LOS ANGELES — Wearing a gray t-shirt, athletic shorts and a camo-green hat pulled down over his eyes, Mitch Trubisky left his most dour press conference as a member of the Chicago Bears and somewhat gingerly ambled up the tunnel connecting the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the outside world.
The Bears’ quarterback was greeted with a hug from his mother at the top of the long incline, and spent the next 15 or so minutes chatting with his family. At one point, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff popped over to say hi and give Trubisky a high five and a hug. Eventually, Trubisky departed for the team bus and a redeye flight back to Chicago, where a debate had already been raging for hours:
Is his hip injury legit?
That was the reason the Bears gave for Trubisky’s removal from Sunday’s game three minutes after Chase Daniel entered their 17-7 loss to the Rams. For a few minutes, it looked as if Matt Nagy pulled the ripcord on the Bears’ season about 100 feet from smashing into the ground, replacing the 2017 No. 2 overall pick with a journeyman career backup in a last-ditch effort to save his plummeting team.
Unless you were on Twitter during the game, though, you wouldn’t have seen the Bears’ explanation for taking Trubisky out of the game, which came three minutes after Daniel took his first snap in the fourth quarter. Neither Al Michaels nor Cris Collinsworth mentioned the hip injury explanation on NBC’s television broadcast of “Sunday Night Football,” saying they had received “no word” from Bears PR of the reason for Trubisky's benching a few plays after Daniel entered the game.
That environment led to plenty of skepticism and speculation from those who either didn’t see the Bears’ tweet, or from those who thought the Bears were using the injury as a cover for benching Trubisky due to performance reasons. The Bears gained just 30 yards on 14 plays on the four drives preceding Trubisky's benching.
Here’s what the Bears said about the timeline of Trubisky’s injury:
— Trubisky initially injured his right hip on the last drive of the second quarter, though he misspoke multiple times in saying it happened at the end of the second half (he was not flip-flopping or changing his story, it did appear to be a genuine instance of misspeaking). Trubisky said he was evaluated at halftime, but kept quiet about how he felt and tried to fight through the growing discomfort.
— Nagy said Trubisky hurt his hip when he landed on it. With 30 seconds left in the second quarter, Trubisky scrambled outside the pocket on third and eight and was sacked, though he landed on his left hip, not his right hip.
— Nagy, though, admitted he was short on specific information regarding the injury: “I gotta find out more because I didn’t find out the details yet from him, the play that it happened,” Nagy said, adding he hadn't yet talked to Trubisky after the game.
— Trubisky said he “really wasn’t telling anyone,” about his injury, given he hoped he could fight through it.
— Nagy said quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone mentioned to him that “we gotta keep an eye on him” one or two series before Trubisky was pulled from the game.
— Nagy noticed Trubisky was having some issues getting torque on his throws, and that he was throwing with mostly his arm and not his lower body. He said those were especially noticeable when he was throwing to his left and trying to open up his hip.
— At no point did the Bears take Trubisky into the blue medical tent on their sideline to evaluate him.
— Nagy talked with Trubisky during a TV timeout after the Rams took a 17-7 lead, and said he told Trubisky he needed to be honest with him about his hip. Nagy said Trubisky told him how he was feeling, and then Nagy made the decision to remove him from the game.
“I’m not doing the team any favors if I’m not able to run around or throw the ball with accuracy because I’m throwing with all arm,” Trubisky said. “You just gotta be smart with that factor but I’m going to fight as long as I can and try to be out there with my guys.”
Still, because Trubisky didn’t go into the medical tent, there was no reason for anyone to believe he was injured until the Bears dropped that explanation on social media. And that he was standing on the sideline in a baseball cap, not being tended to by trainers, only fueled speculation that the 2017 No. 2 overall pick was not actually injured.
That Nagy called for Trubisky to run an option on third and one in the third quarter — on which Trubisky pitched the ball too quickly — looked similarly head-scratching. If Trubisky had been evaluated at halftime and Nagy knew about it, why would he call that play? Or, if Nagy didn’t know about it — why didn’t he know about it?
Nagy, though, said he didn’t believe Trubisky’s injury impacted him on that play.
But accusing a team or player of faking an injury is a heavy accusation. It also doesn’t make much sense in this instance — if the Bears were trying to protect Trubisky’s already-low confidence, why would publicly saying he was benched due to an injury matter? He’d know why he was benched, and it’s not like there hasn’t been an onslaught of outside criticism of him recently anyway. Would the public reasoning for benching him really matter if internally Nagy, Trubisky and the team knew why?
Digesting this whole situation, it feels like the most likely scenario is that Trubisky tried to fight through the injury and didn’t want his coaches finding out about it until it became obvious to Ragone and Nagy that it was affecting his play. That fits with his competitive nature and would explain some of the discrepancies in the timelines provided by Nagy and Trubisky.
It also fits with Daniel not looking like someone who knew he was coming into the game while Nagy and Trubisky were talking on the sideline.
The long-term effects of Trubisky’s benching, though, are not yet known.
And unless this is an injury that will require a lengthy absence, the Trubisky era is not yet over in Chicago.