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First-and-10: Mitch Trubisky down but not out

The Bears QB is closer to Blake Bortles than he is to Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, but — red flags notwithstanding — he can be salvaged if coach Matt Nagy develops with him.

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky completed 34-of-54 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 36-25 loss to the Saints on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky completed 34-of-54 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 36-25 loss to the Saints on Sunday at Soldier Field.
David Banks/Getty Images

Two years ago this week, the Jaguars were 3-3 after a loss to the Rams. And even though they had equaled their 2016 victory total, struggling quarterback Blake Bortles’ was a target.

The former No. 3 overall pick, who had flashed just enough to tease Jaguars fans and entice the organization, was typically inconsistent. His 79.2 passer rating for the season was inflated by two garbage-time touchdown drives, so he really was worse than the numbers.

And a lot of fans had seen enough, as reported by the Florida Times-Union.

‘‘Bortles is a dead man walking.’’

‘‘It is obvious Bortles will not rebound beyond below average.’’

‘‘We do not have a franchise quarterback.’’

‘‘Bortles remains a lost cause.’’

As it turned out, Bortles wasn’t a lost cause. With a suddenly steady hand, Bortles got on a mini-roll — 11 touchdown passes, three interceptions and a 96.2 rating in his next eight games — and the Jaguars went 7-1 to make the playoffs. In fact, with Bortles playing a key role, the Jaguars came within a play of reaching the Super Bowl, losing to the Patriots 24-20 in the AFC Championship Game after leading 20-10 in the fourth quarter.

It was good enough for the Jaguars to sign Bortles to a three-year, $54 million extension in the offseason. But just as quickly as Bortles proved his critics wrong, he proved them right. He reverted to his inconsistent form in 2018, with 13 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and a 79.8 passer rating and was dumped in the offseason in favor of Nick Foles.

With each passing week, Bortles becomes the cautionary tale for general manager Ryan Pace, coach Matt Nagy and the Bears with Mitch Trubisky. Just because Trubisky isn’t Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, is he capable of winning the Super Bowl? Can they stay committed to him and still be open-minded enough to come to the realization that he’s not the guy? Can they avoid being strung along by intermittent flashes? These evaluations are much easier in your living room or the corner bar than in the GM’s office.

The Bears are in no man’s land with Trubisky right now. The red flags — his poor footwork after two-plus seasons of tutoring in mechanics by NFL coaches; missing the same third-down throw when the lights are on that he nailed every time in practice; his inability to read a defense and find the open receiver — make him look like a lost cause. Those aren’t qualities that get you drafted No. 2 overall.

But while those criticisms are fair, it’s too early — from Pace’s standpoint — to give up on him as a competent quarterback who can help a defense-driven Bears team make the playoffs. He’s at an all-time low: a poor performance against the Saints after a three-week layoff in an offense that is just as off-kilter as he is.

Then again, what Trubisky did last season — when he was third in the NFL in QBR — wasn’t a mirage. And if Nagy can solve the systemic issues plaguing his offense, it’s not unreasonable to think Trubisky can get back to that level. And that Trubisky would give the Bears a chance in every game. This one doesn’t.

This thing can go in a lot of directions from here. And unless Trubisky continues to drag the offense down and force the Bears’ hand, the experience with him is a long way from over. It’s not ideal, but it’s not unsalvageable.

2. For what it’s worth, Trubisky also was dreadful against the Rams when he returned from a two-game absence last season. He responded with solid games against the Packers (two touchdowns, no interceptions, 120.4 rating) and 49ers (one touchdown, no interceptions, 113.5 rating), completing 79 percent of his passes (45-for-57).

The Bears’ offense isn’t in the same shape now as it was then, of course. But it’s still likely Trubisky will be better against the Chargers than he was against the Saints. That would be a good start for an offensive revival.

3. Numbers game: In the 10 games before his injury last season against the Vikings, Trubisky had 51 rushes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. In the 10 games since his injury, he has had 25 rushes for 88 yards and no touchdowns.

4. The bright side: The Bears’ season looks lost right now. But if they can snap out of it, the upcoming schedule isn’t as daunting as it once appeared. In fact, their next seven opponents are a combined 6-20 since Week 4: the Chargers (1-3), Eagles (2-2), Lions (0-3), Rams (1-3), Giants (1-3), Lions (0-3) and Cowboys (1-3).

5. The Roquan Smith issue might not be over yet. While Smith is back in good standing with the team, his play since missing the game against the Vikings for personal reasons has been lacking. He had nine tackles against the Raiders and six against the Saints, but he just hasn’t been the same player he was before his personal issue. Nick Kwiatkoski was better against the Vikings than Smith has been in the last two games.

6. While Trubisky is in the crosshairs of many critics, the solution to the Bears’ offensive woes lies more with Nagy. He’s in a developmental stage, as well. Not only is he still learning how to call a game and outfox defensive coordinators, but he has to do it with his head-coaching responsibilities.

It seems like one of a few parts of the job that are tougher than he thought. His future depends on his ability to learn and adjust. Coordinators have figured out what he did last season. Now it’s up to him to counter.

7. The Bears are 28th in the NFL in first-and-10 yardage (5.0 average), but they’re also last in the NFL in converting second- and third-down situations with three yards or fewer to go (43 percent).

They were 1-for-6 against the Saints in the first half Sunday, with Trubisky completing 2 of 6 passes for minus-two yards. The only conversion was a third-and-one pass to Trey Burton for a three-yard gain.

8. The loss to the Saints was the Bears’ first by more than a touchdown under Nagy. Their previous losses were by one, three (overtime), seven, three (overtime), one, seven and three points.

The Bears’ largest deficit last season was 14 points (14-0 in the first quarter against the Cardinals). They already have trailed by 17 or more twice this season (17-0 against the Raiders and 36-10 against the Saints).

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: 49ers kicker Robbie Gould made three field goals in inclement conditions (wind, rain) in a 9-0 victory against the Redskins in Landover, Maryland. He also missed from 45 yards, his seventh miss this season.

Runner-up: The Titans’ Cody Parkey kicked a 45-yard field goal that made the difference in a 23-20 victory against the Chargers. He also missed one of his three extra points, clanging it off the left upright.

10. Bear-ometer: 6-10 — vs. Chargers (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Lions (L); vs. Cowboys (L); at Packers (L); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (L).