Bears

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Nobody is penciling Matt Barkley in as the Bears starting quarterback in 2017, but the fourth-year pro is making the most of his opportunity.

Barkley braved the winter elements and first snowfall in Chicago this season to lead the Bears to a 26-6 throttling of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

No, they weren't the eye-popping numbers he posted in last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans when he had 300-plus passing yards and three touchdowns, but his performance against the 49ers was arguably more impressive if you factor in the weather conditions.

Barkley was able to rebound from a first half in which it took nearly 29 minutes to complete a pass, and finished with 192 passing yards, a 97.5 quarterback rating and zero turnovers. Barkley's numbers were a far cry from his counterpart Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers quarterback completed just a single pass for 4 yards and was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert.

"I thought he improved. He eliminated any interceptions," Bears head coach John Fox said. "Both teams were pretty cautious early in that game as far as pass attempts. I know they called it snow, but it felt more like rain out there so the ball was hard to hang on to. You saw some true evidence of that early. I thought the way he handled the two minute drive right before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball.

"I thought he executed outstanding. I thought that was one of the better drives that he had to manage."

The victory was a major boost of confidence for a quarterback who looked to be out of chances prior to the 2016 season.

After two sub-par seasons as a backup with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was ironically drafted by the head coach (Chip Kelly) that he defeated for his first career NFL win on Sunday, Barkley was traded to the Arizona Cardinals and was released last August. 

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Barkley was signed to the Bears practice squad behind veterans Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer going into the season. Season-ending injuries to the aforementioned quarterbacks catapulted Barkley into the No. 1 job and forced the Bears coaching staff into seeing if the California native could regain the form that once made him the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school, and a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft before he decided to return for his senior year at USC.

Nobody is labeling him the next Tom Brady, but through three games with the Bears, that confidence has returned for Barkley.

"It's at an all-time high in this league," Barkley said. "Just knowing that I can play, that we can make plays as an offense. I'm not holding back, and they aren't holding back on what we are installing from week to week."

He's also starting to make believers out of the other 52 guys in the locker room.

"He's showing the world that he can be a starter in this league," Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy said. "He can play. He can play football and we all knew that. He's just got to show the world that and that's what he's been doing."

While it's a small sample size, and the No. 1 goal of the Bears front office going into the offseason should be finding a long-term solution at quarterback, the Bears have to be impressed with what they've seen out of Barkley, who is set to become a restricted free agent in 2017.

With four games remaining, Barkley will be given every opportunity to play his way into a future roster spot.

"I know what we are capable of and what I am capable of," Barkley said. "Hopefully we can keep pushing this, and keep the same mentality that we did last week when we were coming off a loss of wanting to get better and striving to perfection."

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

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USA TODAY

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

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If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly fazed by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

If there was any doubt that the Bears are the most popular team in Chicago, allow the events of Wednesday to serve as further evidence.

After hitting the upright an astonishing four times in Sunday's win against the Lions, Bears kicker Cody Parkey practiced at Soldier Field Wednesday night. That's not the crazy part.

The Bears kicker taking to Soldier Field to practice on a weeknight drew multiple news helicopters. Both WGN and ABC 7 got footage of a kicker practicing.

Earlier in the week, Parkey said practicing at Soldier Field "can't hurt." Now that he went through with it, we can find out if he thought the extra reps ahead of Sunday night's game against the Vikings were worth it.

Who knows how this Bears this season will end, but the Bears are certainly back in the spotlight of the Chicago sports scene.