Haugh: Bears Survive, Need More From Trubisky

Mitchell Trubisky made his one memorable play Sunday count in a big way.

David Haugh
September 15, 2019 - 8:40 pm
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(670 The Score) Mitchell Trubisky only made one memorable play in the Bears' 16-14 victory over the Broncos on Sunday in Denver – but it mattered more than all the forgettable ones.

It might end up meaning as much as any play this season.

With nine seconds left, Trubisky stepped up in the pocket to buy enough time to find Allen Robinson over the middle for a 25-yard gain to the Broncos’ 35-yard line. Trubisky then alertly signaled timeout just as Robinson hit the ground with one second left on the clock. That heads-up move allowed Eddy Pineiro to come onto the field and carve his niche in Bears history – not to mention the roster – and kick a game-winning, logic-defying 53-yard field goal that capped the craziest of victories for a team that desperately needed one.

"It was a pretty cool moment to have this opportunity after all that I’ve been through," Pineiro told reporters in Denver. "All the crap that I’ve been through, all the kicking situation ... I was praying on the sidelines, 'God give me this shot.'"

Related: Bernstein: Wild win can't quell concerns surrounding Bears

Pineiro’s emotional embraces with coach Matt Nagy and teammates amid the celebration suggested how much was riding on the kick ... a game, a career and perhaps a season. The Bears knew that beating the Broncos on the road was big, but avoiding an 0-2 start and all the long playoff odds that come with that record was even bigger.

Not to mention how a loss that included a costly mental mistake that gave the Broncos new life – an offsides penalty by Buster Skrine on Denver’s last extra point – could have left a mark on Nagy’s pristine coaching resume. That mental gaffe let Broncos coach Vic Fangio off the hook for a rookie mistake that was committed when an inexcusable delay-of-game penalty on his offense before a two-point conversion attempt pushed the ball back to the 7-yard line – and forced Fangio to call for the PAT.

Down the stretch, it was as if both teams were competing to see which could self-destruct most.

By the way, Fangio’s decision to go for the two and steal the win against his former employer bucked convention given how fatigued the Bears looked. Nobody on a tired defense that showed determination wanted overtime, when the Broncos would've had an advantage. Were the Bears in any condition to stop the Broncos? The altitude clearly took a toll on every player’s lungs. The final minute tested every fan’s heart.

The Bears survived the Broncos more than they defeated them and, in that way, it resembled another 16-14 victory on the road against the Cardinals last year. In the NFL, it’s much easier to face a problem at 1-1 than 0-2. That was the biggest takeaway and the gist of the message Nagy delivered to his team but especially Trubisky, who only will face more scrutiny after another uneven performance.

"No matter how these games go, as we go through this process, you’re going to be judged by your wins and losses," Nagy said he told Trubisky postgame in Denver. "As we fight through that, let’s get these wins ... Blinders, earmuffs, stay the course."

That was Trubisky’s mindset in the huddle when the Bears, trailing 14-13, got the ball back at their 25-yard line with 31 seconds left. A roughing-the-passer penalty improved field position but Trubisky, with fewer than 100 passing yards when the drive began, had done little to inspire hope. Then Trubisky stepped up for one snap, figuratively and literally.

"I saw an opening and Allen was right there and it was savvy by him to know to go down," said Trubisky, who was 16-of-27 for 127 yards and a passer rating of 70. "I was pretty positive there was one second on the clock."

It was a moment that only will be magnified over time. It was a moment that will mask much of what else occurred that wasn’t worth celebrating in Club Dub.

Yes, Nagy committed more to the running game and the offensive line responded, but the passing game too often resembled an egg toss. Fangio defended the Bears like a guy who knew from his experience at Halas Hall that Trubisky couldn’t beat his secondary with the deep ball – and he was right. Inaccuracy remains Trubisky’s biggest hurdle as an NFL quarterback. Increasingly, defensive coordinators will force Trubisky to beat them by loading up to stop a Bears running game that improved significantly in Week 2.

But Nagy’s offense always promised more than one dimension. You can’t boast of graduating to Offense 202 if your quarterback still needs a tutor.

The Bears' biggest play came on a 46-yard toss sweep to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who used his explosiveness to burst through a hole and take advantage of a modest block from left tackle Charles Leno Jr. Their most important offensive contribution came from rookie running back David Montgomery, who identified himself as the focal point of the offense with 62 yards on 18 carries. They incorporated Tarik Cohen more on the perimeter.

Ultimately, they will need more from their quarterback – where every discussion about the Bears starts and ends. All offseason, I maintained the Bears still could be great if Trubisky merely was good. That remains true, but we're still waiting for Trubisky to meet the standard of good considered acceptable. Trubisky has yet to perform like a middle-of-the-pack quarterback – more like a player mired in the bottom 10. The Bears can win a lot of football games using that formula, a dominant defense with a strong running game and an average quarterback. They won’t win a championship that way.

When Trubisky drops back to throw, there's an instinctive fear that something bad could happen. Even Trubisky appears uncertain of how the play will go. He looks tentative and borderline shaky. Nothing about Trubisky’s body language or execution inspires confidence. And that must change quickly for the Bears.

One desperation completion to set up a game-winning field goal won’t change that. A glaring example came after Kyle Fuller’s clutch fourth-quarter interception gave the Bears the ball back with a 13-6 lead. Instead of attacking the Broncos defense to move the chains and eat the clock, the Bears played it safe and stalled. Other examples throughout the day come to mind. The list frankly is too long.

"I know we’re not where we want to be as an offense and I’m not where I want to be as a quarterback," Trubisky said. "You use these wins as momentum to get better."

That momentum allowed Chicago to bask in the reality that the Bears found a kicker in Colorado.

Unfortunately, they’re still looking for more from their quarterback.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.