Bobby Massie

Blowout win over Cincinnati turns on the light at the end of the tunnel for Bears’ young core

Blowout win over Cincinnati turns on the light at the end of the tunnel for Bears’ young core

CINCINNATI — If the Bears pull off a Los Angeles Rams-esque turnaround in 2018, their future offensive success might look a little like what went down in Sunday’s 33-7 thrashing of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Mitchell Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over while operating more aggressive offensive gameplan. Jordan Howard rumbled for 147 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns, and Tarik Cohen provided a spark with 80 yards on 12 carries. Adam Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards and reeled in a touchdown. The Bears’ offensive line, despite a rash of first-half penalties, largely kept Trubisky upright and paved the way for Howard and Cohen to account for more rushing yards (227) than team had total offensive yards a week ago (147).  

“What’s been frustrating for me and the coaches is that a lot of us have had our day in the sun, but to see young guys come in and work hard and not reap those benefits,” coach John Fox said. “I thought Mitch Trubisky played very well last week. When you don’t experience the end result that’s a W, it’s hard to put much into that. I’ve seen him grow every week he’s been out there since all the way back to Minnesota. It’s just kind of nice to see some of those young guys experience the benefits of all the hard work.”

Kendall Wright, who’s due to hit free agency, had a massive game (11 targets, 10 catches, 107 yards) and said he won’t focus on where he’ll wind up signing until after the season. But he did add: “If they want me, I’m here. I’m cool with it.”

The Bears’ exact blueprint on Sunday won’t necessarily be easy to follow in 2018, let alone these last three games, given the Bengals’ defense was 1) missing a number of key players, like linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and 2) didn’t appear to give a very good effort. But more important than Howard bludgeoning the Bengals into submission over the course of a lackluster afternoon was the Bears, for the first time in 2017, scoring a touchdown on their first offensive possession.

“That was big for us,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “It was just a confidence thing. We’re capable of doing it, we just got to do it.”

The Bears’ gameplan from that point on felt more aggressive, with Trubisky slinging passes toward nine different teammates while looking comfortable going through his progressions in the pocket. This was a far cry from what the Bears did after getting an early lead against the Carolina Panthers back in October, with Trubisky taking a bunch of sacks and barely throwing the ball in an uninspiring offensive performance.  

The Bears jumped ahead Sunday and, instead of conservatively trying to protect the lead, aggressively tried to grow it. The result was the franchise’s biggest margin of victory in half a decade.

“Everybody wanted the ball,” Trubisky said. “The linemen wanted the ball to run behind them, the receivers wanted the ball in their eyes, and the running backs wanted (to run). When everybody has that hunger, that desire to want to go out and execute the next play, it makes it fun on offense.”

Perhaps the biggest question about Sunday’s game is where this gameplan was all season. But getting in the end zone on that first drive not only boosted the confidence of the players, it could’ve boosted the confidence of Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to open things up.

“(We were) making some of those plays that we maybe didn’t make earlier in the year,” Wright said. “But when you’re making those plays and having fun, it makes it easier for Mitch to find whoever, it makes it easier for Dowell to call whatever plays he wants.”

The story of the 2017 season, though, was written before Sunday’s win ended a five-game losing streak that included duds against the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. All the Bears can do in these final weeks of the season is work to build a foundation for 2018, and that starts with validating that the work they’ve put in this year hasn’t been for nothing.

For Trubisky, it’s not necessarily about personal validation — he’s been confident in his growth even without the wins to back it up. But for the Bears’ young core that played so well on Sunday, it counts for something right now — and may count for something next fall.

“(The losing streak) felt like s***,” Massie said. “You’re getting your ass kicked all the time — it doesn’t feel good to lose. All the work we put in, we deserve this win. We came out, did what we were supposed to do and we got it.”

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

The Bears are hurtling toward another last-place finish in the NFC North, and Mitchell Trubisky is 2-4 as the team’s starting quarterback after Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. But talk to any of Trubisky’s teammates and it's clear they believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for this team, and it’s because of the bright future their quarterback has.

“He’s still young right now, a little green,” offensive lineman Bobby Massie said. "But he’s getting better every week, man.”

Explained fellow offensive lineman Kyle Long: “Just his poise and sense of urgency, at the end of the game to have the wherewithal to make the throws he’s making. Obviously it’s not all perfect — he’s a young quarterback in this league — but he has the confidence and trust of the guys around him. And that’s a rare thing in this league to have.”

Massie, like Long, also used the word “rare” in describing Trubisky, a guy who’s only started 20 games since leaving Mentor High School in 2013 (13 games at North Carolina, one in the preseason and six in the regular season). Massie, Long and the rest of the Bears’ locker room know how good Trubisky can be — or maybe, the way they’re thinking, will be — despite some uneven games this year.

The flashes of what the No. 2 overall pick can do keep on showing up, like that 18-yard jump pass to Kendall Wright that set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens, or his instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 on Sunday that set up a game-tying 46-yard field-goal attempt that Barth missed.

“That’s his mentality — y’all got to see his mentality,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “That situation, fourth and 13, he’s not going down, not taking a sack, not throwing the ball away — he’s going to find a way to make a play, and he’s going to lead us to where we need to be.”

On the other hand, there were still some missed throws and reads for Trubisky (like not connecting with Benny Cunningham on a check-down five yards from the end zone in the first quarter) that serve as a reminder of his greenhorn status.

But it’s what Trubisky has done before and after those highlight or lowlight-reel plays that’s building a groundswell of confidence in him among his teammates.

The Bears got the ball on their own 17-yard line with 91 seconds left in the fourth quarter needing a field goal to tie the Lions on Sunday. When Trubisky entered the huddle, he was calm and confident — same as he was in the first quarter of the game, when the stakes weren't so high.

“He came to huddle and told everybody, 'Calm down, we’re going to win this game,'" wide receiver Dontrelle Inman said. “And that’s what the greats do. There’s no up and down with the emotional level when it comes time to actually go win the game. That’s a plus for him.

“He’s a competitor, and you see it week in and week out. He’s never going to give up. That’s the quarterback you want to be with you and throwing you the ball.”

That Trubisky’s teammates have so much confidence in him — despite the Bears’ 3-7 record — is a significant positive for his long-term development (that he’s only thrown one interception in his last 120 pass attempts is another positive). On Sunday, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains seemed to have more confidence in Trubisky, too, with the pair opening up the playbook and leading to the Bears having their best offensive game of the season.

That trust might not lead to a lot of wins this year. It might not be enough to keep the current coaching staff in place. But the way Trubisky’s teammates talk about him, they don’t see any hurdles the rookie can’t clear on his way to becoming a legit franchise quarterback.

“It’s rare and it’s the start of something special that we get to see,” Massie said. “Hopefully — I can’t predict the f***ing future — but from this point on, it looks like he’s going to be a special player.”

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

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USA TODAY

Without much room for error, the Bears need to stop being penalized so frequently

The Bears committed nine penalties (eight of which were officially assessed, since one was offsetting) against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. This isn’t a new trend: The Bears were flagged eight times against the Green Bay Packers, 10 times against the Pittsburgh Steelers, eight times against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four times against the Atlanta Falcons. 

So since Week 1, this has been a problem. Given the Bears’ offense gets easily bogged down when it’s behind the chains and the defense doesn’t have a penchant for takeaways, almost every one of these penalties has hurt. 

Against Minnesota, here’s the breakdown:

No. 1: Holding on center Cody Whitehair. The penalty wiped out Tre McBride’s 26-yard reception, which would’ve moved the Bears inside the 10-yard line. Instead, the Bears were moved from the Vikings’ 35 to 45-yard line and ran a screen to Benny Cunningham on third and 20. Pat O’Donnell then punted. 

No. 2: Delay of game on Mitchell Trubisky. This was less on the quarterback and more on the coaching staff — John Fox tried to confuse the Vikings by faking sending his punt unit out, then the offense on fourth and 2. But Trubisky got to the huddle with about 12 seconds on the play clock and couldn’t get a snap off on time. While the play may have worked — Josh Bellamy was uncovered — Trubisky didn’t have enough time to get the snap off. 

No. 3: Holding on Markus Wheaton. The call may have been questionable, but it wiped out what would’ve been a Jordan Howard 42-yard touchdown run. The Bears instead were faced with a first-and-17. 

No. 4: Offensive pass interference on McBride. This was on the very next play and was by far the most questionable penalty assessed on the Bears, with McBride ostensibly being flagged for making contact with cornerback Terence Newman’s face mask. “I went and looked at the film and I couldn’t really see what triggered the call but that’s above my pay grade,” McBride said. “I just gotta roll with the punches on that.” Worth noting: Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd did something similar to cornerback Kyle Fuller later in the game and wasn’t penalized. Either way, it put Trubisky in a first and 27 spot at his own 41-yard line. 

No. 5: False start on Charles Leno Jr. This came after Trubisky found Dion Sims for a 17-yard gain following the McBride penalty and backed the Bears up from the Vikings’ 42 to 47-yard line. 

No. 6: False start on Bobby Massie. The Bears went from second and 8 to second and 13 deep in their own territory, and while they picked up a first down thanks to a Minnesota penalty, they still had to punt. 

No. 7: Holding on Josh Sitton. This offset a Jaleel Johnson facemask and re-played a second and 7 down. The Bears went three-and-out. 

No. 8: 12 men on the field on Eddie Goldman. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum astutely snapped the ball as Goldman was chugging off the field. 

No. 9: Holding on Leonard Floyd. This allowed Minnesota to extend the drive that led to their game-winning field goal, but it was questionable at best. When asked what got in the way of Floyd on the flag, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said: “The officiating.”

The first six of these penalties — all on the offense — came in the first half. The holding flags on Whitehair and Wheaton kept the Bears out of the red zone and end zone, and every one of the first-half flags put the Bears’ offense in a difficult situation. 

“That puts us in passing situations and makes it a bit more complicated for Mitch,” Massie said. “But just don’t do it and we won’t have the problem.”

The Bears held a meeting on Wednesday addressing this concerning penchant for penalties, but there isn’t necessarily a way for the players to fix those problems outside of maintaining better focus in practice and games. 

“You can’t do anything different aside from dial into what you’re doing better individually,” tight end Zach Miller said. “There’s no way to drill that aside from do it right.”

Teams penalized as much as the Bears routinely are slapped with an “undisciplined” label, which doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. The players can talk about renewing their focus during practice, but it’s also on the coaching staff to figure out a solution. 

“I think a lot of it is in preparation,” Fox said. “It’s making sure we don’t have that occur in practice. It’s not like we haven’t emphasized it. Some of the same things I talked about last week popped up again, so we just continue to work at it. 

"In some cases we change people. In some cases we change how we practice. So you’re always looking to try to get that."

It’s an issue that has to be fixed, though, as long as this team struggles to overcome penalties. Fox pointed out the Vikings were penalized more than the Bears on Monday night, but “they overcame it a little bit better than we did.” That trend is likely to continue so long as the Bears continue to commit penalties. 

“No game will ever be completely perfect,” Massie said. “There’ll always be something. That’s just something that’s stood out multiple times in multiple games. It’s just something we gotta clean up.”