Football needed Week 4. It was getting a little too easy for the Patriots and Chiefs. The Rams, Green Bay, Detroit, Dallas and Buffalo hadn’t lost yet, and you know how the NFL likes to pull the good teams to the middle. There was a lot of pulling this weekend.
What interested me about this weekend: how many depth players, forgotten players and emerging players, ruled the weekend. Such as Chicago backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who has started four games in a comfy 10-year career, saw Mitchell Trubisky get hurt 10 feet away from him three minutes into the Minnesota game. No time to warm up. Just time to lead the Bears on an immediate touchdown drive and, ultimately, win the game. It’s Daniel’s job now, with Trubisky out indefinitely with a left shoulder injury.
When I spoke with Chase Daniel, who’s never really had his 15 minutes of fame in a benchy decade in the NFL, I said, “Isn’t that what makes this fun? The unpredictability of it?”
Daniel, who turns 33 next week, was standing near coach Matt Nagy early in the first quarter, helping with personnel groups like he always does. In front of him, on a third down, Trubisky got sacked. He tried to get up, twice. He couldn’t. “I thought it might be a concussion,” Daniel said. Medics and Nagy checked on Trubisky, and Daniel figured he’d better start throwing.
“Chase, you’re in!” Nagy said to him seconds later.
Because it had been third down, Daniels started throwing with practice squad QB Tyler Bray as Trubisky came off. But he missed the penalty flag on Minnesota, giving the Bears a fresh set of downs.
“No! No!” a voice yelled. “We got the ball! You’re in NOW!”
The life of a backup. Huge division game between two 2-1 teams. No time to warm up.
“Mitch and I threw before the game, and not much time had passed, so I felt pretty good,” Daniel said. “It was fine. You’re excited, of course, and it happens all of a sudden. Matt was like, You know the offense. Just go out there and be you. He was super-positive the whole game.”
On the first series, on fourth-and-one from the Viking 43, Nagy called a sneak for Daniel, who liked the faith his coach had in him to get a yard. He got it. Daniel really liked it when Nagy, on a first down from the Viking 30, called a deep throw down the left side for Allen Robinson. Everyone in the quarterback room during the week thought it was a perfect call against the Minnesota defense, sure that Robinson could beat the coverage. He did. “I never repped it in practice,” Daniel said, “but I loved the call. We felt like it’d be a touchdown.” Robinson made it to the 5-yard line, and after a flag for a false start, Daniel led Tarik Cohen with a pass just over the line, and Cohen did the rest. The Bears were on their way, and Daniel (22 of 30, 195 yards one TD, no picks) was a huge reason.
“I’m about to turn 33,” Daniel said, “and I’ve been in it 11 years now. But I feel like I’m 25. And I love this offense. I feel the offense. This is my fifth or sixth year in it. I was in Kansas City, in Philadelphia, and it’s basically the same offense. Very quarterback-friendly. The quarterback’s a point guard out there. I’ve always felt I was an accurate passer, and not just dink-and-dunk. We took some shots out there today—that shot to Robinson on the first drive, and others.”
And now the reins of a very good team are Daniel’s. This is the first time in his life he’s been handed an NFL team to quarterback for any length of time, and he’s in a weird spot. He and Trubisky have become good friends. Daniel helps him ID coverages and trends between series during games. And he knows Trubisky has had his struggles. But in Daniel’s position, none of that matters now. He’s playing until they take him off the field. “I think Matt feels comfortable calling a game with me,” Daniel said. “Any time you get a chance to play, at least for me, it’s a great opportunity, especially with this defense. I’m thinking, Be aggressive, but take care of the football. All the other stuff, I’m aware of all the talk going on around town, and how outsiders view us, but I don’t care about it. For now, all I care about is going to London [Bears versus Raiders on Sunday in London] and keep the main thing the main thing. Worry about winning a game before our bye.”