When general manager Ryan Pace first spoke publicly about his big-money free-agent signing in March, he described why he wanted wide receiver Allen Robinson.
“He’s just a big target that knows how to get open,” Pace said after handing Robinson a three-year, $42 million deal as he was coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. “He’s a savvy route runner that can set guys up.”
Robinson did just that Sunday. With a minute left in the third quarter, he baited Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox on a perfect slant-and-go. When Mitch Trubisky pump-faked, Maddox bit, leaving Robinson to streak down the right sideline and eventually catch a 45-yard pass. It was his longest catch of the season and could’ve gone for more if he hadn’t stumbled a bit upon making the reception.
It was his second catch in as many plays and the start of a dominant 17 minutes of football. Over the Bears’ last four possessions, Robinson caught five passes on six targets for 112 yards.
He scored the Bears’ only touchdown in their 16-15 loss to the Eagles, a 22-yard catch six minutes into the fourth quarter. When they needed him most on the game’s last drive, Robinson caught a 25-yard pass, then an eight-yarder to set up Cody Parkey’s ultimately fruitless field-goal attempt.
Robinson’s numbers in his first season with the Bears don’t jump off the page. In coach Matt Nagy’s egalitarian offense, perhaps his numbers never will. But there was no doubt that at the most critical point of the season, Robinson was the Bears’ No. 1 receiver.
His 143 receiving yards set a Bears postseason record, surpassing Willie Gault’s 129 in Super Bowl XX. His 10 catches tied Matt Forte’s record, set eight years ago.
After all the criticism aimed at Pace because of his Parkey signing, let it be known that his two biggest offseason acquisitions — outside linebacker Khalil Mack and Robinson — lived up to their billing.
A groin injury cost Robinson two games and hampered him in two more. He sat out the season finale with a rib injury. Still, he finished with 754 receiving yards on 55 catches. His 58 receiving yards per game marked the second-highest average of his career.
Add in his postseason performance, and Robinson totaled 897 receiving yards, more than any receiver did during any year of the John Fox era.
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Robinson thinks he’ll only get better. After tearing his left knee in Week 1 of the 2017 season, he spent last offseason recovering. He will have no such limitations this year.
“Just being able to go into OTAs and camp and having that time period to be at 100 percent,” he said. “To be able to condition myself for a whole season, just being able to prepare a lot better. Being able to not be worried about getting back on the field. . . . Being able to do that at 100 percent and getting those 100 percent quality reps is going to be big.”
Knowing Nagy’s system will be, too.
“We all know the plays, we all know the checks,” Robinson said. “And that’s what makes it so much more exciting now. April 3 of last year, we were just trying to figure out the formations and where to get lined up and who was going to be where, just real vanilla stuff.”
NOTE: The Bears signed 10 players to futures contracts. Nine had been part of the team before: offensive lineman Dejon Allen, defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson, wide receiver Tanner Gentry, defensive backs John Franklin III, Cyril Grayson, Michael Joseph and Jonathon Mincy, running back Ryan Nall and linebacker Josh Woods. The Bears also signed linebacker James Vaughters, a Stanford alum who played in the Canadian Football League.