CHICAGO – It’ll be until at least after next week’s visit to the Los Angeles Rams – and likely longer – before knowing whether the offense finally turned a corner in the Bears’ 20-13 win Sunday over a bad Detroit Lions team missing its top tackler and led for the first time in more than eight years by a quarterback other than Matt Stafford.
The fact that the Bears sandwiched only 20 yards and four punts on their first four possessions in a start in many ways more embarrassing than last week’s historically bad first half in Philadelphia and 36 yards and five punts around their three consecutive touchdown drives in the second and third quarters should certainly create pause.
Yet if the Bears, who improved to 4-5 to move out of the NFC North basement, are beginning to turn a corner, perhaps fittingly, it began with Mitch Trubisky not seeing a wide-open Allen Robinson on a corner route that should’ve ended in an easy TD.
With the Bears trailing, 6-0, in the final 70 seconds of the first half, Trubisky checked down to Tarik Cohen on first down, unaware his go-to target had separated by at least 10 yards from the nearest Detroit defender. Trubisky actually targeted Cohen on a similar route on the next play, which was nullified by offsetting penalties.
“What I really appreciated about Mitch today was the fact that he never got rattled in all that stuff,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of his quarterback, who threw three TD passes and posted the third-highest passer rating of his career (131.0).
Two plays later, Trubisky drilled an 18-yard TD on a corner route to tight end Ben Braunecker – the first TD of Braunecker’s career and the first score by a Bears tight end this season, on the same day former second-round pick Adam Shaheen was a surprise healthy scratch.
“I think you just feel like it gives you confidence,” Trubisky said. “You feel like you’re doing what your team needs you to do. … When everyone else does their job on offense, I need to be doing mine, as well. So great protection, great routes, guy gets open versus man, I need to be able to put it in the right spot for my team to make a play, and that’s what happens. So, we just need more of those and more consistency going forward and continue to find ways to stay on the field and score more points.”
With his confidence on the rise, Trubisky and the Bears offense opened the second half with a five-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. It began with the quarterback staying calm and scrambling for eight yards despite a low snap from new center Cody Whitehair, who pivoted back to the middle of the line for the first time this season with James Daniels returning to left guard.
The drive was highlighted by a gorgeous off-balance deep connection from an on-the-move Trubisky to Robinson for 33 yards, and it was capped on a 9-yard TD pass to Tarik Cohen off a slick play design by Matt Nagy.
“It was definitely a sigh of relief,” Cohen said of carrying over the success before halftime into the third quarter. “When what we do in practice day in and day out happens on the field, it isn’t just us talking about it anymore – it happened. And then it spreads. So then you have other players who step up and also make plays.”
Moments later, after the first interception of Nick Kwiatkoski’s career in perhaps the best game of his career as the injury replacement for Danny Trevathan, Trubisky found Taylor Gabriel on third-and-long on another corner route TD, this one for 24 yards, to make it 20-6.
The Bears failed to put their foot down on the lowly Lions, who responded in the fourth quarter with a 48-yard TD pass from Driskel to Northern Illinois product Kenny Golladay over Kyle Fuller. And thanks in part to an Eddy Pineiro missed PAT after the Cohen TD, Detroit had a chance to tie or win in the final minute, with their last gasp coming at the Bears’ 25.
When a team is mired in a four-game losing streak, and when the criticism is coming from all directions, style points are of little concern – especially against a division rival. As for potentially turning a corner on offense, the Bears were 2 of 12 on third down and gained only 226 total yards. Their decision this week to return Whitehair and Daniels to their positions of a year ago included a number of poor snaps by Whitehair, two penalties by Daniels and an average of less than 3.5 yards a carry.
But they at least made a change up front, much as in their tight end corps, giving Braunecker his chance on offense that was hindered only by Shaheen’s draft status – not by Shaheen’s play on the field. The offense showed a bit more of the tempo and moving pockets, albeit it was still sporadic, that have seemed to bring the best out of Trubisky.
“We were just – we were clicking at that – it felt good,” Nagy said. “It felt good to click for those three possessions.”
It’s a start.