There was one play Allen Robinson made last weekend against the New York Giants that signaled to Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey the 25-year-old was, truly, “back” from the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season.
It wasn’t the one you might be thinking of, if that’s the spectacular David Tyree impression that was a “Sportscenter” Top 10 play. It’s the gritty, tough route he ran on fourth-and-seven in overtime, catching a Chase Daniel pass to convert a game-saving first down, and giving perhaps his most emphatic celebration of the season afterwards (Robinson knowingly chuckled when presented with that thought).
“(To) make that big fourth down catch — I would say he’s back to doing what he can do,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “And obviously he’s shown that over the last couple of weeks.
“… I think he’s starting to get more comfortable in our offense, he’s starting to understand the why, how to get open, where to get open. And the quarterbacks are starting to really rely on him. Make plays like that, and the catch that he made on the sideline, that definitely set the tone of you can throw me the ball.”
As the Bears aim to secure their first NFC North title — and playoff appearance — in eight years over the season’s final four games, this team feels like Robinson is coming into his own at the right time. Coach Matt Nagy said he’s feeling more comfortable with what plays he can call for Robinson, and in turn, Robinson has been more demanding in certain situations.
“There's been a couple times when he's said to me on the field, 'hey give me this.' And the very next play I give it to him, and so I love that,” Nagy said. “Give that to me. When players are feeling that way and they want something I want to know, and we weren't doing that the first couple of weeks. Now we're getting to that part."
Since returning from a groin injury in Week 9, Robinson has been targeted 28 times, with 16 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns — not necessarily standout numbers, but fitting with the Bears’ spread-the-ball-around approach on offense.
But those numbers aren’t totally off what he averaged on a per-game basis while being the Jacksonville Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver in 2015 and 2016 (nine targets, five catches and 71 yards). While he’s not the Bears’ No. 1 receiver this year — so far, that’s Tarik Cohen — he hasn’t had an issue with how he’s been used.
“It’s not tough at all,” Robinson said. “I came here to win games. That’s the biggest thing. I’m trying to do my part to be able to help us do it. We have a lot of selfless guys on this offense and winning takes a selfless effort from each and everybody.
“A big thing for me wanting to come here, I knew this was an offensive scheme and it’s a real offense, not just float the ball to one person or whatever like that. But I knew I had the chance to make my plays so whenever my number is called, I try to do that. But again, it’s translating to wins and that’s the most important thing.”
Sunday night’s matchup against the Los Angeles Rams — who just got Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib back last week — will be another test for Robinson. But this is also part of why Robinson signed with the Bears: His opportunity to play in a playoff race was taken away from him a year ago when he tore his ACL in Week 1 of the Jaguars’ eventual push to an AFC South title.
While Robinson was around the Jaguars for that playoff run, this December represents the first time in his career he’ll be able to make big plays down the stretch for a team pushing for a postseason berth. And the Bears are confident the guy they gave a three-year, $42 million contract can deliver when it counts this month.
“He’s always wanted to be in this role,” Furrey said. “He wants that role. When you want that role, you obviously have a great understanding of what that role is instead of just hoping that you have that role.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears and stream the ‘Football Aftershow’ easily on your device.