At the end of an uneven and sloppy first half, Mitch Trubisky and the Bears were gifted the opportunity to somehow go to the locker room with a lead.
Trailing 16-10 at their own 43-yard-line with 1:00 left on the clock, Trubisky correctly identified that the Falcons were about to blitz. He called out “danger, danger,” which brought tight end Jimmy Graham closer to right tackle Bobby Massie for extra protection. The Falcons rushed six and the Bears picked it up, giving Trubisky the time he needed to look downfield. The quarterback saw wide receiver Anthony Miller blow by cornerback Darqueze Dennard and he launched the ball his direction.
Incomplete. Overthrown by at least two steps.
Maybe Miller could have laid out for the ball. Maybe. Either way, it didn’t need to be a hard catch. Throw it in stride and it would have been an easy touchdown with the Bears headed to the locker room with a 17-16 lead and all of the momentum.
“Just missed it. Those are the plays you gotta make especially in a big situation right before the half,” Trubisky said.
And they’re the plays head coach Matt Nagy has seen his quarterback miss way too often. Which is why, when Trubisky threw an interception to start the third quarter, Nagy made the move Chicago has been bracing for and expecting at some point in 2020 – he benched Trubisky and turned to Nick Foles.
The move didn’t fix everything. Allen Robinson still got outmuscled on a touchdown catch that turned into an interception after a questionable review. And Miller dropped an easy touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. But despite all that, Foles kept chucking the football and finding completions, even when he threw into triple coverage on a pass to Jimmy Graham.
Suddenly, a disjointed offense looked cohesive. Perhaps it was just the Atlanta Falcons blowing another fourth quarter lead, but Foles still threw for three touchdowns and 188 yards while completing 16-of-29 passes.
Whatever has been missing in Matt Nagy’s offense was, perhaps, found.
And there’s no better example than Trubisky’s airmailed deep ball to Miller in the second quarter.
“It was actually the same exact last play that Anthony caught,” Trubisky said after the game. “So mine, I overthrew it. Nick had a really good throw for the go-ahead win.”
That’s right. The game-winning touchdown pass from Foles to Miller was the same exact play Trubisky overthrew.
And the interesting thing is that the Falcons’ six-man rush wasn’t pick up as well. The Bears had the tight end on the other side of the formation and there was no “danger, danger” alert called out by Foles, but he did check out of the original play and into the throw to Miller.
"When we were in the huddle, I explained to Anthony that if I do happen to kill (the original play), I’m going to throw it to the L (in the end zone lettering 'ATL'). So get to the L and it’ll be a pretty stiff ball," Foles said. "So I knew just in case I didn’t have time to get it off cleanly, he would be there. So we had that conversation and he did his job. We executed."
Sure enough, Foles didn't get it off cleanly. He took a hit right as he let go of the ball, but the throw went straight towards that L. Miller had left Falcons cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the dust and it was an easy touchdown.
“We came back to it in the fourth quarter and it came up big for us,” Trubisky said. “I gotta make that throw in the first half, but I'm glad the guys finished it off in the fourth quarter and we got a win.”
Credit Trubisky for not only talking to the media after getting benched, but also offering up the comparison of these two plays on his own. He fully understood why Nagy made the decision he did.
But the question is, can Foles continue to be the guy that jump-started Nagy’s offense Sunday in Atlanta? It’s been painstaking to watch a unit with so much potential get stuck in key moments – particularly in the red zone and on third down. The Bears challenged Trubisky to be better in those situations this offseason, so you can understand why the move was made Sunday after Trubisky airmailed Miller and then threw an interception – both on third down.
“I think really when I knew it (was time to make the switch) was the interception there on third down,” Nagy said. “We were struggling on third down a lot. We weren’t producing points in the red zone and I just think that sometimes there is a gut feeling as to when to do it. That seemed like the right time.”
It may have been a gut feeling, but it was also a feeling that has been felt for a while. Nagy has been begging for more touchdowns and fewer field goals – or missed field goals. Foles delivered the touchdowns, including two that came off the scoreboard after reviews.
“It was a first time with me that he saw me do that in person,” Foles said, pointing out that Nagy had never called plays for him in a game before. “But he trusts me. The big thing was he said, ‘Hey, if you see something then go with it.’ And there were a few times I was able to get through a couple things and recognize a defense, and that’s always fun when you can do that, because it helps your team. We were fortunately able to execute on a lot of those plays, and that makes us more dangerous.”
More dangerous is exactly what the Bears need to be on offense. Is Nick Foles the fix Nagy has been looking for? He certainly was in Atlanta.