Oruwariye.

But overall, Dalton made more good throws than bad ones and put the Bears in a position to win. He provided the professional effort the league has come to expect from the 34-year-old veteran, more solid than spectacular and good enough to win. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 317 yards, one touchdown and one interception and an 85.1 passer rating. Once again, Dalton supplied the definition of serviceable.

Running the offense efficiently, Dalton mixed in an explosive play when he hit Darnell Mooney deep for a 52-yard pass down the middle of the field. That set up a 17-yard dart to Jimmy Graham for a touchdown one play later.

Bears rookie starter Justin Fields watched from the sideline, nursing sore ribs. An NFL Network report revealed that Fields cracked ribs against the Ravens, so the Bears should be in no hurry to rush him back onto the field. Whenever Fields is ready – Pace told WBBM-AM pregame it was a “day to day thing” – he should return as the No. 1 quarterback regardless of how well Dalton plays.

Nothing the Bears see on the videotape should change the big-picture emphasis on Fields’ development and the direction of the franchise, which came into question over the course of a chaotic, confusing 72-hour period.

Put another way, the Bears were spinning out of control by the time they got to the Motor City.

On and off the record, the Bears pushed back to refute a story by Patch.com writer Mark Konkol on Tuesday that Nagy had been informed Thursday would be his last game. Nagy sounded shaky and unsure about the future himself in a team meeting Tuesday after which he canceled other meetings, according to a report from Brad Biggs of the Tribune, inviting more speculation. The media feeding frenzy even included longtime NFL reporter and 670 The Score contributor Hub Arkush reporting that chairman George McCaskey ordered Nagy to start Fields earlier in the season.

Plenty of time will continue to be devoted to refuting reports, questioning sources and parsing statements, but the bottom line remains pretty clear from this vantage point: Change is coming at Halas Hall, again. Everything else is moot. The longer Nagy rambled postgame about his support system or his predicament, the more that became clear.

Keep in mind that the most consistent aspect about the Bears since George McCaskey took over as chairman in 2011 has been change. The stability McCaskey sought when taking over has eluded the Bears in his tenure for a variety of reasons, but everything starts at the top.

If you’re looking for a common thread that connects the futility throughout the past decade, you will find it in McCaskey, a former ticket executive about to be on his fifth head coach and fourth general manager as chairman. McCaskey prides himself as a man of the people, but the Bears need an exceptional leader fueled by ambition, not emotion. Somebody with extraordinary leadership ability, not ordinary. They need to hire a president of football operations to chart a smart course so everyone in Chicago can be impressed by the Bears instead of embarrassed.

McCaskey reportedly addressed the team Wednesday before boarding the flight to Detroit to assure players there was no truth to the report about Nagy's firing, but that was too little, too late. That meeting suggested that the Bears were changing their story as it went along, reacting to reactions more than clarifying their mission.

The time to tell the team or issue a statement was 24 hours earlier, strongly and simply. The Bears always are the last to know and act. Their biggest rival isn’t the Packers as much as transparency. Internally, they claim they can’t respond to every report, but that stance fails to acknowledge how the new media world operates or to recognize how quickly Konkol’s story spread nationally because its author was a former Pulitzer Prize winner.

How does an organization that employs an entire social media department completely disregard a headline that has its coach trending on Twitter? Do the Bears realize players like second-year tight end Cole Kmet admitted how the rumors complicated their preparation?

“It was difficult for me," Kmet said.

The distraction Kmet overcame and Nagy referenced postgame was one the Bears exacerbated by the way they mismanaged the crisis. The failure to react and respond, the breakdown in leadership, creates a trickle-down effect that starts with McCaskey but affects Pace and Nagy – and eventually impacts the product on the field.

No matter what was said when or by whom during a tumultuous week, nothing obfuscated anyone from seeing a clear need for seismic change for the Bears organization. If the perception was bad, the reality remains even worse.

This week only reinforced it seems a matter of when that metamorphosis begins, not if.

Even after the Bears’ first victory in 46 days, it can’t start soon enough.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show from 5-9 a.m. weekdays on 670 The Score. Click here to listen. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh.