How embattled Mitchell Trubisky led Bears to improbable rally against Lions

USATSI - Tim Fuller
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Minutes after Bears 27, Lions 23Nick Foles found Mitchell Trubisky in the locker room. Foles smiled.

“Whew!” Foles said. “What a month we’ve been through!”

Longer than that, really, for Trubisky. The Bears didn’t pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option in the spring. The quarterback picked before Mahomes and Watson, now the two highest-paid players in history, and now he had an expiration date. The Bears traded for Foles and agreed to pay him $24-million over three years; when coach Matt Nagy put Foles and Trubisky in competition for the starting job, it looked like he was setting the stage for Foles to win the job. Then a funny thing happened. After five weeks in competition, Trubisky won the job. But he didn’t win the job forever. And when he was firing high and wide again in the first half Sunday in Detroit, Bears fans agonized anew. Same old Trubisky.

Detroit 23, Chicago 6, 18 minutes left.

“How do you avoid falling into thinking, Here we go again?” I wondered Sunday night. Trubisky, back in Chicago, was driving home now.

“You can’t go back to that dark place,” Trubisky said. “You can’t go back to, My stats aren’t any good. It’s happening again. At times like that, I find myself focusing on my teammates, the guys you grind with. Our relationships run deep. We lean on each other. And I think you’ve just got to believe in yourself, believe you can do it, there’s still time.”

NFL Week 1: Mitchell Trubisky
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. (Getty Images)
Allen Robinson made an acrobatic catch for 22 yards to key the ensuing drive, and Trubisky threw a two-yard box-out TD to Jimmy Graham to start the rally. On TV, Dick Stockton said the Bears getting their offense going was “like pulling teeth in the dentist chair.” And that’s what the day’d been like. The next drive was like that, Trubisky taking an 18-yard sack to make it fourth-and-41. Then he engineered a 55-yard scoring drive, finishing it with a one-yard TD to Javon Wims. Now it was getting interesting. And when Matthew Stafford threw a tipped pick just before the two-minute warning, the Bears had a shot from 37 yards away to win it.

With first-and-10 at the Detroit 27 at the two-minute warning, Trubisky and Nagy talked on the sideline. The call was a corner route to Miller, the third-year wideout from Memphis.

“Dude,” Nagy told Trubisky, “you’re gonna throw a friggin’ touchdown here!”

“I’ll tell you what was crazy,” Trubisky said Sunday night. “I was watching the game on the plane home from Detroit, and that play came up, and the receivers coach, Mike Furrey, said to me, ‘You see what 12 did?’ “

Twelve for the Bears is wideout Allen Robinson. Said Trubisky: “Allen Robinson’s got his back turned to the ball, can’t see it, but has his arms raised in the air before the ball even gets to Anthony Miller. He knew.”

Think of the significance of that. Trubisky would have to throw this corner route to Miller about 35 yards in the air. It’s likely Miller would have a cornerback in close coverage. If you saw Trubisky on Sunday, or most of last year, it’s not entirely logical to have confidence in Trubisky to throw an accurate pass 35 yards through the air. But Robinson did have confidence, evidently.

The throw was a strike. Chicago was the beneficiary of rookie Lions back D’Andre Swift dropping the potential winning touchdown pass in the final seconds, but no one was raining on Trubisky’s parade Sunday night. A rally like this one, and a strike like the winning throw to Miller, was, for one building-block week, something the Bears needed desperately. Nagy needed it too. He’s joined at the hip with Trubisky, and was when he made the starting call 10 days ago.

“Coach called me in on a Friday, and he kind of was building up to telling me for a long time,” Trubisky said. “I kind of didn’t believe it at first. I was very detailed in my work. My back was against the wall, obviously, in camp, and all you can do is fight and move forward and show my teammates I can still be the guy.

“I was quiet, but I was happy. Really happy. Playing in the NFL is a dream come true for me. I will never take it for granted. At the same time, I’m totally grateful for Nick. He’a an amazing teammate. Here we are, in this competition this summer, and he’d say to me out on the field, ‘Wow, great throw! Awesome! You’re trusting it now, you’re seeing it.’ He’s given me so many enlightening points. He’s a guy I want in my corner.”

One game doesn’t make a comeback. Trubisky has to stack a bunch of quarters like this fourth quarter together. He still looks tentative at times, and on too many throws Sunday was not accurate. That’s got to improve for him to be the long-term guy, anywhere. But for one week at least, the promise of 2017 lives.

“It’s crazy,” Trubisky said. “I do catch a lot of crap. But like coach says, you’ve got to enjoy the wins in the NFL, and I’m going to. This was a special day. I’m thankful for what I have in life, especially now, with COVID-19 and social injustice everywhere. I’m really grateful just to be playing football right now.

“The game’s made me a better man, a better person. It’s made me tougher. It’s why I never gave up today.”

NFL Week 1: Trubisky and Lions defender Romeo Okwara
Lions defensive lineman Romeo Okwara and Trubisky. (Getty Images)
Just before he got off the phone, Trubisky said, “It’s good to see hard work pay off.”

You might love the Bears, or hate the Bears. You might have given up on Trubisky long ago. But in a time when we weren’t sure football would happen at all—and with so much uncertainty about the pandemic facing us—you take the stories like this one and say, “Good to have football back.”

Read more in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column