Let’s pretend for a moment that the championship window of the current Bears turns out to be the same as the championship window of the 1985 Bears and the 2016 Cubs: one season.
And let’s say that Mitch Trubisky remains the Bears’ golden future, a franchise quarterback in the making, a slinger of impending touchdowns, a coming attraction, a leader of men and a healer of maladies, including halitosis.
Is it possible that Chase Daniel is the right quarterback for this season?
Why, yes, I will go there.
Even asking that question is heresy among the people who still believe, as the Bears do, that Mitch is going to turn into something special. But that’s not what this column is about. It’s about now, not the future, unless we’re talking about Feb. 2 in Miami, the site of Super Bowl LIV.
It’s not the result of a jerking knee to suggest Daniel is better suited not to screw up a very good thing (the Bears’ awesome defense) than Trubisky is at this particular point in their respective careers. Daniel’s performance in relief of an injured Trubisky in a 16-6 victory Sunday against the Vikings should have opened the eyes of any person serious about a Bears title. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown against one the best defenses in the NFL. He didn’t throw an interception.
One game is all it took to remind us that Daniel is so much more confident with the ball in his hands than Trubisky is. His throws are more accurate. He sees the field better. He looks at more than the first receiver when he’s going through his progressions. The offense works better with him on the field.
All of Daniel’s obvious stronger points might be a product of his nine-plus seasons in the league. Trubisky, in his third season, is the more talented athlete, and he might end up being the superior quarterback. But we’re talking about this season, not 2022.
ESPN reported Monday that Trubisky suffered a dislocated left (non-throwing) shoulder and a torn labrum. Coach Matt Nagy wouldn’t confirm that, nor would he predict how long Trubisky would be out.
I don’t believe for a second the Bears will stick with Daniel when Trubisky comes back. They’ve sunk tons of draft currency, money, effort and emotion into Mitch. They traded up to take him second overall in the 2017 draft. They brought in a vibrant, offensive-minded coach to tutor him. With all his might, Nagy has tried to protect Trubisky from defenses and public criticism. Most of what the franchise has done the last three years has been with the quarterback in mind.
But if you gave everyone in the organization truth serum, I’m guessing the vast majority would say Daniel, as limited as he might be athletically, gives the Bears a better chance of winning the Super Bowl this season. Only general manager Ryan Pace, under the influence of the drug, still would be uttering: ‘‘Isn’t it cool how Mitch drove up to our predraft meeting in his grandmother’s beater of a Toyota, the one with 170,000 miles on it? And his study habits are off the charts!’’
In a column before the Vikings-Bears game, I wrote of Daniel: ‘‘When a backup quarterback has started just four games in nine seasons, there’s a reason for it.’’ And it’s true: NFL coaches have found him lacking as a starter. But it’s more than possible the 32-year-old Daniel, thoroughly familiar with Nagy’s system after playing in it last season and in a similar one in Kansas City, has the presence and confidence to do enough to help the Bears win a Super Bowl this season.
It would be hard for even the most loyal Trubisky supporter to be so sure of that with their man under center — certainly not after his first three games this season.
I know the idea of sticking with Daniel smacks of panic, especially for a 3-1 team. It feels slightly amateurish, in the way that one-game overreactions often do. When I raised the possibility of a quarterback controversy on Twitter after the game Sunday, several people told me I was better than that, which, of course, I’m not.
But, please, just look at the Bears’ defense. Look at what it does to otherwise-confident athletes. Without Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith, it held the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, who had been the NFL’s top rusher, to 35 yards on 14 carries. Look at the Bears’ six sacks. Look at linebacker Khalil Mack and try not to be scared, even when he’s on your own team. Look at what’s possible and what’s at stake.
In sports, you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get to win a championship. The ’85 Bears, with the best defense in NFL history, were a one-and-done. The Cubs thought they were set up for multiple titles after the 2016 World Series but have gone steadily down since then.
What if Mack were to get seriously injured next season? I’ll wait for you to stop shuddering.
You play to win now. That’s how pro sports work. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, a statement that’s as biblical as a plague of Bears defenders.
Daniel isn’t as good as Nick Foles was when Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory in relief of an injured Carson Wentz. But he’d give the Bears a better shot at a Super Bowl this season than Trubisky would.
Perhaps Mitch’s injury will linger. Perhaps the Bears will suggest subtly to him that a long, long rest is what’s needed to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy. There are worse things than that. Offhand, one worse thing is not winning a Super Bowl this season.