There is no denying it: Mitch Trubisky played well against the Lions on Thanksgiving.
The Bears QB completed more than 75 percent of his passes, averaged 8.9 yards per attempt, threw for more than 338, dropped in three touchdowns, and posted a quality 118.1 passer efficiency rating plus a season-best 75.2 rating via ESPN’s QBR metric.
Not only were those the types of stats that Trubisky was expected to put up against a defense like Detroit, but they also provide a glimpse into what makes him frustrating to watch. To have the athleticism to make those types of throws, but to not have the ability to put up those numbers consistently is flat-out maddening.
And yet, he did it. But does it mean something? Anything?
An optimist would point out the incremental progress Head Coach Matt Nagy alluded to in recent weeks is what led to Trubisky’s Thanksgiving breakout. Said optimist would probably then highlight how Trubisky wasn’t heavily reliant on force-feeding Allen Robinson the ball, instead spreading the wealth to secondary options such as Anthony Miller, Javon Wims, and even Jesper Horsted en route to improvement. And I suppose, that through that lens, there is an argument to be made that Trubisky is developing with the evidence being in that he is going through his progressions and connecting with pass-catchers who aren’t his No. 1 target. Simply put, that Trubisky is doing things now that he wasn’t doing earlier is a sign of … something.
On the other side of the coin, a pessimist would likely label this as a trap. That person would point out the distinction between playing better after a woeful start to the season and … just generally being a good quarterback. Because in between the two book-end games of 100+ passer ratings against Detroit, Trubisky put up clunkers against the Rams and Giants. And it would be irresponsible to throw those games out the window, because a 58.4 percent completion percentage, 67.0 passer rating, an average of 5.6 yards per attempt, and throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) isn’t a good look. Further, the dichotomy between Trubisky’s good moments (shown against the Lions) and the clear struggles (against the Rams and Giants) speak to the erratic play that has us having this discussion in the first place.
For what it’s worth, Adam Jahns of The Athletic warns against writing off Trubisky at this point in the season. And if history finds a way of repeating itself, perhaps we might look back at this moment in time as the spot where Trubisky started to turn it around. After all, Jahns makes an astute observation in pointing out how Trubisky turned the corner around this time last year.
It was in December 2018 when the Bears appeared to find an identity. Jordan Howard and the running game took off. Sure, it’s easy to remember Howard walking away with the FedEx Ground Player of the Week award for his gashing through the Vikings defense. But that performance was a culmination of the Bears’ commitment to using the running game as a foundation. Howard scored four rushing touchdowns over his last three games, a stretch in which he averaged 4.2 yards per carry. And during that same stretch, Trubisky posted a 75.9 percent completion rate, 109.7 passer rating, and averaged a respectable 7.8 yards per attempt.
FOX analyst Troy Aikman and play-by-play voice Joe Buck made reference to how Trubisky finding himself as a passer and the discovery of David Montgomery as a steady rushing option aided the Bears to a win against the Lions in Week 13:
"When it mattered most, he delivered the football and made some big plays."@TroyAikman & Joe @Buck break down what the improved play of Mitch Trubisky means to the @ChicagoBears offense ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/W9jJYpeARc
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 29, 2019
Replicating what happened in 2018 will be no easy task. And as ESPN’s Louis Riddick points out, it goes beyond just repeating the numbers.
Check out this video, starting around the 6:15 mark:
Not only does Riddick – a long-time Trubisky supporter – point out that Trubisky needs to get in the proper mindset to be the guy he was against the Lions for the season’s remaining games, he questions if Trubisky can do it.
“When he does this kind of thing, what happens is all the people who supported him are now going to say: ‘See, he can do it. It’s just a matter of developing him.’ But really, what he’s doing is he’s setting you up,” Riddick said. “Because I don’t believe he necessarily has that mindset to really dial in. … I’ve been a very vocal supporter of his, but too many times, the consistency is just too up and down.”
In the end, one game against the Lions isn’t going to sway the big-picture assessment of Trubisky. Nor should it. What could go a long way toward solving this puzzle is how Trubisky performs in the final four games of the season. If Trubisky can do to the Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings what he did to the Lions, then perhaps we can open up a different conversation. But until that time comes, Trubisky’s excellence on Thanksgiving isn’t a trap or a turning point. Instead, it is just a point of reference that will not offer us any clarity as to what it meant until after the season ends.