Cole Kmet had to turn off his phone this week.
Enough thoughts already were racing through the Chicago Bears tight end’s head as he tried to prepare for Thursday’s game against the Detroit Lions on a short week while also sifting through a blizzard of rumors about coach Matt Nagy’s job status.
He didn’t need to add questions from his friends and family to the mix, as much as the Chicago-area native might understand the craving for info about a bizarre week in Lake Forest.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s tough,” Kmet said of the Bears’ week. “You don’t know what’s true, what’s not. Then you see things that are true because you were there for them, and you wonder how those things get out.
“So there’s a lot of confusion in that sense. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to just block it out and go play football.”
Bears players focused well enough to eke out a 16-14 victory over the 0-10-1 Lions on Cairo Santos’ 28-yard field goal as time expired, prompting quarterback Andy Dalton to use the words “some relief” as the first way to describe the feeling in the Bears locker room after the game.
Bears players obviously were aware that a victory over a Lions team that hasn’t won since beating the Bears on Dec. 6, 2020, at Soldier Field wasn’t cause for a massive celebration. But after a weird few days wondering about Nagy’s job — not to mention a five-game losing streak — they had gratitude for the Thanksgiving win.
“You can slightly relax — I mean, not relax — but I guess you can enjoy the win before we get to next week,” outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. “So for the brief moment we’re going to enjoy it and Lord willing get back to our families safely and enjoy Thanksgiving, and I have I guess a better feeling with a win than versus a loss.”
Top Bears leaders were at least partially responsible for the distractions to the players after a Patch.com report Tuesday said the Bears were going to fire Nagy after the game against the Lions.
Nagy denied to the media he had been told he would be fired, as the report stated. But Bears Chairman George McCaskey and President and CEO Ted Phillips never issued a statement to refute the report, leaving speculation swirling.
Though Nagy spoke with his team Tuesday, the silence from McCaskey and Phillips left players at least partially in the dark about what was happening until McCaskey met with the team a day later to tell them the report wasn’t true. Kmet said McCaskey’s speech at least helped clear his head.
“Which is obviously a spot you need to be in before playing a football game,” he said, “because things get dangerous out there if guys aren’t clear-minded and knowing what they’re doing out there.”
The turmoil might not have bothered all of the players.
Wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who had five catches for 123 yards, said he was more locked in on improving on what he felt was a poor performance against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Dalton, who stepped in for the injured Justin Fields and threw for 317 yards with a touchdown and an interception, had been through a coach’s job status rumors before in Cincinnati with Marvin Lewis, so he understands how to focus through such things.
But it still was an extra issue they had to work through this week.
Kmet said the Bears held a meeting Wednesday night in which the players “hunkered down” to get themselves in a good mindset to play a game.
Dalton was among the speakers, per Nagy’s request, and Mooney said Dalton preached about getting their swag back, letting loose and not stressing out as they entered the game.
“The most important thing is the guys in the locker room staying together through it all,” Dalton said. “Regardless of what’s being reported, regardless of what’s going on on the outside and stuff, there’s still a lot of season left, and for us, the focus is on winning games.
“That’s the biggest thing for us is just doing everything we can to put our best foot forward and to make the most of the next one. And that was today, and we did that.”
The Bears have six more games to play, starting with back-to-back games against the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals and 8-3 Green Bay Packers.
They will have to put together a better game in all phases if they’re going to go on a winning streak. And even if they do, the buzz around the job status of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace will continue.
The Bears defense got a fourth-quarter stop — with the help of some Lions penalties. The offense put together an 8-minute, 30-second drive to close out the game — with the help of a Lions penalty. Santos came through with the winning field goal after missing a 53-yarder earlier in the game. And the players came out talking about the support they wanted to show their teammates.
That was enough after a trying week, and the reward is what they hope will be a quieter Thanksgiving weekend.
“There’s a joy in that locker room, and they’re allowed to have that,” Nagy said. “They’re going to have a great Thanksgiving today because they earned it and they fought like hell.
“They told me what they were going to do and they did it. How cool is that?”