A long, long time ago: Remember Bears 48, Buccaneers 10?
Matt Nagy hoped Mitch Trubisky’s six-touchdown game in 2018 would be a springboard. Two years later, Trubisky is on the bench, and Nagy’s offense is still searching for its high-output groove.
The last time the Bears played the Buccaneers, Mitch Trubisky threw six touchdown passes in a 48-10 rout on Sept. 30, 2018, at Soldier Field — a performance coach Matt Nagy thought could be a watershed moment for Trubisky.
“Hopefully, this is a day we look back and say, ‘You remember that day he had that great game, and it helped catapult him,’ ’’ Nagy said.
As it turns out, that glorious moment will go down as one of the great false positives in Bears history. Two years later, Trubisky is on the bench, and Nagy’s star as part of the wave of young, progressive, outside-the-box-thinking coaches has dimmed considerably.
The Bears are 3-1 but have done nothing to shake the label that they mostly feast on losing teams. Their three victories have come against the Lions (1-3), Giants (0-4) and Falcons (0-4).
The return of the Buccaneers to Chicago puts the Nagy era into a big-picture perspective. The team the Bears so thoroughly whipped in 2018 — former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said at the time: “We should fire everyone that was on that field, starting with me; that was horrific’’ — returns as a revamped contender and five-point road favorite with a proven coach in Bruce Arians and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady.
The Bears? They’re still trying to live up to the promise of that magnificent 2018 performance. Trubisky’s six TD passes tied Johnny Lujack for the second-most in franchise history. His 154.6 passer rating is the third-best in franchise history.
“That was one of those games where a lot of things went our way,” Nagy said. “It was an explosive day and one of those you always remember. It’s not easy to have those games all the time.”
Nobody expected the Bears to be that prolific every week. What’s disconcerting is that they’ve lost the template that created that blowout:
- The Bears scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions, had 400 total yards and scored 38 points in the first half in that game. In 2019 and 2020, the Bears are last in the NFL in first-half scoring (7.7 points per game).
- Trubisky rushed for 53 yards on three attempts (17.7 average). In 2019 and ’20, Trubisky has averaged 15.6 rushing yards per game and 5.0 per carry — a declining critical element in his game that accelerated his demise.
- Tight end Trey Burton caught passes for 47 and 39 yards. The Bears haven’t had a pass play longer than 30 yards to a tight end since. In 2019 and ’20, Bears tight ends are averaging 29.3 yards per game and 9.0 yards per catch.
- With momentum on his side, Nagy used a formation he called “Willy Wonka” in the second quarter in which backup quarterback Chase Daniel lined up next to Trubisky in the shotgun, with both QBs looking like they would get the snap. Trubisky faked a handoff to Daniel and shoveled a pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a three-yard touchdown. In 2019 and ’20, the “fun plays” have all but dried up.
- Running back Tarik Cohen was at his best as a gadget weapon with 174 total yards on 20 touches (8.7 average) — 13 carries for 53 yards and seven receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. In 2019 and ’20, Cohen averaged 41 total yards per game and 4.8 per touch.
Nagy still has hope that the Bears will get back into that offensive groove. But two years ago, they had more than hope.
“There’s things we did in that game that we continue to grow from,” Nagy said, “but we understand that this process with this offense with where we’re at in 2½ years now . . . I feel right now — building identity with some new coaches, some new players — that we’re in the right direction.”