Little cause for celebration: Bears escape with 19-14 positives-lite win over Giants

Little cause for celebration: Bears escape with 19-14 positives-lite win over Giants

In a classic confrontation between the NFL’s most resistable force – the Chicago Bears offense – and one of its most movable objects – the New York Giants defense – the force won. Well, it didn’t lose, anyway.

“A win is a win,” said linebacker Leonard Floyd, whose fourth-down rush of Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones forced an incompletion that sealed the 19-14 Bears victory. “No matter how you get it, as long as you get the win, that’s all that matters.”

At this point, that's absolutely the case for the Bears. Their win over the Giants, aided by a pair of New York field-goal misses inside of 45 yards, gave the Bears two wins in the last three games. Regardless of opponent quality, that has to pass for progress at this point of a supremely disappointing season. Of the Bears’ (5-6) five wins, two have been over two-win teams (Giants, Redskins ) and two have been over three-win teams (Broncos, Lions).

Sunday’s result kept the Bears in at least the mathematical playoff picture heading to Detroit for the Thanksgiving game against the Lions, although the teams just above the Bears (Eagles, Rams) hold head-to-head wins over them. The schedule has favored the Bears with back-to-back, get-right games, finishing the third quarter of a sagging season against the Giants and Lions, two teams that finish Sunday with a combined record of 5-18-1.

Surviving against one of the NFL’s bottom feeders at least briefly stanched the 2019 bleeding for a desperate team that has been largely unable not only to put together enough plays to comprise a quality football game, but also even able to come up with reasons why not.

“We scored more points than them, but it’s not good enough.” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said in an apt summary that eschewed false positives. “It’s not nearly good enough.”

Clearly not nearly good enough, particularly because the Bears don’t have any more Giants or Redskins on their schedule this year. After Detroit, the Bears face three division leaders (Cowboys, Chiefs, Packers) and the eight-win Vikings to finish the season.

Against the Giants (2-9), who were in the process of losing a seventh straight, only three of 11 opponents totaled fewer yards than the Bears’ 335. Only woeful Washington (3) managed fewer than the 19 points the Bears managed against New York on Sunday. Six of 13 possessions went three-and-out against a defense that had been allowing 41 percent third-down conversions.

In the plus column was the Chicago defense that held its fourth opponent in the last five to 17 or fewer points. In the not-good-enough column was the reality that the Bears lost two of those four games.

Mistakes still dominate

The overarching fact is that the Bears in virtually all probability lose Sunday to anything but a team as non-funtioning as the Giants. They were essentially the same team that lost five straight and that's inconsistent, disorganized and self-destructive.

The 335 yards were the second-highest offensive output of the year. But major mistakes cost the Bears more than 100 yards and at least 10 points:

  • Tight end Ben Braunecker, wide open after his defender fell down, dropped a touchdown pass from the New York 29;
  • Trubisky failed to loft a pass sufficiently to get over New York linebacker Alex Ogletree, resulting in an end-zone interception in the second quarter;
  • A 60-yard completion to wideout Allen Robinson was nullified by a hands-to-the-face flag on center Cody Whitehair.

Trubisky’s first-half passer rating was a dismal 50.1, an ugly half marred with drops and poor throws in an all-around inept offense against a defense allowing an average opposing passer rating of 103.5. For the game Trubisky finished with a rating of 69.0, on 25-of-41 passing, a 32-yard touchdown pass to Robinson, a rushing touchdown and two interceptions.

That was good enough for another case of coach trying to build up quarterback, finding a positive of some kind, any kind.

“I really want to give him credit for running the show, and being able to run the offense,” head coach Matt Nagy said, “and I think that we have different personnel that come in and out. It's not easy. So we want to try to help him out as much as we can, but probably a lot of that stuff [you (media)] don't see, but he did a really good job with that.”

Running the show and different personnel groups should be Quarterbacking 101, but this has not been an easy season for Trubisky, who has generally regressed back toward that 101 level.

Trubisky got little help, beginning with a run game that averaged 2.5 yards per carry, the eighth time in 11 games that the Beras have averaged less than 3.5 yards per rush.

For their part, special teams did the offense and defense no favors for most of the afternoon. The day began with Eddy Pineiro banging the opening kickoff out of bounds for a Giants start at their 40 (to prove it was no fluke, Pineiro pulled a PAT wide-left in the third quarter). Besides punt coverage allowing a 40-yard return in the second quarter. Pat O’Donnell mishit a 13-yard punt in the second quarter to give the football to New York in the Chicago end.

New York ineptitude prevented the gaffes from resulting in points but added burden on the defense having to stop four first-half possessions starting no worse than the New York 40. This had a trickle-down, field-position effect on the offense as well.

Decision-making concerns

Nagy said last week that Trubisky had shown significant improvement over the past two games, citing decision-making as one piece of evidence. Regardless of how much of that was fact vs. trying to build up Trubisky, certain of the quarterback’s decisions Sunday raised eyebrows.

Trubisky decision-making problems surfaced almost from the outset, when he inexplicably forced a third-and-2 throw to a tightly covered Allen Robinson instead of an open Braunecker, curling open beyond the first-down marker. The result was yet another in a season-load of three-and-out’s, particularly on third-and-short, and impotent opening series for the Bears.

With a chance for a rare first-quarter score, Trubisky threw within reach of New York linebacker Ogletree at the back of the end zone. The resulting interception, Trubisky’s third either in the end zone (Green Bay, New York) or just short of it (Washington, 1-yard line), was the more egregious because it was not the first of the season for a third-year quarterback. He was victimized shortly before that by a dropped pass to Braunecker, left wide open in the red zone when his defender slipped.

At the start of the fourth quarter Trubisky badly underthrew Javon Wims, resulting in a second interception and an opportunity that the Giants were incapable of exploiting.

“We can't have the turnovers,” Trubisky said. “Got to be better on 3rd down (4-for-15). Got to the better in the red zone (1-for-4). Enjoy the win, but quick turnaround this week obviously playing on Thursday, so we've just got to find ways to get better, improve and quit making mistakes, especially myself.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on if Bears', 2020 NFL season will start on time

On Saturday, President Trump talked to several commissioners of professional sports leagues and reportedly told them that he believes the NFL season will start on time despite the ongoing pandemic. A day later, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about that possibility.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Jake Tapper asked Pritzker if the Bears would be playing in Soldier Field in September, and if there would be fans. Pritzker did not give a definitive prediction.

“Well, the Bears are a great team whether they’re playing or not, but I will say this, it’s not up to us,” Pritzker said. “We don’t know. None of us really knows. But what I do know is this; if the researchers are able to come up with a treatment, something that will save lives, something that will keep people off ventilators, maybe even keep them out of hospitals, then that will be an enormous development for our country and for the future. It may allow us to open things up in the way the president is describing. But the truth is that no one predicts now that we’re going to have that treatment any time in the next few weeks or even in the next month, and no one really knows if we’ll have it by September.”

“What we do know is that if you have a vaccine, that ultimately will help us deal with the problem,” Pritzker said. “Because it’s either going to be a treatment and herd immunity that ultimately allows us to open everything back up, or it’s a vaccine.”

The sports world will continue to hold its breath until there are more answers.

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Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

Open competition might be what Mitch Trubisky needs to salvage Bears' career

I used this space on Friday to explain why I see Nick Foles as the clear favorite to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Based on the information we have, it’s easy to see why Foles should beat out Mitch Trubisky in the Bears’ “open competition.” 

And I very much believe that'll happen. But I do want to acknowledge something here, an unknown of sorts: We don’t know how Trubisky will handle a legitimate competition. 

“The competitor that Mitch is, the way that he was with us was really neat to see because he embraced it,” Matt Nagy said. “It wasn’t about excuses, it wasn’t about anything other than, ‘OK, I understand that, I’m gonna give you everything that I’ve got, we’re gonna compete, and you’re gonna get that best that I’ve got.’”

Nagy and Ryan Pace both talked up Trubisky’s competitive nature when discussing the Foles trade over about 40 minutes on Friday. It’s all they can talk up at this point — anything else about his game or past results would’ve been hot air. Maybe the competitiveness thing is hot air, too. 

But this brings up a question that’s lingered as Trubisky’s career has drifted into disappointing territory, so follow my tangent: Why wasn’t he North Carolina’s starting quarterback sooner in college?

Trubisky sat behind Marquise Williams for two and a half seasons before taking over as the Tarheel’s QB1 in 2016. Williams spent one training camp with the Green Bay Packers before being cut and spent the next few years as a backup in the CFL, AAC and XFL.

Trubisky — the second overall pick in 2017's draft — couldn’t beat that guy out? Huh?

The thing is, though, there wasn’t really a competition in Chapel Hill for the Tarheels’ starting gig. Williams QB’d five consecutive wins to get North Carolina to a bowl game in 2013, then was pretty good in six-win 2014. North Carolina went 11-1 in 2015, Trubisky’s third year on campus, with Williams as their guy. 

Former UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf explained to me after the 2017 draft why there wasn’t truly a competition for Trubisky to win. 

“That success we had as a team with Marquise made it hard for us to pull him out of the lineup,” Heckendorf said. “And I think if (Williams’ success in 2013) hadn’t happened, there may be a completely different conversation. It was not for a lack of talent, it was not because (Trubisky) wasn’t capable, but it’s hard to take a guy who had the success — not only as the team winning but individually — as Marquise had and put him on the bench for an unproven commodity.”

Of course, if Trubisky were lighting things up in practice and limited game reps, he would’ve forced UNC’s hand. He didn’t.

But the point is Trubisky’s failure to win a starting gig in college sooner wasn’t necessarily the product of him losing an open competition. He pushed Mike Glennon as a rookie in 2017, but he didn’t show up to training camp in a true “battle” (especially as he QB’d the third-team offense so much). He took over for Glennon because, first and foremost, Glennon was a disaster.

So we don’t really know how he’ll handle a competition the Bears are framing as fair and even.

Could Trubisky all of a sudden grow with the challenge to his job? Could the mere presence of Foles get him to start hitting more deep balls, or make the right reads at the line, or help him avoid those head-scratching interceptions?

Probably not. Football types love to say competition brings out the best in everyone, but it’s hard to see it erasing three years of inconsistent tape.

But we don’t know for sure. For what it's worth, this worked for Kyle Fuller three years ago, when the Bears signed Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara and he wound up winning his old job back, and then keeping it.

Trubisky, too, still has more upside than Foles. The Bears would much rather start the version of Trubisky Pace hoped he was getting in 2017 rather than a 31-year-old with 13 starts over the last four years.

Still, Foles is most likely going to be the Bears’ starter when the 2020 season begins (hopefully on time). But the Bears should at least take a look at Trubisky in a true competition.

It may not need to be a long look. But it should be a look.

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