With Mitch Trubisky playing tentatively at times this season, the automatic assumption was that the problem was entirely with the Bears quarterback.
That’s not entirely true.
“Don’t surprise your quarterback” is a wide-receiver commandment, and the fact is that Trubisky was hampered early this season by his receivers’ poor routes, drops or both all too often. That led to sacks, incompletions and interceptions.
Anthony Miller, for instance, was called out for running an improper route against the Rams in Week 10 that resulted in an interception. That was, however, the moment when a light appeared to go on for the second-year receiver. His subsequent increase in targets indicates that Trubisky is trusting him more. Miller was targeted 30 times over the season’s first nine games, 37 times over the past four. In the Bears’ win over Detroit on Thanksgiving, Miller was targeted a season-high 13 times. He caught nine of those throws for 140 yards.
“I think with every receiver, the timing and the trust comes with experience,” head coach Matt Nagy said going into the Dallas game. “There's a little bit of trust that gets earned over time. So the more plays you have with that guy, the more trust you'll get in particular routes.”
Miller’s emergence over the past month has offset Taylor Gabriel’s diminished presence due to concussion issues. Plus, the early success of newfound tight ends J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted has given Nagy more play-calling options.
And all the Bears’ pass catchers are doing a better job of, well, catching passes. Every one of the team’s nine main pass receivers has a catch percentage 60 percent or higher. Last year Trubisky’s targets included Josh Bellamy (56 percent), and star receiver Allen Robinson was sub-60 (58.5 percent).
“Going back to last year, it was our first year in this offense,” Nagy said. “All these routes and the different coverages you get take time. So, yeah, there's a little bit of trust that gets earned over time. It's starting to develop more and more with more receivers on our team.”
None more than with Anthony Miller.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.
The Bears didn't get the help they needed in Week 14 from teams like the Lions (against the Vikings) or Seahawks (against the Rams), but they did win their game against the Cowboys and improved to 7-6 on the season.
As a result, Chicago is still alive entering Week 15's game against the Packers. Green Bay's win over the Redskins, one which improved their record to 10-3, all but ended the slim hopes that the Bears could make a run for the NFC North, but it doesn't lessen the importance of Sunday's rivalry game.
You know the story by now. Chicago needs to win out in order to have any chance at a post-season berth. And even then, their chances aren't great. They're hovering around 5%, depending on which source of playoff odds you use.
Here's the thing: If the Bears just keep winning, their playoff odds will keep going up. They'll need some help, and they'll need the Rams and Vikings to slip up along the way, but all Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Khalil Mack can control right now is winning this Sunday.
In the meantime, here are the other games Bears fans should keep a close eye on.
Minnesota Vikings (9-4) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (5-8)
3:05 p.m. CST
The Vikings and Bears play in the season finale but Chicago needs Minnesota to lose at least one more time before Week 17 to give the game any meaning. If the Vikings enter that game with five losses and the Bears do their part to topple Kirk Cousins and the rest of Minnesota's cast of characters, they'll own the head-to-head tiebreaker for the sixth and final wild card.
Unfortunately, the Chargers don't inspire much confidence that that fifth and necessary loss will come on Sunday. But as Phillip Rivers proved in Week 14's 45-point output against the Jaguars, there's always a chance for Los Angeles to outplay their record.
Los Angeles Rams (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
3:25 p.m. CST
The biggest blow to the Bears' playoff chances in Week 14 may have happened in Los Angeles where the Rams defeated the Seahawks in a game many assumed Seattle would win. Now 1.5 games ahead of Chicago, L.A. has a very winnable game in Dallas against a team that's spiraling out of control. This, combined with the Rams' finding their offensive mojo once again suggests another victory for Los Angeles.
If they secure the win, the Bears would need Jared Goff and Aaron Donald to lose their final two games and end the year at 9-7. If the Rams end the season with the same record as Chicago, they'll own the head-to-head tiebreaker because of their win over the Bears in Week 11.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.