Bears

First and Final Thoughts: The Bears season is hanging by a thread

First and Final Thoughts: The Bears season is hanging by a thread

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 10

Cam Ellis: The Bears held serve on Sunday, which is not especially worth writing home about but still important nonetheless. Losing Danny Trevathan is so brutal, even if Nick Kwiatkoski is a starting-caliber linebacker. Akiem Hicks' personality sort of gravitates him towards leadership on a larger level, but Trevathan was clearly the anchor of the defense when they played on Sunday. Chuck Pagano's got his hands full trying to scheme up a defense without two of their best players in the front seven.  

J.J. Stankevitz: It’s been a weird week in that there hasn’t been much positivity around Chicago after the Bears’ four-game losing streak came to an end, but that’s what happens when you score 20 points against a defense that has allowed 27 points per game before last weekend. The Bears’ offense did that thing where it scores in quick succession against a bad defense, then retreats the rest of the game (as was the case in Week 3 against Washington). So it makes sense that there haven’t been a lot of positive vibes around the Bears — though inside Halas Hall, just getting a win was exactly what this team needed. Because...

First Thoughts on Week 11

Stankevitz: ... The Bears kind of still have a shot at making their 100th season a memorable one. It’s incredibly slim — less than 5 percent, per Football Outsiders — but going into Los Angeles and beating the Rams on Sunday Night Football could be a legitimate spark for the Bears. Forget that the Rams are struggling and that Jason Mendoza, er, Sean McVay intentionally put Blake Bortles in for a few plays in their loss to the Steelers. They’re still the defending NFC Champions and the game is still in primetime, and the Bears would be 5-5 with the Giants and Lions on deck after. So while there was little to be inspired about with the Bears’ win against Detroit last weekend, it’d be a lot easier to talk yourself into this team truly being “in the hunt” for the playoffs if they pull off a win in California. 

Ellis: It's already Week 11! Time flies when you're underachieving during a title window. I actually do think the Bears' season gets interesting if they're able to come out of LA with a win, and given how the Rams have looked since losing in the Super Bowl last season, that's not the monumental task it felt like a calendar year ago. It feels silly to think that the Bears are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, but the NFL is weird – the Titans beat Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs last week. The NFC is the stronger conference, but maybe some of that parity actually helps the Bears? Or maybe another loss and this article just never gets optimistic ever again. 

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Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

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USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Piñeiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker has stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Piñeiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“It feels great,” Piñeiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field is, even in nice conditions. The Bears have always loved Piñeiro’s response to adversity and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Piñeiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Piñeiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

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Bears QB Mitch Trubisky dominated the Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky dominated the Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Mitch Trubisky looked like a quarterback who was selected second overall in the NFL draft with his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday night's 31-24 win. In fact, he's looked every bit the part over the last four weeks, but Week 14 showcased the complete skill set that made Trubisky the first quarterback drafted in 2017.

Against a Cowboys defense that was ranked as a top-10 unit coming into the game, Trubisky threw for 244 yards, ran for 63 yards and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He threw the ball with conviction and completed passes that an average quarterback never could have. His eight-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson with 10 seconds remaining in the first half was special. Despite blanket coverage by Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith, Trubisky put the ball where only Robinson could catch it. It was a heater, too. 

Trubisky had more than one throw like that Thursday night. His first touchdown to Robinson came earlier in the second quarter with 12:18 remaining in the half. This time it was Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones in coverage, and he didn't stand a chance despite being in position to make the play. There was no way to defend against the accuracy of Trubisky's five-yard strike.

But what really made Trubisky's game a signature performance was his running. He regained the form that made him such an exciting player in 2018 and a guy who had a sleeper MVP candidacy in the preseason.

Last season, Trubisky ran the ball 68 times for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His legs kept opposing defenses honest and opened easier throws for his arm. Prior to Thursday night's win, Trubisky had only run the ball 26 times for 80 yards in 2019. He upped his carry total by nearly 40% (10 rushes against the Cowboys) and nearly doubled his yardage in just one game. It helped the offense stay on schedule and produced one of the night's most memorable moments when Trubisky broke the pocket and juked his way to a 23-yard touchdown run with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. He earned his highest rushing grade on the season from Pro Football Focus, too.

"Just pulled it," Trubisky said of the touchdown run after the game. "Really an awesome block by Leno. We knew they were a squeeze-scrape team. The backer is going to scrape over top. He does a good job of locking him out. I just cut up in there, made a guy miss, got in the end zone.

"The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards. Really cool moment. It was good."

Trubisky's running does more than just make his job easier. It also hides some flaws in the offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection this season. After Week 14's game, pass-rushers will have to think twice about pinning their ears back and going all-out for a sack. Trubisky reminded the league he's a dangerous quarterback who will make defenses pay if they take too many chances against him.

Trubisky's growth over the last month of the season has been pretty remarkable. It took him longer than expected to get to this place he's at now, i.e. a quarterback who can put Chicago on his shoulders and win a football game, but he appears to have arrived. At least, if his last three games are any indication, he's become the kind of productive playmaker the Bears have so desperately need. He's completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards (seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and a passer rating of 99.1 over that stretch.

Spread over 16 games, this three-week run would equate to 4,586 yards and 37 touchdowns. His 99.1 passer rating would rank among the top-10 starters in the league, too. 

Trubisky tucked and ran with more frequency Thursday night and it paid off. It made the Bears' offense look almost unstoppable at times. It's been a while since that could be said about this squad, but it's better late than never.

"We've gotten better over the last couple weeks, I'm talking about as a team, that's what's most important to me," Trubisky said. "That is what allows you to get better as an individual, is if you focus on the team first, focus on the guys around you."

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