GLENDALE, Ariz. — The product the Bears currently are isn’t the one Ryan Pace set out to assemble in April of 2017. He didn’t trade up to draft Mitch Trubisky, then hire Matt Nagy, then splash plenty of cash and draft capital on supporting talent just for a best-case outlook that’s more in line with what this franchise has been than what it could be.
For now, that’s fine. The Bears are 2-1 and atop the NFC North after a come-from-behind 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at State Farm Stadium thanks to one of the NFL’s best defenses, not a dynamic, potent offense.
“We can’t keep leaning on (the defense) for everything to bail us out of these situations,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “We have to start finding our identity, as coach Nagy says, and just start playing for ourselves and play with pride.”
The Bears’ offense isn’t close to where it needs to be, or believes it can be. But as long as the wins are coming, and players and coaches see week-to-week improvement — hey, it could be worse, right?
“You could say it’s a good sign, but at the same time if we can cut those inconsistencies out and just play like we can play and execute, I feel like we’ll be dominant,” wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “And we should be a playoff team once the offense gets clicking.”
For Bears players and coaches, it’s not a question of “if” the offense will get going — it’s when, as Gabriel said. But there haven’t been many signs that this is a group on the verge of a breakout; instead, if it looks like a work in progress, and plays like a work in progress…it’s a work in progress.
To wit, on Sunday: Mitch Trubisky missed a number of deep shots, including two that could’ve gone for touchdowns on a drive that ended with a chip-shot field goal. He turned the ball over twice and should’ve been picked off by Cardinals safety Tre Boston on an ill-advised throw two plays before Jordan Howard plunged one yard for the Bears’ only touchdown of the game. Trubisky was bothered by the Cardinals’ exotic blitzes early (“I thought we were in Singapore for a minute,” quipped offensive lineman Kyle Long, impressively coming up with an exotic locale on the spot) and wasn’t consistently accurate throughout the game.
But what Trubisky doesn’t lack, as his teammates explained, is self-confidence even as things may not be going as well as he’d like.
“I told him during the game, this is all a part of your story,” running back Benny Cunningham said. “When you’re playing 10 years and you’re one of the best quarterbacks in this league, you’ll remember these moments that kind of made you who you are. He was, the whole way, smooth sailing. He understood the situation, just keep playing.”
And for what it’s worth, when the Bears needed three points, Trubisky helped deliver those three points with a 14-play, 59-yard drive that ended with Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal.
“We’ve had really three games that’ve come down to the wire,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “At the end of the day in certain situations from Game 1 to Game 2 to Game 3, in certain situations we needed to get points we’ve been able to do that.”
In the immediate aftermath of a game, there aren’t a lot of answers from the locker room as to how the Bears can reach their offensive potential beyond some general platitudes about ironing things out, or something like that (and that’s okay, without the benefit of film review). But the feeling among offensive players is that they can and will be better, and will eventually repay the defense for all the work that group has done to get them atop the NFC North in the nascent stages of 2018.
“It’s a good formula,” Cohen said. “It works from time to time. But I feel like it’d be a way better formula if offense, defense and special teams played great coming out.”