Gut Feeling

Hours after the Bears announced the trade up to draft their guy in Mitchell Trubisky, I did something I’ve only done one time before – bought the jersey of a Bears rookie. The first time I did it? Cedric Benson. Probably should’ve known better.

I wore Mitch’s jersey with a reasonable amount of pride, even as recently as last week, and for the most part have trended toward his defense. Much like all issues in our world, the Trubisky Quandary is not binary or requires choosing of sides, but it devolved into such the moment he was selected. Such is life, I suppose.

That said, it’s been pretty obvious that Mitch doesn’t have that *it* which makes a really good college quarterback a starting NFL quarterback, much less an elite one. His deep passes are such a non-factor that defenses don’t bother gameplanning against them. He can’t read a defense after nearly 4 years in the league, hasn’t fixed his footwork, locks onto his primary target, and only seems to unlock the talent that made him worthy of a top 5 pick when things are happening so fast he doesn’t have time to overthink.

Nagy has tried to unlock that by going more no-huddle, worked his comfort zone by having a ton of shotgun and rollouts. The Bears have rebuilt their entire receiver and tight end pools since Trubisky has been drafted, and while the offensive line hasn’t been incredible, they’ve been serviceable, if not above average. At some point as a coach and a GM, you have to see that your investment isn’t bearing fruit.

That moment for Nagy came in the 3rd quarter. It was not when this event typically happens. They didn’t wait until the bye week, they didn’t even wait between games.

Matt Nagy said that he felt the moment was right; that it was a gut feeling. The game was a mess for the most part up to that point, not just the play of Trubisky, either. The offense was struggling to get a rhythm, Santos missed another long field goal, the defense was getting totally outpaced by the blistering Falcons speed, and the Atlanta defense was frustrating the hell out of the Chicago gameplan with impactful run blitzes and an incredible game from Darquez Dennard.

Then there’s the officiating. My god, the officiating. Khalil Mack was held on virtually every snap, and when a Bears defender made contact with Matt Ryan, they were routinely flagged for roughing. The Bears did themselves no favors on dumbass punt team false starts (two of them!) and an illegal shift (the thousandth of the Nagy era, it feels), but when a defense is blatantly given no flexibility in regards to touching an elite quarterback, what can you do?

Fast forward to the 3rd quarter. The Bears were down 23-10 and on a crucial 3rd and 8, Trubisky throws a pass that had all the hallmarks of his career up to that point: No vision of the defense, locking onto his target, no attempt at a progression, and a poorly thrown ball. It was a classic Mitch case of two steps forward, five steps back, and inside of Matt Nagy’s head, something snapped. He had seen enough. He told Bill Lazor to break the news to Mitch while Nagy himself told Nick Foles to put his helmet on.

The rest of the game was bizarre-o world. The officials suddenly were quite okay with letting Matt Ryan get hit, so the Bears defense hit him – a lot. The deep passes the Falcons weren’t defending due to Mitch’s arm suddenly were viable, and Foles basically played catch with his receivers for 1.5 quarters. Atlanta, who now owns the copyright and trademark on “Falconing” as a descriptor for routinely blowing big leads, certainly is in their own fascinating quagmire of football hell. The Bears took full advantage, and are now 3-0.

But what does it mean for the careers of Mitch Trubisky and Ryan Pace? I don’t think Pace is going anywhere anytime soon. When that trade and pick was made in 2017, many felt like that was Pace’s career being staked on a risky prospect who only played a few games of NCAA football in an unremarkable conference. Assuming Mitch leaves the Bears after this season, which feels inevitable, there’s some conversations at Halas Hall that need to be had.

Ryan Pace is still a young and relatively accomplished general manager. He’s made what appears to be two sound hires in both John Fox (restoring the dignity of the franchise after reaching its lowest point) and Matt Nagy (giving the franchise character, youth, and leadership). There’s been a fair amount of success in mid-round selections, with rounds 1 and 2 of the draft being mostly on the mediocre-to-bad side. His free agent acquisitions and trades have been successes, on the whole.

But is that good enough? If you fire your general manager due to the failure of Mitch Trubisky, the firing of Matt Nagy, by all accounts a solid NFL coach who the players rally around, is next, is it not? Is it better to stay the course, gambling on Pace and Nagy to progress as they both hoped Mitch would (and didn’t)? Is it too early to be asking these questions?

The quick answer to the last one is yes. The long answer is that this is the Chicago Bears we’re talking about, and while they’re 3-0 for the first time since 2013, a team that ultimately went 8-8. The combined record of the teams the Bears have played in 2020 is 1-8. There is a very long way to go for what kind of story the Bears will write for themselves, but at least we know it won’t be a boring one.

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