You are indeed what your record says you are. But at the midpoint of a 2017 season in which the Bears already have matched their 2016 win total, it’s really not all that simple to say what either the Bears or, in this case, their rookie quarterback exactly are.
After a three-win 2016 and sitting at 1-3 to begin 2017, and two of the losses by 20-plus points, the Bears were right about where cynics thought they’d be: bad, arrow pointing anywhere but up. Now, with an in-season quarterback change to a rookie with all of 13 college starts, the Bears reach the halfway of their season 3-5 overall, ahead of more than a few projections, perhaps even their own.
But they also are a .500 team in Mitch Trubisky’s first four NFL starts. All things considered, the Bears realistically can be viewed as a team with an arrow pointing decidedly up, even with a litany of maddening gaffes that cost them Sunday in a 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
A missed field goal. An unforced penalty on special teams to turn a defensive stop into a Drew Brees a touchdown opportunity (which he converted). Too much poor technique and tackling in the secondary. Odd play-calling coupled with failed execution. Poor accuracy and decision-making in a handful of tipping-point situations by Trubisky.
Even with all that, the Bears reach their halfway break with two wins under Trubisky and two losses in which the rookie threw interceptions on Bears’ final possessions with chances for tying or winning scores. A defense that set historic low bars for takeaways in 2016 had another game with more than the opponent, including one in the closing minutes and the Bears down by five points but which Trubisky and the offense failed to exploit with even a single first down.
If there is a single overriding negative it lies in Trubisky being unable to deliver on those final possessions in the Minnesota and New Orleans losses, and in his average-at-best passing (14-of-32 for 164 yards, the interception on a poor overthrow of Tre McBride, a throw on which the only debate was whether the route or the pass was worse). The Bears are craving some of what Trubisky showed them completing his first 10 passes against Denver in preseason. He hasn’t even a glimpse of that yet.
After a big Tarik Cohen kickoff return supplemented by a horsecollar-tackle penalty gave Trubisky and the offense the football at the New Orleans 43 with 1:28 remaining – a designer situation for a statement drive – left tackle Charles Leno incurred a false-start penalty and Trubisky checked down to a no-gain dump-off before he threw high and behind McBride for the effective game-ender.
So much for “opening up the offense” mattering, or the suggestion that coaches could be breeding Trubisky’s natural aggressiveness out of him in three games (if that could have been happening, the Bears seriously got the wrong guy). Trubisky had more pass attempts (12) in Sunday’s first half than Drew Brees (11), with each quarterback sacked twice. Aggressiveness was not a Trubisky shortcoming.
But the clear fact was that Trubisky was not enough to ignite the offense himself, whether on straight execution from the pocket or making something electric happen on the move, in the broken-play motif that has been expected to be a significant part of this game. He has all the appearances of being that guy sooner rather than later, but he hasn’t achieved “rookie phenom” status, and probably won’t, given the resources at his disposal.
All that said, Trubisky – and the Bears overall, for that matter – arguably should be graded on something of a curve. Particularly working behind an offensive line absent two of its three best blockers, Trubisky isn’t not good enough to pick up his team and throw it to victory.
The day was marked with highs and lows, which is by definition what a still-forming quarterback and team simply produce.
The first Saints possession contained two mental gaffes uncharacteristic of the ’17 Bears defensive players. Bryce Callahan’s missed tackle that allowed Brandon Coleman to turn a short pass into a 54-yard completion was poor execution, losing footwork and failing to get a receiver bumped a few feet to out of bounds. Callahan later was lost to a knee injury that cost the defense it’s No. 1 nickel back.
And while it was on special teams, cornerback Kyle Fuller lining up offsides on a field-goal rush turned a third-down stop into a second Saints chance, which Drew Brees turned into a touchdown.
The Trubisky pass to tight end Zach Miller was his finest throw of the day, one for a TD that officials took away after Miller wasn’t able to maintain enough control of the ball while on the ground. The pass was on target, where Trubisky placed it where his guy or nobody was coming up with it, and was the kind of delivery teams expect from a franchise quarterback, even one in development.
Trubisky’s rookie-ness did show up in a handful of throws and decisions, something suggested by some of the coaching cautiousness shown earlier. Adam Shaheen got zero separation on his first-quarter short route in the end zone, and Tanner Gentry’s second-quarter out-route was blanketed, yet Trubisky made both throws into coverage that broke up the throws. The Saints were credited with eight passes defensed, an indication of a whole lot of passes thrown to receivers with defenders nearby. Poor separation will do that to a quarterback. So will inaccurate passing.
Trubisky threw too high to a wide-open Tarik Cohen in the third quarter, a pass calling for more NFL-grade touch than Trubisky still needs to develop.
And for the second straight game he took a sack that added to the difficulty factor for a field-goal attempt, although the sack just before halftime Sunday was a jailbreak pass rush and still only left Connor Barth with a 48-yard field goal try, which he sailed wide left.
The Bears now have two weeks of prep time for the Green Bay Packers, the team that effectively ended Mike Glennon’s stint as a starting quarterback. This time the Packers will serve as a measure of how far a developing quarterback – and team – have come in a season not easily defined.