Mitch Trubisky had a chance to put Sunday’s game away with about nine and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Bears had a 16-10 lead at that point, with the Los Angeles Chargers failing to convert a Trubisky interception into any points when Chase McLaughlin missed a 42-yard field goal. The way the Bears’ defense was playing, and the way the Bears’ run game was working, suggested all this team really needed was three more points to feel comfortable. Seven points would’ve locked this game up.
So that was the situation facing the Bears when Matt Nagy called for a shot play with 9:39 left. The Bears got the matchup they wanted, with their fastest receiver — Taylor Gabriel — lined up in the slot against 36-year-old linebacker Thomas Davis.
Play action froze the Chargers’ defense for a split second. Gabriel streaked open, drifting toward the right hashmark, away from a single high safety. The protection was good. The play call was good. The route was good.
“That's one that we knew all week that we were going to get, we knew that and Mitch knew that,” Nagy said.
All Trubisky had to do was make the throw. Nagy wouldn't have made a heavily-scrutinized decision to take a knee with 43 seconds left. The Bears would be 4-3, probably saying they got the spark they needed instead of searching for answers. Their playoff odds would be better than 5 percent.
Trubisky’s throw sailed over the head of Gabriel, falling incomplete on a play that should’ve resulted in a game-sealing touchdown. Trubisky lost a fumble on the next play, one which the Chargers turned into a game-winning touchdown.
“You miss throws at times,” Nagy said. “How do you respond to that? Well, unfortunately for us, the next play then we ended up having a fumble and on that play things happened, he got hit by our own guy but we'd like to get the ball out, you know, earlier.”
While Trubisky played reasonably well for the first three quarters, hitting some downfield throws and generally not putting the ball into harm’s way, the bottom fell out for him early in the fourth quarter. What he did over the first six minutes of the final stanza muted everything he put together over the first 45 minutes of the game.
So Nagy talked about the good throws Trubisky made against the Chargers, of which there were some for sure (deep balls to Anthony Miller, Allen Robinson and Tarik Cohen, and an 18-yard strike to Trey Burton stand out). But this is the kind of throw the Bears needed Trubisky to make — the sort game-ender that would’ve prevented the need for a last-ditch drive to set up a game-winning field goal.
“Those are the type of plays man, it's 16-10, you hit that touchdown, after the way our defense is playing you hit that and it's close to being the dagger,” Nagy said.
That throw isn’t necessarily a tipping point for how the Bears view Trubisky, given how inconsistent he’s been over his 32 career starts. More than anything, it’s another negative play to toss in a mounting pile of them for the 2017 No. 2 overall pick, evidence which could lead the Bears to not pick up his fifth-year option next spring and open a quarterback competition in 2020.