If you divide the 2019 season into four quarters, the Bears so far look like this:
Quarter 1: 3-1
Quarter 2: 0-4
Quarter 3: 3-1
The Bears righted the ship in the third quarter of 2019, and will enter the final four games of the season with a 6-6 record. Here are five things we learned about the Bears as they enter December:
1. The Bears built their case for Mitch Trubisky.
As the Bears’ 2019 season cratered in October, the mantra from Halas Hall was that everything wasn’t Mitch Trubisky’s fault. Now, as the Bears have won three of their last four games, the mantra pointing out steady, incremental progress from the 2017 No. 2 overall pick.
Ryan Pace, after the Bears’ loss to the Rams in which Trubisky was removed with a heavily-scrutinized hip injury, said: “The past two weeks he’s made strides just with decision-making and conviction.”
And Matt Nagy, after the Bears’ Thanksgiving win over the Lions, said: “(It’s been) really four games now that Mitch has really stacked some strong games together with decision making.”
Those are two examples of the consistent message regarding Trubisky over the last few weeks.
But over his last four games, Trubisky’s numbers don’t show anything special: 94 completions on 145 attempts (64.8 percent), 979 yards (6.8 yards/attempt), eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 91.1. In effect, Trubisky has been exactly league average (64.1 percent completion rate, 7.3 yards/attempt, 2:1 TD/INT, 91.2 passer rating).
The Bears would be in much better shape as a team if Trubisky had merely been league average for the entire 2019 season. But he was well below average in the first half of the season, so merely being average doesn’t feel like it makes up for that performance — especially when considering the defenses he’s played.
Detroit: 280.1 yards/game (30th), 7.5 yards/attempt (25th)
Los Angeles: 231.8 yards/game (13th), 6.4 yards/attempt (8th)
New York: 260 yards/game (27th), 8.1 yards/attempt (31st)
Trubisky still needs to finish the 2019 season strong to solidify his footing for 2020 in the eyes of the Bears. But if Pace decides to pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option before next May and/or doesn't bring in a true competitor for him during free agency or the draft, expect to hear an argument about how well Trubisky played in the third quarter of 2019 — and, perhaps, how it wasn’t all his fault in the fourth quarter of the season.
2. They’re not among the worst teams in the NFL.
There was a time when the Bears had a higher chance of sending a top-five pick in 2020’s draft to the Oakland Raiders than making the playoffs, but wins over the Detroit Lions (twice) and New York Giants mean that worst-case scenario won’t play out.
Still, the Bears only have a four percent chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight. And they’d only have a 26 percent chance of making the playoffs if the following best-case scenario plays out in the next three weeks:
-The Bears beat the Cowboys and Packers
-Minnesota loses to the Seahawks and Chargers and beats the Lions
-Philadelphia wins two of three against the Dolphins, Giants and Washington
-Los Angeles loses to the Cardinals, Seahawks and Cowboys
-Carolina loses two of three to Washington, the Falcons and Seahawks
-The Packers beat the Giants and Washington before losing to the Bears in Week 15
Anything else feels even more unrealistic than all of these results playing out between now and mid-December. The Bears’ playoff hopes largely will hinge on a massive upset — like the Detroit Lions beating the Vikings, and the Vikings still losing to the Seahawks and Chargers — which is completely out of their control.
So the Bears aren’t out of the playoff race yet, and will play at least one meaningful game in the month of December. But they didn’t prove anything about their ability to make the playoffs in the season's third quarter. Instead, all we can say is the Bears aren’t among the worst teams in the league, in the same realm as the Lions and Giants.
3. Anthony Miller pulled out of his slump.
While Miller still made some mistakes — like running the wrong depth on a route that led to a Trubisky interception in Los Angeles — he finally started producing like the guy the Bears thought he could be over the last few games.
Specifically in his last three games, Miller has 21 catches on 33 targets for 271 yards, good for 12.9 yards per reception.
Nagy was quick to point out Miller is not “there” yet, though that he’s beginning to have some production is important for how the Bears view him heading into 2020, his third year in the NFL.
“We want to make sure that we’re still honing in on the details,” Nagy said. “And so, numbers-wise, he’s done a good job. But we can all still improve in some areas and he knows that. That’s gonna be important here moving forward that make sure that regardless of a stat line, that we make sure that on every play we’re doing the right thing all the time.”