Mitch Trubisky made two key throws to help the Bears starters beat the Vikings backups, 21-19, Sunday and finish the season at .500.
With Chicago trailing by one point and facing fourth-and-9 on the final play before the two-minute warning, Trubisky felt pressure from his blind side, where Charles Leno had ceded the strip-sack leading to Minnesota's go-ahead score moments earlier.
This time, Trubisky rolled to his right and found rookie Riley Ridley while on the move with a perfect pass for 32 yards and the young QB-WR tandem's biggest connection as pros. It reminded of a few things: Trubisky is easily at his best outside the pocket, where he's seldom been placed by Matt Nagy this season; and the quarterback tends to play his best when he's not thinking as much in crunch time, and relatively speaking, this play qualifies.
Trubisky finished Sunday with another pedestrian rating (84.0) and suboptimal passing clip (5.6 YPA) but 5-of-7 for 53 yards on the final drive, when he also completed a key pass for three yards to Allen Robinson on third-and-2 that allowed the Bears to chew more than 90 additional seconds off the clock before Eddy Pineiro's 22-yard game-winning FG.
For Trubisky and the Bears offense, these are obviously sporadic and specific instances, hardly comprising the majority of the season, when his yards per attempt and TD percentage went down by nearly a full yard and a half and almost two points, and Chicago averaged well over a touchdown each game than it did last season.
Sure, we'll never know how many more meaningful attempts Trubisky might have made for the Bears if he'd been put in more advantageous spots, or if they had better tight ends or if the O-line didn't regress even further than its quarterback this season.
Irrespective of that, Bears brass must decide whether — ideal circumstances or not — Trubisky's overall struggles over his first 42 career starts, and clear step backward this season, trumps a couple more of the fleeting flashes we saw Sunday. Make no mistake, he'll be back for a fourth season because his rookie contract basically ensures it, but the other two quarterbacks will be out of contract.
Chicago's approach to rebuilding its QB corps, then, obviously takes center stage this offseason, when Nagy and Pace must reconcile Trubisky's performances on every stage, not soley late in meaningless games or during a solid five-to-six-game stretch
"Situational football in crucial times, I think Mitch has shown what he can do in those scenarios; he's done that over his career," Nagy said Sunday following his 20th career victory, the most ever by a Bears head coach in his first two seasons. "We just want to make sure as we go through this thing that we really, really learn on all the other stuff, which is [going to] happen. Taking time on learning how to get better with everything that involves playing the quarterback position."
That includes the quarterback's issues that carried over from last season, such as downfield inaccuracy and inconsistent progression reading, as well as Trubisky's struggles staying healthy and making strong decisions. Being unsuccessful in those areas are nonstarters, of course, when it comes to adeptly playing the position on a consistent basis, but will Pace and Nagy see eye to eye on whether the Bears have more time to spend while enduring the quarterback's growing pains?
"For me, it can't get here soon enough," Nagy said of the looming opportunity to begin the big-picture self scout of where his team, quarterback and offense specifically went south this year. "For me, that 2020 starts now, literally the second I walk off this stage. "... I'm ready to go in attack mode with Ryan and figure out how we want to go about this thing. There's a lot of stuff for us to look at. It's not one thing. It's all three phases. It's a challenge, I accept it and we're looking forward to it."
Nagy and Pace will each be asked a litany of questions at their annual state-of-the-season address Tuesday about the head coach's failures to maximize his quarterback and Trubisky's inability to overcome that and the other adverse conditions that contributed to the NFL's 30th-ranked scoring offense. It'll be even longer before anyone truly knows what they learned from this year's disappointment.
"The message is that every year is always different. So regardless of it, next year is going to be completely different, with completely different players," Nagy said Sunday of his message to the team entering the offseason. "I hope that all of us understand —players and coaches — that what we went through this year, we need to turn it into a glass-half-full deal and learn from it. If you don't learn from it, then shame on you. And that's going to be our No. 1 job — to make sure each person does that."