The leadership qualities of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky have taken shape and root through the Bears’ 6-3 start, one that has included two three-game win streaks. Nothing succeeds at making believers like success.
But beyond specific developmental steps the second-year quarterback has made, is making and will make in an evolving offense, and beyond coaches’ and teammates’ believing in him, is a crucial next step that the elites at the position take:
Becoming a closer. In fourth quarters.
The Bears are 5-2 when leading after three quarters, but only 1-1 when trailing after three. In his 21 games, Trubisky has delivered two late game-winning drives – for a winning field goal in overtime last year at Baltimore, and for a winning field goal at Arizona this year.
But in the Bears’ three 2018 losses, irrespective of defensive failures, Trubisky and the offense managed just three points in the fourth quarter at Green Bay, and one fourth-quarter touchdown each in the losses to Miami and New England. The Bears were outscored in the fourth quarters against Detroit and Tampa Bay but were already sufficiently far ahead (35-3 vs. the Buccaneers, 34-10 vs. the Lions) that late scores weren’t really necessary.
Trubisky is clear on the situational needs: “Coming out with a positive drive starter, no negative plays and then have an explosive play,” he said. “And then usually that results in good plays for us. So we can get that and keep getting better and finish in the end zone or finish with points, whatever the situation is, that’s what we need to do.”
Trubisky has been significantly better this year in fourth quarters than he was in 2017, in every quarter, actually: 64.4 percent completion percentage, 8.03 yards per attempt, a 97.7 passer rating, ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Case Keenum, among others.
The problem is that his level of play ranks just 20th among fourth-quarter passers. Minnesota will come to Soldier Field on Sunday behind Kirk Cousins, the No. 5 crunch-time passer, with a 1.1-percent interception rate, compared to Trubisky’s 3.4.
A focus this week has been third-down efficiency, against a Minnesota defense ranked No. 1 in fewest third-down conversions (25.7 percent). Trubisky ranks 13th in third-down passing, with a 99.0 rating.
But a blowout is unlikely, meaning that sometime late Sunday evening, the Bears and Trubisky will have the football in a situation needing a finishing kick. At that time, they will be pressed to answer some of Matt Nagy’s core questions.
“When you’re winning in a game, how do you finish?” Nagy said. “When you’re losing in a game, how do you come back? All those are occurring to us.
“You’re seeing that when you put together a team of good people, that responds to adversity, it helps you. We’re drilling to these guys aggressive, aggressive, aggressive, finish, finish, finish. If we don’t do that as coaches, then what are we teaching?”