Sunday, September 26, 2021

Return of a #2 pick – scene set for a new Trubisky

The big question heading into the Bears’ second pre-season game is ‘is Chicago ready for the biggest return to the city since CM Punk arrived in AEW less than 24 hours ago?’.

Pre-season games in the NFL are often hum-drum affairs that see a slew of second-string and nearly men take the field in games that are soon consigned to the record books.

But with the return of crowds to NFL stadiums after last season’s restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pre-season fixtures this year have a little bit more gravitas to them.

And then, the fixture compilers throw up a gem like the Buffalo Bills visiting the Chicago Bears.

Both teams made the playoffs last season. The Bears losing in the Wild Card round at New Orleans, whereas the Bills went deep – eventually being bested 38-24 by the Kansas City Chiefs in a pulsating AFC Championship game.

The main attraction of tonight’s game surrounds the return of former Bears’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to Soldier Field.

Trubisky’s relationship with the Bears’ faithful is one that bordered on fickle, and soon deteriorated into disdain.

Return of a #2 draft pick

The Ohio-born quarterback got off to a rocky start with the Bears, through a situation that wasn’t of his own making. After a disastrous 2016 season, John Fox’s team had the number three pick in the 2017 draft. The Bears moved up to the number two pick by trading the San Francisco 49ers two third-round picks and fourth-round pick.

Bears fans anticipated something big but Trubisky, the highest-selected quarterback in the draft, immediately split opinion (heightened by the same draft class producing Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and draft analysts pinpointing the player as somewhere between the second and fourth-best quarterback in the class) – could he really be the man to lead the Bears to a first Superbowl victory since the famed ’85 team?

The short answer is of course ‘no’, but it isn’t really as simple as that. To appreciate the full story, you have to return right back to the start. Coach Fox immediately showed his faith in Trubisky by naming Mike Glennon as his starting quarterback for the 2017 season, after previously signing the Tampa Bay no-hoper for mega bucks.

Trubisky didn’t have to wait long for his chance, being named the starter in a Week 5 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, after the Bears had started the campaign with a 1-3 record. Fox’s side ended the campaign with a marginally improved 5-11 record, which saw Trubisky land the most passing yards (2,015) by a Bears rookie.

A memorable turnaround

Fox was understandably fired after the 2017 season and replaced by Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy – the new coach having met with Trubisky prior to the 2017 draft.

Bears’ General Manager Ryan Pace made it a priority to build the offense around Trubisky, bringing in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton to complement the former North Carolina youngster.

The turnaround was nothing short of a miracle. The Bears went 13-3 to win the NFC North. Trubisky caught the eye with six touchdowns and 154.7 rating in a 48-10 trouncing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But critics were quick to highlight Trubisky’s faults. One particular play in the season-opening loss to Green Bay went viral on social media. Later in the campaign, analysts pointed out that it was largely the Bears’ defence, bolstered by the arrival of Khalil Mack, that was pushing the team to victory – particularly in the 15-6 win over the Rams on Monday Night Football.

The Bears of course lost their Wild Card round playoff game to the Philadelphia Eagles following Cody Parkey’s double doink. Post-game analysis also drew attention to Trubisky’s poor first-half showing and questioned whether the 2018 Pro Bowler had done enough to move his team forward.

Benched and then a starting return

The 2019 season saw the Bears struggle. Opinion on Trubisky was more divided than ever – ten total interceptions over the course of the campaign doing little to help the player’s cause as Nagy’s side missed out on the playoffs.

It wasn’t just the fans that were having second thoughts about their quarterback. Coach Nagy announced an ‘open competition’ for quarterback starter for the 2020 season, with the arrival of Nick Foles from Jacksonville.

Although the Bears declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option, the Mentor High Schooler won the competition and started the season opener against the Detroit Lions. He started slowly but rallied in the fourth quarter to lead the side to a 27-23 victory.

That soon ended though. After a poor showing against the Falcons in Week 3, Trubisky was benched and it was Foles that led the Bears to an improbable 30-26 victory – being named the side’s new starter the day after the game.

In truth, the Bears didn’t have a starting quarterback. They had a pair of players who seemed desperate to underperform the other. Trubisky’s return as starter in Week 12 came in a pasting at Green BaY. Ahead of a Week 14 clash with Houston, ESPN went in savagely on the player, compared to his 2017 draft-mate Watson – the article maybe helped spur the Bears to a 36-7 victory.

What legacy does Mitch leave?

After falling into the playoffs with an unspectacular 8-8 record, the Bears were well beaten 21-9 by New Orleans. It proved to be the end for Trubisky, who joined the Bills in March.

Meanwhile, the Bears had been looking at Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, before plumping for the experienced Andy Dalton. Then, in a first-round draft shocker, Pace moved up to bring in Justin Fields.

Which brings us to Saturday’s game. With Josh Allen sitting out preseason, Soldier Field will see their new quarterback hope go up against the man who wasn’t quite good enough for the job.

For his part, Trubisky is quite salty about the situation, telling reporters that ‘it’s nice to be somewhere where people want you’. His former Bears’ team-mate Tarik Cohen has urged the Soldier Field crowd not to boo their former quarterback on his return to Chicago, which given how the home fans treated their own third string quarterback in Foles last week, seems unlikely.

Trubisky does leave a legacy at Soldier Field, which we can appreciate before tonight’s return:

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