A fourth-quarter Bears reset but cautionary tales abound along with major need for perspectives

John Mullin

Winning three of their last four allowed the final four games/quarter of the Bears' 2019 season to actually matter, at least statistically since a 6-6 record. Their quarterback is playing better than he had in the second quarter of the season; the Minnesota Vikings are readying for a night game Monday at Seattle and could end the weekend just two games ahead of the Bears; and they are poised to get a foundation member of their defense (Akiem Hicks) back for a stretch "run."

Add to that the fact that their next opponent – Dallas Cowboys – has not beaten a team .500 or better all season, has lost three of its last four, and the Bears have a chance at a closing kick that several weeks ago was a non-starter. "It's reset," said coach Matt Nagy. "We're in reset mode."

Much of NFL results aren't as bad as they appear when they're bad, nor as good as they look when they're good. That would encompass the Bears, who have gotten too far over their skis too often during and since last year's heady 12-4 cotillion.

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"I think now, even though it's later in the season, we're starting to figure out that 'identity' that we like," Nagy said. "Hopefully we can continue that."

So, some perspectives to consider:

Mitch Trubisky was never going anywhere next offseason. This is not news and has never been in question, barring the third-year quarterback deteriorating to Bortles'ian or Osweiler'ian levels.

For one thing, the GM who drafted him isn't going anywhere; for another, Trubisky's rookie deal guarantees him $4.4 million next season and a dead-cap number of $9.2 million.

No, the overarching questions always have been what does Ryan Pace to do retrofit a too-often-neglected quarterback room; how open will any starter competition be; and will any serviceable quality veteran come to Chicago without at least a chance to compete for the No. 1 job? If Trubisky has done enough to this point to establish himself as the unchallenged 2020 starter, and Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray are locks at Nos. 2 and 3, then the bar has been set far lower than anyone thought.

Players typically make some of the biggest performance improvements of their careers from year one to year two. That hasn't happened for the Bears, but could be starting.

Irrespective of competition levels, linebacker Roquan Smith has shaken off early-season doldrums and had double-digit tackles in four of the last five games, plus two sacks at Detroit and an interception vs. the Rams. Anthony Miller has had the three biggest reception days of his career in the last three games (6 vs. Rams and Giants, 9 vs. Lions). James Daniels hit bottom against Philadelphia, was switched from center back to guard after that and has gotten himself turned back around. Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols has come back from a broken hand and delivered a QB hit and four tackles at Detroit.

The need for the sophomore spike has been acute, with the Bears getting virtually nothing from the 2019 draft class outside of running back David Montgomery's so-so 3.5 yards per carry.

"Better" is not the same thing as "good," and Trubisky being better against the bottom-feeder Giants and Lions is, by his own description, not good enough.

Any evaluation of Trubisky involves grading the young quarterback on something of a curve. His only three 100-plus passer ratings this season have all come against bottom-10 defenses based on passer rating (Washington - 22nd; Lions - twice - 25th). In between the last two, both against Detroit and scheme-stubborn coach Matt Patricia, there was a 69.0 rating in a 19-point game vs lowly Giants (24th) and a benching during that 7-point debacle vs. the Rams.

The Chicago defense has survived pretty well without Hicks and Danny Trevathan, two of its performance and emotional leaders.

One-score wins against Detroit backups Jeff Driskel, Giants rookie Daniel Jones and then Detroit's David Blough in an NFL debut could stand as concerning moments of brinksmanship, on top of losing to stumbling Jared Goff and a Rams team averaging 11.7 points over its last three games before Sunday. But allowing no more than 20 points in 10 of 12 games has kept the Bears in virtually every game and compares favorably to all but league-leading New England (one 20-plus game before Sunday night) among the NFL's top six scoring defenses.

The other five - Patriots, 49ers, Bills, Ravens, Vikings - all also have offenses averaging more than 21 points per game, however, compared with the Bears' 17.7, which helps account for why they all have at least eight wins.

Mitch Trubisky being better in hurry-up situations applies to more than individual series.

Trubisky is 4-1 for his career in games started on short weeks. Besides Thursday's Detroit game, played with only a couple walk-through's, Trubisky had the Bears off to a good start against Minnesota following an MNF appearance in Washington before he was injured. He'd converted one third down on that opening possession and even added a second via a Vikings penalty on the play when he suffered his shoulder injury.

"Last week it was all walkthrough and all mental," Trubisky said, "so I think if we're locked in mentally, then that's how it translates to the field. Everyone knowing their jobs."

He guided the Bears to a short-week victory at Arizona in Week 3 last season and had won at Baltimore in his second NFL start, coming off an MNF week. His lone short-week defeat came on a Saturday late in that rookie year, at Detroit, the last time he and the Bears lost to the Lions.

Conversely, the more time Trubisky has to prepare, too often the worse the result: Coming out of the off-week against New Orleans this season; Week 1 against Green Bay with all offseason to prepare; his three-INT day against the Rams last season coming off his shoulder injury; losing on opening day 2018 at Green Bay… 

Trubisky led a fourth-quarter comeback for the win at Detroit.  There is nothing negative about a fourth-quarter or game-winning drive, but everybody – no, seriously, EVERYBODY – comes back against the Lions, who have the quirky honor of having led in every game this season and failed to win nine of those 12.

The point in mentioning the comeback – only Trubisky's second in 37 career starts – is that the organization, particularly Pace, should not be too gushy about a rally against a bottom-feeder. It was just that kind of game in 2013 – at Cleveland in Week 15 when Jay Cutler engineered a comeback against the ultimately 4-12 Browns – that then-GM Phil Emery cited in his rationale for signing Cutler to a six-year for $126 million. The $54 million guaranteed in the deal tied Pace's hands with Cutler through the first two years with John Fox.

Emery elected not to go with a prove-it-against-more-than-Cleveland approach in the form of the franchise tag. Pace has a fifth-year option available on Trubisky's contract, which will be an average of the top 10 salaries at the quarterback position. So, pricey, but only guaranteed for injury until opening day of 2021.

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A fourth-quarter Bears reset but cautionary tales abound along with major need for perspectives originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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