Cheers surely echoed through the windy streets of Chicago on Monday, first when the city announced new “relaxed” rules allowing bars to again open their doors and then, a little later, when the Bears formally pushed Mitchell Trubisky out of his job as the team’s starting quarterback.
The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions “mark progress,” said Chicago health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, while many local football fans thought the same of Nick Foles being christened the new No. 1 signal caller of the NFC North co-leaders.
“If we see things heading in the wrong direction,” added the good doctor, “we may have to move backwards.”
Matt Nagy is unlikely to do the same. The Bears coach declared Trubisky the starter at training camp, but it was his one last chance to erase organizational regrets for trading up to take him No. 2 in the 2017 NFL draft, bypassing Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson along the way.
In reality, the Bears decided the baton would be handed to Foles when they sent a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for him in March, and then restructured the 31-year-old’s contract so that while it drastically cut his annual salary, it provided him a much-needed out in Jacksonville as well as upside and freedom should he lead the Bears to where they think they can soar.
And oh, the decision was also made when they declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option, effectively turning him into a free agent headed elsewhere in 2021.
The change means Foles will be the starter when the undefeated Bears host the 2-1 Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field on Sunday — a game for which the early line interestingly has the visitors favoured by 2.5 points — and “moving forward,” said Nagy.
It also means the game after their next one, which is also at home, will pit the quarterbacks from one of the highest-scoring Super Bowls ever against each other, only this time directing different teams.
That’s right, kicking off Week 5 on Thursday, Oct. 8, will be Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus Foles and the Bears.
When they went at it in LII on Feb. 4, 2018, the final count on the scoreboard was 41-33, with Brady completing 28-of-48 passes for 505 yards, more real estate than he has covered in any of his other 40 post-season games — plus three touchdowns.
It just wasn’t enough to beat Foles. He was named the MVP after guiding the Eagles to their first Super Bowl win with a 28-of-43 for 373 performance that included three touchdown tosses and a one-yard TD catch from tight end Trey Burton that will forever be remembered as the “Philly Special.”
How anxious the Bears were to bump Trubisky was evident in the length of his leash: Very, very short. The 26-year old was 2-0, including a season-opening, 27-23 come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions in which he (remember these numbers) threw three fourth-quarter touchdowns and the winning score, a 27-yarder to Anthony Miller with 1:54 left.
Trubisky didn’t stink against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, either. He was 13-of-22 with a touchdown, an interception and a 45-yard sprint up the middle of the field (why, oh why did they not have him running more often?). But the Bears trailed by 13 as backup running back Brian Hill was shredding their defence (obviously Trubisky’s fault).
Foles relieved him after the pick, which came on Chicago’s first possession of the third quarter. He then proceeded to throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including the winner to Miller, a 28-yard toss with 1:53 left.
What had Nagy leaning heavily towards the switch was a bomb Trubisky threw just beyond the fingertips of a wide-open Miller late in the first half.
Two quarters later, Foles and Miller were connecting on the same play. The difference between Foles and Trubisky, we are being led to believe, is what happened in the huddle before the decisive touchdown.
Nagy said that during the two-minute warning and the TV break, Foles and Miller discussed “the mechanics of how they were going to get to that (play), if they showed us a particular look in defence.” Foles had apparently told Miller to run to the “L” in the “ATL” in the end zone.
Well, the Falcons ‘D’ showed the look, and Miller ran to the “L”.
And that’s exactly where Foles threw the ball.
Neat and tidy.
“That’s just one example of the communication in the huddle,” Nagy said. “There were several other plays that we had with them too, that there was some add-libbing, which is something Nick has always done. That’s a strength of his. He’s seen a lot of different defences and I think that will be something that, when it’s done the right way, can be very effective.”
Foles is far from a superstar. He has never started more than 13 games in his eight previous NFL seasons. In 59 career games, he has thrown 74 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, and in 48 starts he has a 26-22 record. But he did have his best game ever on a Super Bowl Sunday, and he does have history with Nagy, who coached him in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Unfortunately for Trubisky, he too has history with Nagy. And Nagy wanted no more of it.
“This is still a team-first game, so if Nick’s the starter, I’ve got to have his back just like he had mine,” Trubisky said. “I’ve just got to continue to get better, work on my craft and make sure I’m pushing my teammates, because I’m still a leader on this team and I feel like the guys still look at me.
“You’ve just got to move forward, accept it and continue to be a great teammate. But it’s a tough deal sometimes.”
It sure is, getting benched before you’ve suffered your first loss of the season. Just like it’ll be a tough deal for Nagy if the move backfires. There’s only one way to go from undefeated, and confidence-wise, he’s lost Trubisky.
Now it’s Foles or bust for the Bears.
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