LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Seattle Seahawks gave the Chicago Bears the most meaningful gift of the holiday season: one final chance to see whether quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can deliver a signature performance against an elite NFL team.
Seattle’s Week 16 victory over the Los Angeles Rams delayed Green Bay from clinching the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed -- despite the Packers’ dominant 40-14 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans -- which therefore compels the Packers to treat Sunday’s regular-season finale at Soldier Field as a must-win.
For the Packers, there will be no resting starters. Green Bay is coming to town ready for a fight, led by MVP front-runner Aaron Rodgers and the seventh-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed per game.
Short-term, the prospect of facing Green Bay (winner of 18 of the last 21 games in the series) with playoff hopes on the line (Chicago needs to beat the Packers or have Arizona lose to the Jared Goff-less Rams to reach the postseason) is far from ideal.
Long-term, Chicago's matchup against its NFC North rival is perfect.
The cries to keep Trubisky beyond 2020 -- the Bears declined the former second overall pick’s fifth-year option in May -- are growing steadily louder, even though the idea of using the franchise tag (projected around $23 million to $24 million in 2021, according OvertheCap.com) on Trubisky sounds like a non-starter with the league’s salary cap expected to decrease.
Some likened Trubisky to a conquering hero who -- along with formerly underused running back David Montgomery -- returned from exile to awaken Chicago’s offense from its seasonlong coma.
Trubisky’s better-than-expected outings against Detroit (31st ranked defense), Houston (30th), Minnesota (27th) and Jacksonville (32nd) convinced many the Bears' answer to their 60-plus-year quarterback dilemma was right under their nose.
Never mind that Trubisky made 45 NFL starts before coach Matt Nagy pulled the plug in Week 3.
“I assure you a lot went into that [decision to bench Trubisky],” Nagy said in early December. “It wasn’t just because he threw an interception on a shallow cross in the Atlanta game.”
Therein lies the rub. You cannot erase the past three years. Trubisky’s career in Chicago is teetering on the edge because the overall body of work is not good enough. Considering general manager Ryan Pace took Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, the Bears had every motivation to ensure Trubisky succeeded. Yet the organization still traded for Nick Foles, declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option and subsequently benched him for seven weeks.
No amount of revisionist history can change that.
To be sure, Trubisky has been on a tear since he reentered the lineup Nov. 29. He ought to be commended for how he played versus the Lions (minus the late fourth-quarter fumble), Texans, Vikings and Jaguars. The fourth-year quarterback was in complete command during those games and, coupled with Montgomery’s rushing hot streak, helped Chicago score 30-plus points in four consecutive games for the first time since 1965.
“We can get into the whole defenses that you are playing thing, this is the NFL, and no matter what defense you are playing your job is to go out there and score points,” Nagy said on Monday. “If you’re not scoring points against these defenses, your job is to score points against whatever defense is put in front of you.”
Fair enough. Trubisky should not be penalized based on the Bears' opponent. Likewise, he should not be rewarded with a new deal either -- not yet.
That's why the timing of the Packers game is perfect. For Trubisky truly to change the narrative, he needs to perform the same way against Green Bay he has versus Jacksonville and Detroit. And then he needs to follow that up with strong games in the postseason, if the Bears are fortunate enough to advance.
History suggests that is unlikely to happen.
Trubisky turned the ball over three times at Lambeau Field in Week 12. Since 2018, Trubisky’s passer ratings versus the Packers: 77.2, 64.5, 120.4, 62.1 and 74.7.
For every one of Trubisky’s memorable days against bottom-feeder defenses (take for example, Trubisky’s six touchdowns versus the Bucs in 2018), there are as many instances of him floundering when the Bears have faced tougher teams (Rams, Chiefs, Eagles, Chargers, Saints).
There are no disclaimers attached to Green Bay. The significance of Sunday’s game is plainly obvious. Beating the Packers would not be a fluke.
“Well, it would be huge,” Nagy said. “We built up to this part of the season where we have a chance to win and get in. To have it be against one of the best teams in the NFL, to go back to your question about Mitchell, for the path that we have been on the last four games, three games with the wins, it would be special for us to win on Sunday.”
It would then lead to more relevant conversations about Trubisky’s future. Whereas another subpar game versus the Packers should all but seal Trubisky’s fate -- regardless of what has transpired the last three or four weeks.
As a Chicago Bear, if you cannot beat Green Bay when it matters, what’s the point?