After missing the previous two games with a right shoulder injury, Mitch Trubisky's return Sunday night vs. the Los Angeles Rams was terrible from an individual standpoint but triumphant for the Bears, who upset the conference leaders 15-6 to improve to 9-4.
Whether Trubisky's struggles were the result of rust, lingering issues with his shoulder or simply a bad night, the Bears are fortunate not only for their dominating defense but an afterthought run game that came to the forefront to help bail out the second-year quarterback.
"I'm pretty disappointed in myself and the way I played — especially being out two weeks — but it's hard to be down when you get such a big win like that, said Trubisky, who completed 16-of-30 passes for 110 yards, one TD and three INTs. "You just got to put your own selfish thoughts about how you played aside. ... We got such a huge team win."
It was a welcome change after the Bears 'D' collapsed, and the ground game disappeared in the second half of last week's loss against the New York Giants, in which backup Chase Daniel's performance wasn't all that different than Trubisky's Sunday night.
The effect of Trubisky taking back the reins from Daniel was evident early on Sunday, when he picked up nine yards on a scramble on the night's first play from scrimmage and raced 13 yards off the right edge on third-and-11 four plays later. After Daniel was to blame for several of the five sacks he absorbed in an error-filled Week 13 loss, Trubisky's superior athleticism and run instincts provided a boon against the Rams' dangerous front.
However, Trubisky struggled throughout the evening throwing the football, beginning on the first possession, when his attempt for Josh Bellamy sailed high, resulting in interception No. 1, which Marcus Peters returned 48 yards to set up a 27-yard field goal by Rams PK Greg Zuerlein.
"When you look at it numbers-wise, I think there were some throws — some of the interceptions sailed on him," coach Matt Nagy said. "It wasn't his best game. You know, what I told him, I said, who cares. I mean, we're about winning the games.
"... These are the ones that you look back, for myself as a coach, for him as a quarterback, and you grow from. Again, as I've always said, when you win the game, it's a lot easier to critique and understand the why part, use it to help you down the road."
Trubisky briefly found a rhythm on the Bears' second series, connecting on three consecutive attempts to get the Bears in position for a game-tying field goal. But after that 69-yard scoring drive, Chicago's next four possessions combined netted only 56 yards and one more field goal, a gift considering the Bears picked up only six yards on four plays following Roquan Smith's interception before settling for Cody Parkey's 31-yard connection.
But Trubisky was picked again shortly before intermission when he tried to find Taylor Gabriel on the sideline but and again overthrew him but not Rams CB Nickel Robey-Coleman. Only two plays later, Bears S Eddie Jackson intercepted Jared Goff in Chicago's end zone on the final play of the half to take a 6-all tie into the locker room.
After a nine-play, 81-yard TD drive capped by Trubisky finding OT Bradley Sowell, who along with Akiem Hicks, Jonathan Bullard and Bilal Nichols reported as eligible, for a two-yard touchdown on their first second-half possession, Trubisky was intercepted for the third time, tying a career high.
But the Bears' sudden-change 'D' would answer the bell again. Kyle Fuller, reading Jared Goff's eyes, darted in front of Josh Reynolds for his seventh interception of the season (tied for the league lead), the high-octane Rams' second fruitless visit to the red zone.
It's important to note that as poorly as Trubisky played, his offseason workout partner, Goff (4 INTs, 19.1 rating), was every bit as bad. But, unlike the Rams and their NFL rushing leader Todd Gurley, who was held to only 28 yards on 11 carries, the Bears had two deadly dimensions to alleviate Trubisky's struggles.
Chicago had its best rushing performance of the season — and this time it wasn't a mirage resulting from Trubisky, whose 25 yards were supplemented by 101 on 19 carries (5.3 YPC) from Jordan Howard and 69 on nine (7.7) from Tarik Cohen. All told, the Bears finished with a season-high 194 yards on 32 carries (6.1YPC), repeatedly running successfully into the teeth of the Rams 'D.' It was part of Matt Nagy's plan to minimize the impact of Defensive Player of the Year front runner Aaron Donald, who managed only two tackles and one QB hit.
The result? The Bears out-possessed the Rams by more than 12 minutes. Their defense was the first in two seasons to hold Sean McVay's Rams without a touchdown. All while Trubisky rung up a passer rating of 33.3 and yards per attempt of 3.7 — nearly two full yards less than Chicago's rushing average.
"I'm very fortunate to be a part of this team," Trubisky said. "The guys continue to believe in me, stick by me. We pulled through on the offense. The defense had our backs all night, making big plays, getting turnovers, shutting down a really good offense."
The Bears, who can clinch a playoff spot with a Minnesota Vikings loss Monday night in Seattle, likely will need Trubisky to play much better come postseason time. The defense might even need him to bail it out eventually. But it sure didn't Sunday night.