The tectonic plates of the Chicago Bears offense shifted Monday night in Soldier Field. They didn’t move far enough – the Bears fell to 1-4 with a 20-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings – but they moved. And everyone in the building felt it.
“I felt it,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright. “I think everybody felt it.”
The “it” was largely the energy/buzz/whatever that accompanied the NFL debut of Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback for whom GM Ryan Pace traded up to No. 2 in the 2017 draft to be sure he didn’t lose Trubisky to someone else.
But there was more than Trubisky happening, even as he threw an interception late in the fourth quarter that turned into Minnesota’s three winning points instead of the rookie leading his new team to a game-winning score of its own. Best guess is that storybook endings will be coming in the Trubisky Era, just not quite yet while he’s learning to read defenses and playbooks, not storybooks.
“He gives us a chance to win,” said one member of the offense, leaving unsaid the unfortunate reality that Mike Glennon had reached the point where he didn’t.
Maybe that was the big point, the main takeaway even from a defeat – a 1-4 team genuinely believing it can be a winner. That belief was nowhere to be found after the Tampa Bay and Green Bay games and was in danger of being extinguished.
The game-killing late interception Monday may have been vintage Jay Cutler. And the production was very Glennon-esque, even sub-Glennon-esque: 12-for-25 passing (48 percent), 128 yards, a TD pass, the interception and a passer rating (60.1) lower than any of Glennon’s four.
But this was different.
“I think our guys feel it,” said coach John Fox. “They feel his presence… . He’s got what it takes. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
What is different that the Bears do believe they have a quarterback with whom they can win, even win with because of. It has been quite some time since he Bears truly believed in their quarterback. Believed in much of anything, really.
Coaches clearly believed, and that in itself seemed to be something different. Special teams scored a touchdown of a fake punt when punter Pat O’Donnell threw the first pass of his football life. Not to be outdone for panache’, the offense used a double-reverse followed by a pitchout from tight end Zach Miller to Trubisky, who’d started the play handing off to running back Jordan Howard.
Desperate teams try gimmicky things. Monday night didn’t have any “desperate” to it. Even Trubisky’s interception was a correct read, to a single-covered receiver with a step on safety Harrison Smith, just not thrown quite far enough. “He was trying to make a play,” said Miller, the intended target on the play. “You gotta love everything about it.”
A critical point: Trubisky established himself as a quarterback who can run, but isn’t a running quarterback. He was drafted for his arm more than his legs, and when Trubisky broke contain evading the rush – he appeared to bail out too early on several occasions – he was looking to throw and for the big play, not to demonstrate his rushing prowess.
Coordinator Dowell Loggains called 29 pass plays and 26 running plays, trusting in his offensive line to do enough against a good Vikings front to establish the play action the Bears want as a linchpin of their offensive structure. It didn’t happen sufficiently – Bears running backs averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry, the third time in five games the offense has fallen short of 4 yards per carry.
The offense had six possessions in the first half and managed at least one penalty or a fumble on five of them. The fumble was Trubisky’s on a strip-sack when Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen beat left tackle Charles Leno to the outside. The Vikings netted all of 55 first-half yards; the Bears gave them 45 in penalty walkoffs.
Meaning: Much more (or less) was happening on offense than the Mitch Trubisky Experience.
But “I believe in this team,” said linebacker Leonard Floyd, who himself contributed two sacks, four tackles for loss and an additional quarterback hit. “Once we get that first win, we’ll start stacking them.”
Maybe Floyd was forgetting that the Bears already do have a first win this season. Or maybe Monday was the “start” of the season. He would not be alone in that point of view.