By Dan Bernstein —
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) Forget the Bears’ lost season for just a moment and keep in mind that all that matters is that whether rookie Mitchell Trubisky is good at quarterback.
If he is, everything is fine for general manager Ryan Pace and whomever the new coach may be after this slog is over.
And that was more significant than anything else Sunday, well beyond the fact of Chicago’s dominating 33-7 victory in Cincinnati over a listless Bengals team that appeared to be reeling from a short week after a brutal Monday night confrontation with the Steelers. But regardless of their opponents’ mental and physical condition and the absence of several key defenders, Trubisky and the Bears offense were professional, balanced and eventually opportunistic, with Trubisky not only posting a gaudy stat line of 25 completions in 32 attempts for 271 yards and a touchdown for an efficiency rating of 112.4 but making eye-test progress in several areas as well.
He kept his vision downfield and from sideline to sideline, taking advantage of mostly steady protection to allow receivers to come open on longer-developing crossing routes, with eight different Bears catching at least one pass and Kendall Wright breaking out for 10 catches and 107 yards.
Trubisky used varied forms of play-action and bootleg roll-outs to move the pocket, recognizing zone defenses in time to find the proper spots for high-percentage passes, and the power running game of Jordan Howard (23 carries for 147 yards) and Tarik Cohen (12 carries, 80 yards) kept the Bengals in between enough to defend nothing well. Howard ran for two scores, while Trubisky used a nifty read-option keeper for one of his own and found a well-covered Adam Shaheen for another with a perfectly placed throw.
Some building pressure on Pace may be decreased temporarily by the performance of the rookie class Sunday. The play of Trubisky, Cohen and Shaheen was matched by safety Eddie Jackson with an interception and a forced fumble and recovery on the same play. Not only did Jackson keep attacking the ball through the end of a play on A.J. Green near the sideline, he flat took it away from him and then pleaded his case successfully enough for John Fox to actually win a replay challenge.
Quarterback development is often an unsatisfying and non-linear process, with growth more difficult to measure than simply by watching highlights or reading a box score. Failures can lead to future successes in latent fashion, needing time to accrue value as muscle memory builds over time, and Trubisky’s specific story is complicated by coaching instability, a relentless spate of injuries and a roster still lacking talent.
For all of those reasons, a clearly positive day is something to recognize, even if it comes against a damaged and undermanned team.
Sunday’s win was far better than any alternative, an obvious uptick for the most important player on the Bears, one that lends valid support for reasonable optimism that he can someday fulfill Pace’s career-defining gamble.