The Bears' win over Cowboys a true turning point for Trubisky
Matt Nagy had it wrong. After Mitch Trubisky had rallied for a fourth-quarter comeback against the inept Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, Nagy treated himself and his quarterback to a spot of gush:
“Today was Mitch’s day,” Nagy declared.
No. THIS Thursday was Trubisky’s day, a moment when a young quarterback, with the season hanging in the balance, took the heart out of a top-10 defense in the course of a 31-24 upset of the Dallas Cowboys, a third straight win for a now 7-6 Bears team that put together a rare complete game in all phases.
The result, the Bears’ fourth in their last five, allowed BearsNation to keep dreaming playoff dreams, particularly with the Minnesota Vikings (8-4) hosting Detroit on Sunday and the Lions having won three of the last five in Minneapolis. The Vikings and Los Angeles Rams both need to lose two of their final four while the Bears win out, but stranger things have happened this NFL season.
“What I do like is everybody seeing what kind of people we have on this football team,” Nagy said, adding, “I just know that we gotta win. If we don’t win, none of those [playoff-chances] percentages matter.”
But the point this night was Trubisky, who played arguably his finest game as an NFL quarterback, factoring in the caliber of opposition, pressure on the game and his total performance quantitatively and qualitatively. This occasion marked consecutive games in which Trubisky has taken the field trailing at some point trailing and left it winning.
The question that the coming weeks will answer is whether this in fact was something of a turning point in Trubisky’s career, regardless of whether he gets his team to the postseason. Trubisky has had better games statistically but none in games of this importance and against a defense as good as Dallas’.
“That’s what we’re going for, what the whole point of this is,” Trubisky said. “I think it makes us hungrier and we want that feeling week after week.”
Trubisky took charge after a first-drive disaster in the form of his fourth 2019 red-zone interception and picked the Bears up, not once but twice in a must-win situation. His 115.5 rating, on 23-of-31 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns, was the highest of his career against a top-10 defense and the first since the second and third games of his rookie season when coach John Fox and Dowell Loggains strait-jacketed him.
This was entirely different, in multiple ways, both for the quarterback and the entire team.
What Trubisky didn’t cut out of the Cowboys soul with a 17-point first half, leading an offense that hadn’t scored 17 points in six of its previous 12 games, the defense did in eviscerating a Dallas offense that in 2019 had amassed 400-plus yard nine times and 399 once. Despite missing four starters (three injury inactives plus linebacker Roquan Smith, down with a pectoral injury early in the first quarter), the defense held Dallas to 184 yards through three quarters, at which time the Bears led 24-7, their biggest third-quarter bulge since the 28-9 tally vs. Washington back in game three.
A fumble by running back David Montgomery at the Dallas 40 gave the ball to the Cowboys late in the third quarter with the Bears driving for an elimination score. The resulting touchdown, a second by running back Ezekiel Elliott of two yards, allowed Dallas within 10 at 24-14.
But somehow fittingly on this occasion, Trubisky answered that himself, effectively calling his own number and keeping the football on a zone-read. He then proceeded to weave his way nine yards through dispirited Cowboys for a score that left the Cowboys screaming at each other on the bench or just at anything handy on a night when yelling was about all they could do well.
“The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards.” Trubisky said, smiling.
Very, very significantly, it was not the first “comeback” Trubisky engineered on a night when he looked every bit like an NFL playoff quarterback.
Trubisky shook off a first-drive interception in the red zone, his fourth of the season, to generate four straight scoring drives that included touchdown passes of five and eight yards to Allen Robinson and 14 to Anthony Miller and a 36-yard Eddy Pineiro field goal.
According to Stats by STATS, Trubisky became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete more than 70 percent of his passes on more than 30 attempts, throw three or more touchdown passes, rush for more than 50 yards and rush for a touchdown.
In a major positive indicator for the offense under Trubisky, the offense has gone from Robinson leading or tied for most receptions in six of the first seven games, to no receiver leading two weeks in a row over the last six games: Taylor Gabriel/David Montgomery vs. Philadelphia, Robinson vs. Detroit, Gabriel vs. the Rams, Tarik Cohen at the Giants, Miller in Detroit and Cohen (6) against Dallas.
A suspect Dallas team but….
One sense going into Thursday night was that if the Cowboys fell behind, they were a reasonable bet to emotionally quit, an underachieving team that has listened the past few weeks to owner Jerry Jones oil the hinges of a trap door under his head coach Jason Garrett, a situation not entirely to the liking of his team. Indeed, as the first half wore on and the Bears scored to tie, then lead 10-7, the Cowboys became increasingly ragged, with receivers clearly not in phase with quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys eventually missing a 42-yard field goal.
But NFL teams rarely quit without being beaten, which the Bears did in holding All-Pro running back Elliott and one of the NFL’s elite offensive lines to 81 rushing yards, only 10 of which Elliott gained in the second half.
One overarching reality Thursday night was that the Bears weren’t playing some NFL version of the Washington Generals.
This was a moment of reckoning for the Bears and Trubisky in particular in a season in which five of their six victories were against teams with three or fewer wins (Washington, Detroit, New York), for an offense that failed to score 20 points in seven of its 12 games. Trubisky for his part, with a history of lackluster performances against better defenses, had evinced next to no ability to lift his game against competition at the higher levels, which the Dallas Cowboys defense was, ranking in the top 10 for fewest points and total and passing yards allowed.
“The guys on offense are stepping up to the challenge, accepting it,” Nagy said. “That was a very, very good front four there today and that’s a ‘light’ way to put it.”
The situation had not reached the depths of “Good Rex/Bad Rex” over Trubisky’s going-on three Bears season. But his inconsistency from game to game, even within games, has loomed as a disturbing element in a sport where “consistency” is the first must-have virtue cited by coaches and players.
Actually, that’s not altogether accurate. Trubisky has had stretches of consistency but they have too often been stretches of mediocrity: three games of sub-87 passer ratings (Saints, Chargers, Eagles), a 131.0 rating despite five sacks in a win over Detroit, then two clunkers (Rams, Giants), then good again against the Lions.
This is not the first season Trubisky’s performance chart resembles a seismograph. Last season three tepid performances to start the season were followed by games vs. Tampa Bay and Miami with a combined 9 TD passes and one interception folding into passer ratings of 154.6 and 122.5. He closed with three straight strong outings in wins over Green Bay, San Francisco, and Minnesota, then let the playoff game get away with three quarters of vapid before a good fourth quarter, which was not enough thanks to Cody Parkey.
And running through all of that has been a pattern of Trubisky failing to produce good games against better teams. That had the feeling of changing Thursday night.
“We’ve just got to focus on staying hungry and staying humble each week,” Trubisky said.
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