Bears

Bears: Jordan Howard's first ever All-Star Game? The NFL Pro Bowl

Bears: Jordan Howard's first ever All-Star Game? The NFL Pro Bowl

Jordan Howard has made his first-ever selection to an all-star game of any kind something memorable, being selected on Wednesday to a spot in the Pro Bowl later this month in Orlando, the only Bear currently currently set to appear in the NFL's annual exhibition.

"I wasn't selected for the all-star game in my home state, so this is my first all-star game," Howard said Wednesday. "My hard work is paying off now, so I just appreciate that."

Howard, one of only five rookies (Barry Sanders, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott) in NFL history to average 5.0 yards on 250 or more rushing attempts, replaces Arizona running back David Johnson, a scratch because of a sprained left MCL suffered in the Cardinals' final game. Howard finished second to Elliott in rushing, and was third in Pro Bowl balloting behind Elliott and Johnson.

Not a bad season for a young player who didn't even crack his team's starting lineup until almost a fourth of the way through the season.

Because of the injury to Johnson, and Elliott possibly on track for a longer playoff run or for the Super Bowl with the Cowboys, Howard said he was not entirely surprised at his inclusion. Former running backs coach Stan Drayton, who left the Bears to become offensive coordinator for the University of Texas, set Howard's mind right.

"He was just telling me I had a chance to be one of the best running backs in this league for a long time," Howard said.

Howard, the Bears' pick in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, also becomes just the second Bear running back (Gale Sayers) to reach the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Howard set a franchise rookie record with 1,313 rushing yards in 15 games (13 starts) despite not moving into the starting lineup until Week 4 against Detroit after an ankle injury to Jeremy Langford. He still finished the season on the field for more than 68 percent of the Bears' total plays.

The rookie was active for the opener in Houston but was a DNP-CD. He then turned the slight into something positive.

"It was discouraging but it was also motivational," Howard said. "It was kind of tough but it motivated me to try to get on the field… .

After that first game I was just going to do my hardest to get on the field."

With 29 receptions for an additional 298 yards, Howard finished fifth in yards from scrimmage (1,611), and his yards per game (87.5) ranked third behind only Elliott (108.7) and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell (105.7).

One quirk of 2016 was that Howard did not immediately flash during training camp or much beyond the final preseason game, at Cleveland. Like most rookie running backs, Howard struggled with pass protection and did not distinguish himself as a receiver. Consequently, coaches did not fully appreciate what they had until Howard broke a 36-yard run at Dallas in Week 3, in place of Langford.

"He's a much better player on Sunday than he is during the week just because his running style is different," said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. "Sometimes it's hard to see that. Where you can see other guys' quickness and stuff like that show up, you don't get to see the vision because it's not live.

"In Cleveland we saw a little glimpse of it in the preseason, but that was really it. I know Coach Fox talked early in the season, like, ‘Hey, I really like this guy.' Early in preseason he was high on him. We really didn't start getting him rolling until that fourth week of the season. All of the sudden you're like, ‘wow, this guy is a first- and second-down back; this guy is a good player, once the pads come on.'"

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

The Bears have completely flipped the narrative of their 2019 season over the last three weeks, thanks in large part to Matt Nagy's offense finally resembling the 202-level that was promised last summer.

It may have taken quarterback Mitch Trubisky a little longer than expected to arrive this year, but if his last two games are an indication of his development in his second season under Nagy's tutelage, the Bears have a bonafide quarterback. And it's been a while since that could be said.

"Mitchell Trubisky is hot, there's no doubt about it," NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said Thursday. "He seems so much more comfortable. Decisive. He's accurate with the football. Running around at the proper time. I don't think it was all Mitchell Trubisky's fault with the struggles of the offense, either."

Those struggles spanned the first half of 2019 when Chicago seemed incapable of sustaining drives or scoring points. It began with Week 1's three-point output against the Packers and continued through Thanksgiving Day when Trubisky finally got his mojo back, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions.

With Trubisky clicking, and the running game receiving a jolt from rookie David Montgomery's productive back-to-back weeks (in which he's averaged more than four yards per carry in successive games for the first time all year), the Bears appear capable of beating just about anyone. 

They'll need to. If Chicago wants to keep their weak playoff pulse going, they have to win out. And that includes games against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. 

The odds seem stacked against them, and it's their own fault. It took way too long to get the offense going, but it's better late than never. 

According to Simms, the Bears are that team no one wants to play.

"They're a dangerous team right now. They really are."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Just when it appeared like Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was entering his final half-season as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, the last month happened.

Trubisky's play has steadily improved over the last five games and reached what may have been his watermark moment in Week 14 against the Cowboys. He completed 74% of his passes for 244 yards and three passing touchdowns while adding a season-high 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground. It marked the second week in a row that Trubisky's completed over 74% of his passes; he connected on 76% of his throws a week earlier against the Lions.

Trubisky's recent success is a far cry from the mentally broken player he was after the first month of the season. He has his confidence back. In fact, he's playing with more confidence than he's ever shown as a pro. His recent success is a direct and obvious result of his evolution between the ears.

The Bears were circled as a team that was likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason because of how terrible Trubisky looked early in 2019. And there's still a chance that GM Ryan Pace will look to add some healthy competition to the roster, but if Trubisky continues to play well, that competition will be for the backup job. 

It's also worth noting that one of the more appealing quarterback targets this offseason probably won't make it to the open market. Titans starter Ryan Tannehill continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback season and appears destined to sign a long-term extension with Tennessee sooner than later. After Tannehill, the discount quarterback rack includes names like Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota, players who a month ago would've been viewed as marked upgrades over Trubisky.

It doesn't feel like that's the case anymore.

Barring a massive regression from Trubisky over the next three games, it's starting to feel like he's winning back Chicago's confidence one game at a time. 

With all that in mind, here's the updated Bears QB Big Board entering Week 15:

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 12, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 2 (Dec. 3)

2. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 1 (Dec. 3)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 3)

4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 3)

5. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 3)

6. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 3)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.