Save for Mitch Trubisky’s yards per attempt and the Bears’ overall record, it’s hard to identify major improvements in their 19-14 survival-act win over the 2-8 New York Giants Sunday at Soldier Field.
Of course, a victory, only Chicago’s fifth in 11 games, matters the most — especially with their first-round pick in April belonging to the Oakland Raiders.
And for a Bears offense among the NFL’s most anemic all season, it was nice to see the uptick in explosive passing plays. Of their season-high five of at least 19 yards Sunday, four went to Allen Robinson, who, after a couple tough games, was sensational.
Trubisky wasn't, even if he did throw for a season-high 278 yards. In fairness, this week he endured yet another wave of criticism, after the fishy circumstances surrounding his hip injury and early exit a week ago in L.A, and his first of two interceptions never would’ve happened if Ben Braunecker secures a would-be 29-yard touchdown on the Bears’ second series, following what by now might as well be an obligatory game-opening three-and-out (seven in 11 games).
Trubisky tossed his third red-zone pick of the season four plays later, a miscommunication with Robinson, and once again failed to find the end zone in the first half, which ended with the Bears trailing 7-3.
He also underthrew Javon Wims in the post early in the fourth quarter for his second interception. If not for a pair of Aldrick Rosas missed field goals, we'd be talking about a 19-point output against the NFL's 30th-ranked scoring 'D' as not good enough, rather than barely sufficient.
"Happy we won, but it's not good enough," said Trubisky, who finished with a 69.0 rating. "Not nearly good enough from this offense, from myself. We can't have the turnovers. Got to be better on 3rd down. Got to the better in the red zone. Enjoy the win, but quick turnaround this week obviously playing on Thursday, so we've just got to find ways to get better, improve and quit making mistakes, especially myself."
Trubisky made some “special throws,” as Matt Nagy would call them, after intermission, like the play-action rollout on the second play of the second half that went for 23 to Robinson, who would punctuate the Bears’ fifth consecutive TD drive to open the second half only a few plays later.
Indeed, the offense followed up another awful first half with some third-quarter corrections, perhaps most notably an uptick in moving pockets for Trubisky, whose mobility coming off the hip issue clearly wasn’t impaired. In addition to a season-long 12-yard scramble to move the chains on a third down, he authored his first rushing score of the season on a designed keeper to punctuate the Bears’ other TD drive.
But the run game managed only 2.5 yards per rush and again couldn’t convert short-yardage situations, while drops (another by Taylor Gabriel in addition to Braunecker’s) and penalties (Cody Whitehair’s illegal hands to the face nullified a 60-yard Trubisky-to-Robinson hookup, and a comedy of errors turned a two-point conversion into a 48-yard missed PAT) continued to be additional issues.
"Number one, we don't accept it, so that's the first part is making sure, 'OK, how can we be better in that area?' So as a coaching staff, what are ways we can prevent that. Communication in and out of the huddle," Nagy said of the illegal substitution that pushed back Eddy Pineiro a second time after Robinson was called for pass interference on Gabriel's conversion catch. "But I think it's both sides, and you don't want -- coming out with the win, you're proud of that, but we want to make sure that -- I think we all pride ourselves, I know I do, on making sure that stuff doesn't happen."
The defense basically shut down the biggest thorn in its side in last year's OT loss, holding Saquon Barkley to 3.2 yards per play, and benefited from a massive game-turning Khalil Mack strip-sack — his first since Week 3. It also allowed the Giants to drive 97 yards, with Daniel Jones finding Golden Tate on fourth-and-18 in the same end zone that Tate ended Chicago’s 2018 season in January, to keep it close in the fourth quarter.
However, with the Bears’ four-minute offense subsequently unable to take matters into its own hands, the ‘D’ stiffened. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was at his best with a team-high seven tackles, made a key third-down breakup and Leonard Floyd applied the final pressure on Jones on fourth down.
While their opponents were bad, the Bears again also battled themselves in a performance that at best could be called average. Fittingly, by beating a very bad Detroit Lions team on Thanksgiving that lost to 1-9 Washington Sunday, that’s exactly what the Bears’ record would say they are with four remaining games, likely to unfold much like Sunday.
"What I talk to the team about is after we lost four in a row and then we won against Detroit, we wanted to make sure that, OK, it's on to Detroit now. We won today, it doesn't matter. We've got to erase this and now focus on what's going on in the coming week. That's all we can do."