Matt Nagy isn’t going to give the victory back, but he should probably at least send Matt Patricia a gift basket.
The Bears are somehow 1-0 after Mitchell Trubisky threw three fourth quarter touchdowns to erase a 23-6 deficit and come away with a 27-23 victory in Detroit. But in accepting this victory, it's only polite to start by thanking the opponent.
In this case, the opponent was the Lions, who managed to be the Lions in the most Lions way possible.
Consider Trubisky’s first touchdown pass, a lob to tight end Jimmy Graham in 1-on-1 coverage. Before the play, Lions head coach Matt Patricia seemed to recognize that Graham had an advantage, so he called timeout. After the timeout, he left 6-1 cornerback Tracy Walker on an island against the 6-7 tight end. Touchdown.
Why it took the Bears so long to take advantage of their tight end mismatches was mind-boggling for three quarters, but Patricia’s defense kept daring the Bears to go that way, and Trubisky obliged by later hitting Graham for a 16-yard catch-and-run down to the 1-yard-line. A touchdown toss to Javon Wims on the next play brought the Bears within 23-20.
The Lions’ collapse was on.
This is not new territory for Patricia. His team leads the NFL in blown fourth quarter leads with 11 since 2018, his first season in Detroit. They had seven last season alone.
And you could feel it coming Sunday. Even after Trubisky struggled for so long.
The Bears’ defense – which didn’t exactly look dominating Sunday – delivered its signature timely takeaway as safety Eddie Jackson broke up Matthew Stafford’s pass on third down, batting it up in the air for Kyle Fuller to come down with it.
And then it was time for the Bears to take advantage of the Lions’ overwhelmingly obvious defensive tendencies -- again.
“When they got down to the wire, they’re going to play what they trust most and that’s (man-defense) for them. And we knew that,” Trubisky said.
The quarterback gave the Lions credit for mixing up their coverages early in the game, which likely contributed to his early struggles. Trubisky's success in three games against Patricia’s defense is very concretely tied to the Lions playing a lot of man defense and not rushing more than four defenders. Coming into Sunday’s game, seven of Trubisky’s nine touchdowns against the Patricia-led Lions were against man coverage and all of them were against four or fewer rushers.
So, of course, all three of Trubisky’s fourth quarter touchdowns Sunday came against man defense with four or fewer rushers.
Never change, Matt Patricia.
“Actually, me and Coach Nagy, we talked about (the matchup),” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. “I think it was that third string guy. I was telling him about it all second half. So we decided to attack it and it ended up working out.”
Down their top three cornerbacks, the matchup Miller was referring to was against Tony McRae, who also allowed the touchdown to Wims. Coming out of the two-minute warning after Fuller’s interception, Nagy went back to a play that led to a similar touchdown in Detroit last year. In fact, it was in pretty much the exact same location on the field and a similar catch by Miller.
“It was actually the same exact route — we just dressed it up a little differently with formation and all that,” Trubisky said. “It was the same end zone and the same side of the field, so it was kinda weird that that happened.”
Weird, except not against the seemingly unadaptable Lions.
But even after all that, Matthew Stafford took his offense down the field and delivered an easy pass to rookie running back D’Andre Swift for a game-winning touchdo—
Nope. He dropped it.
“What a break,” Nagy said. “I mean, I saw that ball on the corner route go right in his hands and you could see, I think, for a second you could feel the whole sideline for Detroit just start jumping up and down going crazy. And then they started like grabbing their heads because they saw him drop it. And we started cheering. And so now you know there’s one play left. That’s just, that’s the breaks.”
Yes, the breaks the Lions give you. Of course, you don’t refuse them. And the Bears still deserve a ton of credit for a heck of a comeback.
“Anthony Miller, Allen Robinson, all the other wide receivers that were over there, they really liked their matchups,” Nagy said. “And then of course you’ve got to make the throw.”
Trubisky made the throws when he needed to. The ball to Miller on the game-winner was an absolute dime.
And when it was all over, Trubisky had his fourth straight start against the Lions with at least three touchdown passes and a passer rating of at least 104.2.
Oh, how the Lions love to Lion.