The potential of Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears was on full display in the first half Sunday at Soldier Field.
And then the reality of their inconsistent ways set in.
Leading 17-0 at halftime, the Bears barely hung on to win 17-13 over the New York Giants, who played most of the game without injured star running back Saquon Barkley.
The Bears may be 2-0, but even head coach Matt Nagy admitted: “I would say we’re just OK right now.”
Indeed, the first two weeks of the 2020 season have been a microcosm of Nagy and Trubisky’s time together. So much potential. So much inconsistency.
Early on, Trubisky looked like an MVP candidate. He was seeing the field well, improvising and making clutch plays with his feet and arm. An impressive 12-play, 82-yard opening drive culminated in Trubisky going through his progressions and eyeing running back David Montgomery wheeling out to his right. Knowing linebacker Blake Martinez had to decide to either come at him or fall back into coverage on Montgomery, Trubisky used his feet to suck Martinez towards him and then lobbed the ball over his head. Montgomery did the work from there, going another 20 yards for a 28-yard touchdown.
“We knew when we got closer to the red zone they were going to drop eight so I was just looking to find completions,” Trubisky said. “When they're only rushing three I just extended the play with my feet and I drew a linebacker out of coverage and David did a good job of staying alive and the run after the catch was incredible.”
It got even better from there.
With time ticking down before halftime, the Bears faced a 3rd-and-8 at the Giants’ 15-yard-line. Once again, New York dropped eight, leaving Trubisky time, but no one open. Using his athleticism, Trubisky kept the play alive with his feet and then noticed rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney alone in single coverage.
“I was just extending the play and I saw the DB had his back turned. He had no eyes on the football,” Trubisky said.
So the quarterback signaled for Mooney to go out to his left and he put the ball up for the fifth-round to go get.
“He did a great job attacking the football and coming back towards it and made an amazing catch,” Trubisky said.
But both plays were a result of the quarterback improvising and making a big play happen when it didn’t look like there was a big play to be had. That’s exactly what the Bears have been waiting to see from Trubisky, at least consistently.
And the first half could have been even better. Perhaps Trubisky’s best throw of the day was dropped by Anthony Miller in the end zone.
“That was a dime. I mean, he dropped an absolute dime on that throw,” Nagy said.
At halftime, Trubisky had thrown five touchdowns and zero interceptions over his last three quarters. Unfortunately, when the game was over, Trubisky finished with two interceptions and a passer rating of 78.0. The Bears didn’t score a point in the second half.
The blame on the interceptions didn’t completely fall on the quarterback. Both passes went towards Allen Robinson and the veteran receiver seeking a contract extension appeared upset with himself on both plays. The first pass was forced, but cornerback James Bradberry IV made a nice break and beat Robinson to the spot, popping the ball up in the air. Free safety Julian Love then came down with it for the interception.
“It was a contested catch. The kid made a good play,” Nagy said. “I’ll have to go back and look whether or not — what the deal was there with the receiver and Mitch.”
Then, with the Bears holding onto a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Trubisky went Robinson’s way on a 3rd-and-4. It was essentially a jump ball that Robinson lost. Ideally, the pass should have been slightly higher so the defensive back couldn’t reach it, but it still looked like Robinson would make the catch. Remarkably, Bradberry got his arm in there and ripped it away from the wide receiver while going to the ground.
“We’re in that position to go to one of our best players on the team and give him a chance to make a play. I thought he had it and just coming down it slipped out. To their credit, he made a good play to pick it off,” Nagy said.
Neither interception was egregious, but the decision-making wasn’t as sharp in the second half. Most notably, the Bears’ execution on third down completely changed.
With six minutes left in the third quarter, the Bears were 9-of-12 on third down and one of the misses was Miller’s drop in the end zone. Another one was a 3rd-and-18. Basically, Trubisky had been close to perfect on third down.
But things changed when Miller dropped another catchable third down pass with 4:08 left in the third quarter. From there, the Bears finished 0-for-4 on third down and needed a huge break on a 4th-and-2 late in the game when right tackle Bobbie Massie caught a deflected pass that just as easily could have bounced to a Giant defender.
“We got lucky,” Trubisky admitted.
Lucky is a good word for the 2-0 Bears. They’re very fortunate they opened the season against the Lions and Giants, who are both 0-2.
But there are positives to take away from Sunday’s win. For Trubisky, the emphasis this week was a better start and better play on third down. He accomplished both of those. He also looked comfortable seeing the field when the Giants dropped back into zone, which is not always the case.
And yet, one week after throwing three fourth quarter touchdowns, he wasn’t nearly as sharp in the final period this time around. Was it all his fault? Certainly not. Trubisky didn’t get the help from Robinson and Miller that he usually gets, otherwise it might have been a blowout.
Still, if the Bears are going to beat better teams down the road, they’re going to have play well for four quarters. And that includes the quarterback.