CHICAGO — Keith Heckendorf used to share an old nugget of wisdom with Mitchell Trubisky regularly when he was Trubisky’s QBs coach at North Carolina—and he texted it to the Bears’ quarterback last week:
Those who think they can, and those who think they can’t, are both usually right.
Trubisky’s high school coach Steve Trivisonno also sent his former quarterback a message: Go out and be you.
Larry Fedora, Trubisky’s head coach at North Carolina, texted him a similar affirmation: You know that you are prepared and you know that you are trained for this situation. You can't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows.
Trubisky has always stayed close with coaches from his past, and they’ve been reaching out more this season as he’s struggled to reach any level of consistency in the Chicago offense. After another frustrating quarter and a half of the same issues—receivers dropping balls, Trubisky lobbing inaccurate passes—against the Lions on Sunday, the Bears quarterback rebounded and played his best game of the season (aside from an easy layup in Washington in Week 3).
Chicago and Detroit met with their seasons on the line, and it was the Bears who broke a four-game losing streak—re-opening Club Dub, their post-victory locker room celebration—with a 20-13 win. It may just be a pause to Chicago’s slump, considering this Lions defense ranks among the worst in the league, but a good game at the midseason turning point was crucial for Trubisky. He’s regressed in his third season as the Bears’ starting quarterback, and his problems with reading the field and hitting open receivers look even worse when compared to the success of his 2017 draft classmates, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
After a slow start on Sunday, which has become the Bears offensive MO this season, Trubisky found his mojo late in the second quarter. He went 7-of-8 on a scoring drive that wasn’t quite a two-minute drill but felt like one, where the Bears moved the pocket around and played up-tempo. Trubisky, who consistently plays better in the hurry-up offense where he has to make faster decisions and is less likely to get overwhelmed by too much information, got into rhythm with three passes to his top target, Allen Robinson, two of which were the first double-digit yardage plays of the game. He yelled and he fist-pumped and he worked quickly, looking nearly unrecognizable from the solemn and stiff version of himself that has showed up for most games this season.
Trubisky has tried anything and everything to get himself and Chicago’s offense back on track, and something finally clicked this week. At the suggestion of head coach Matt Nagy, Trubisky watched the broadcast footage from Chicago’s loss to the Chargers the week prior, specifically looking for his own body language and facial expressions because Nagy thought he was being too serious on the field. He didn’t like what he saw on the broadcast from the L.A. game—too serious, not enough smiling and being loose with his teammates.
Fedora, his old college coach, knows exactly why Nagy had Trubisky pay attention to that. “There were times where I had to talk to him about that, your presence on the field is so important to the guys around you,” Fedora says. “He is so intense and he cares so much and wants to do things so well that sometimes he tried to do too much.”
He’s going to give everything he has and sometimes you overdo that a little bit,” says Trivisonno, Trubisky’s high school coach.
Nagy has come under fire this season for play-calling that has seemed much less aggressive than last season, when his offense was functioning much more efficiently. Trailing by one with 43 seconds left in the Chargers game, Nagy controversially chose to take a knee and set up for a 41-yard field goal, rather than run a couple more plays to move in closer range. (And then of course, kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the game-winning attempt.)
But this week, Nagy finally made a play call that demonstrated real confidence in his offense. Early in the drive that resulted in the first touchdown of the game, Nagy decided to go for it on fourth-and-one at their own 29-yard-line. Trubisky handed off the ball to running back David Montgomery for a first down.
“It shows that Coach Nagy had a lot of confidence in our offense that we were going get that, and then we did,” Trubisky said after the game. “That kind of jump starts the offense and kind of builds confidence within the guys.”
Trubisky passed for three touchdowns on three consecutive offensive possessions. The final score started on the Lions 25-yard-line thanks to an interception from linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. Trubisky made impressive throws on those possessions. He hit tight end Ben Braunecker perfectly in the back corner of the end zone after Braunecker powered through Lions safety Will Harris. He stayed patient in the pocket and waited for receiver Taylor Gabriel to get open in the end zone on a long-developing route.
“It's just one of those things, it becomes contagious,” Nagy said. “It felt good to click for those three possessions.”
Chicago’s offensive rhythm didn’t last for the full game, which is a concern, considering the Lions defense came into the game allowing 424.1 yards and 27.1 points per game. The Bears’ 254 total yards and 20 points on Sunday didn't match the averages against the Lions’ defense this season (402 total yards and 26 points against). Detroit backup quarterback Jeff Driskel, in for Matthew Stafford who was surprisingly out with a fractured vertebrae in his back, made a wild 47-yard touchdown pass on the run to receiver Kenny Golladay in the end zone to make it a one-possession game. Driskel, who signed with the Lions in September after he spent the last three season as a back up in Cincinnati, played well in his first relief duty for Stafford, going 27-of-46 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception along with 37 rushing yards.
“We were all talking about that guy Driskel, he’s a baller,” cornerback Prince Amukamara says. “He played great. Usually when a backup like that comes in you let them run the offense and you don’t turn over the ball and he had a good first drive against us and our hats tip off to him.”
Stafford hasn’t missed a game since the 2010 season, so the news came as a surprise to the Bears on Sunday morning.
“I didn’t even know he was injured,” RB Tarik Cohen said. “I saw he wasn’t playing, that’s crazy.”
Bears players know they have a long road ahead, beginning with visiting the Rams next week. But for now, they're enjoying a momentary sense of relief of getting back on the other side.
“It felt good to get a win, I'm really happy” Ha Ha Clinton-Dix says. “I can go home and say hello to my kid, and enjoy the day.”
With the inconsistency of Trubisky and the offense, the good times may not last long, but at least for this week, can somebody please pass Mitch the remote? It’s safe to turn the TVs back on.
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