The Bears’ 48-10 immolation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday was not a complete surprise, at least not to those inside a Bears locker room who knew what they had bubbling just below an otherwise quiet surface.
“We’ve never been that far [away],” said wide receiver Allen Robinson. “We’ve known that. It wasn’t some miraculous thing that happened… . We knew that we were really due for a pretty good offensive performance.”
Pretty good. Yes, this was “pretty good.”
It was only one game, but it was the exactly, unequivocally, the game an organization wanted to see out of its franchise quarterback and first-year head coach, one who was hired in large measure because of roots on the offensive side of the football.
With Mitchell Trubisky becoming the first Bears quarterback since Johnny Lujack in 1949 to throw five touchdown passes in a half, and for good measure, spreading them among five different receivers as part of a 38-point first-half eruption, the offense of coach Matt Nagy rocked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 48 points and 483 yards in a 48-10 win authored by the offense instead of the defense.
“I give it to [coach] Nagy, man,” said wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. “The different plays. The schemes. We kind of schemed them up throughout the week and we worked on it a lot throughout the week and hoping those plays came open and they did.”
The game was marked by five different players posting plays of 20 yards or longer, including Trubisky with a 26-yard run in the first half. For the first time since Dec. 2016 the Bears had two receivers with 100-plus yards (Tarik Cohen, 121 yards on 7 receptions; Gabriel, 104 yards on 7 receptions). The game marked the first 100-yard performance in Gabriel’s five NFL seasons.
A troubled red-zone offense that had scored touchdowns on just four of its 10 possessions inside opponents’ 20’s, scored touchdowns on all four of its possessions inside the Tampa Bay 20, plus a fifth from the Buccaneers’ 20 on a pass to little-used wideout Josh Bellamy.
The combined yardage topped the 482 last season against the Cincinnati Bengals and was the biggest output since the 522 put up in a 2016 loss at Indianapolis to the Colts. The points production was the most since 51 scored against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 4, 2012.
“We are trying to figure out who we are every day that goes by,” Nagy said. “And so when we're in the [game] situation, that's our test, and in practice, just kind of understanding here -- and these different plays and concepts.
“So today was one of those games where everything was clicking, and the players were just…. you could just tell how focused they were at execution and making sure that they did the right things when the plays were called.”
That it all came against one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL (363 average passing yards allowed by the Buccaneers coming into Soldier Field). But 48 points against any NFL team is an accomplishment and represents a hoped-for exponential leap by an offense that had struggled frequently through its first three games operating the Nagy concepts.
Those “concepts” on Sunday included a snap with backup Chase Daniel standing alongside Trubisky, both quarterbacks with outstretched hands to take a shotgun snap – a formation Nagy dubbed “Willie Wonka.” Trubisky did take that snap and flipped a shovel pass to Gabriel, who completed the three-yard scoring play in the second quarter for a 35-3 halftime lead.
The game was the fourth straight with increasing passing output by Trubisky, beginning with 171 at Green Bay, 200 against Seattle, 220 last week in the win over Arizona, and a career-high 354 on Sunday. His six TD passes were one shy of his 12-game total for 2017 and pushed his season total to eight.
Quality, not just quantity
Not insignificantly for an offense that is predicated on myriad moving points, the Bears committed zero turnovers for the first time this season.
It wasn’t so much the quantity of points, completions or anything else from the offense. It was the generally improved Trubisky accuracy on pressure throws, a comfort level that the second-year quarterback had not exhibited to his or his coaches’ satisfaction through the three previous games. His 154.6 passer rating was the highest of his career and vaulted his season rating to 101.6, with a completion percentage now up to 70.0 and his interception rate dropping to 2.3 percent.
Maybe the answer lies in some iteration of less-is-more. Coaches reduced the number of different plays last week, and whether directly because of the truncated play list or simply a case of increased comfort with more growing experience, Trubisky was a perceptibly more confident quarterback.
And an accurate one. Trubisky threw Robinson open, lofting the ball as Robinson made his break back toward the corner of the end zone. Very notably, the football was precisely where either Robinson or no one could reach it, which Robinson did to complete the 14-yard scoring play.
“We just wanted to figure out schematically, are we doing what's best for this offense?” Nagy said. “And not even necessarily for Mitch. We know what he can and can't handle. So it's just really collectively as a team, and then we want to discuss with him -- we did at the beginning of the week, some concepts that he likes, what fits for him. So we still had quite a bit on his plate. We had a lot leftover on that call sheet today, even with our production that we had.”
If there was one element missing it was impact rushing from Jordan Howard, who finished with 25 yards on 11 carries, his lowest totals of each this season. But the offense netted 139 rushing yards, with Cohen and Trubisky each picking up 53 yards. Cohen, Gabriel, Howard and Trubisky all had carries of 10 yards or longer.
Resuming a positive pattern under Nagy, the opening touchdown was the third time in four games that the possession went as scripted, literally. The 75-yard drive culminated in the longest TD pass of Trubisky’s now 16-game NFL career, a 39-yard toss dropped into a gap in the Tampa Bay defense.