Challenging second-half schedule will test Bears’ will as much as their skill

Bears coach Matt Nagy is counting on his offense to be better in the second half of the season than it was in the first. He expects it.

“I don’t have that concern [about leveling off or regressing],” Nagy said. “I think that’s part of the fun of coaching is being able to scout yourself and see where you are at — what you can do better; if you’re doing something well, stick to it [and] maybe figure different ways to do it.

“I’m not concerned about that. I feel for us, being in the newer stages of this offense, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most is really seeing how we can improve from now, or from the start of the year until the end.”

It’ll be interesting to see how that pans out. Nagy already is in the running for NFL Coach of the Year with a strong first half that has the Bears 5-3 and leading the NFC North. But finishing stronger than he started will be the real test.

Installing an offense and taking reins of an NFL team as a rookie head coach is an arduous, meticulous task. But the second half of an NFL season presents arguably even bigger challenges: the wear-and-tear of a 16-game season; potentially bad weather at Soldier Field; five “four-point” division games, including home-and-home vs. the Vikings; and this year, three games in a 12-day span later this month, with the Bears traveling to Ford Field to play the Lions on Thanksgiving Day — 85 hours after playing the Vikings on Sunday Night Football at Soldier Field.

That’s the kind of grind that separates playoff teams from also-rans. The first half of the season proved that Nagy could get the Bears back on their feet. The second half will prove if he’s developing the mental toughness that puts contenders over the top and sustained success. Teams like the Patriots and players like Aaron Rodgers will their way to victory as much as they beat you physically. They don’t just accept the challenges that come their way. They embrace them.

“It can either take your season where you want it to go or it can take you the opposite way,” Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “I’ve seen teams crumble under schedules like that. And I’ve seen teams have a winning streak when they come out of a busy schedule like that.”

Physically, many Bears players feel they are ready for three games in the next 12 days, and they trust Nagy to get them through it. “I think Nagy has a great hold on what he thinks our team needs in order for us to get through this period,” Hicks said.

But there’s a mental-toughness component that some players have and some don’t. “Hopefully I’m dealing out more ass-whippings than I’m getting,” Hicks said. “But you’re going to get beat us as a defensive/offensive lineman and you’re just going to have to find the extra gear and dig in there and drive a little bit more. There might not be anything in there, but you better look in there and try to find it.”

And after that Thanksgiving Day game, the Bears still have five games to play — including games against the Rams, Packers and Vikings.

“I would think Nagy would want us to be tougher than where we are,” Amukamara said. “He wants to build a tough team. I think that’s what he’s doing. Training camp, a lot of the older guys, and even guys coming from Georgia and Alabama programs were saying this is one of the toughest camps they’ve ever been a part of. And now it makes the season a lot easier, [it’s] made practice a lot easier.”

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