On the second play of the second half of what would be a 36-7 blowout Sunday, the Bears crammed all the nuances of their new offensive identity into one play.
They broke the huddle and sprinted to the line of scrimmage as if their striped retro game socks had caught fire. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky took the snap before he could finish screaming the word “set.”
Trubisky faked a handoff right. Rookie tight end Cole Kmet pulled left, as if he was going to block, and released into the flat. The field cut in half, Trubisky turned his hips and, before he could get hit, winged the ball to Kmet, who has more catches the last two games than the rest of the games combined. Kmet shoved three tacklers to the ground and gained 10 yards.
The play had everything the Bears embraced since bringing Trubisky back off the bench last month: tempo, play-action, misdirection and a focus on the flank.
As the Bears jogged back to the huddle, one question came to mind: Where in the holy heck had that been all season long?
After averaging 19.6 points the first 11 games, the Bears have averaged 33 points the last two. On Sunday against the Texans, they scored the third-most points in the Matt Nagy era and the most in more than two years.
A critical caveat: The Bears’ last two opponents, the Texans and Lions, were ranked No. 27 and 32 by Football Outsiders, respectively, in total defense entering Sunday. Bears fans have witnessed false positives before — see Buccaneers, 2018 — but this game constituted progress, at least, four games after Nagy ceded play-calling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
Running an offense catering to his strengths, Trubisky has, over the last two games, totaled a 117.4 passer rating. The rest of the season: 78.6. Behind a retooled line, David Montgomery — who ran for an 80-yard score on the first offensive play — has averaged 6.6 yards per carry the last two games. Before then: 4.0.
With the Vikings game carrying actual postseason heft comes the more difficult question: Will the new identity work against good — or even competent — defenses?
“I think we’re just gonna play whoever they put in front of us,” Nagy said, “and see where it goes.”
The Bears finally have a road map. Trubisky went 24-for-33 for 267 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t outduel Deshaun Watson but operated the more efficient offense — not that Bears fans will suddenly forgive general manager Ryan Pace for the 2017 draft.
By halftime, Trubisky was 18-for-21 for 178 yards and three touchdowns, including a three-yarder to Allen Robinson with eight seconds to play. He was 4-for-4 on the Bears’ third scoring drive, which ended with a 12-yard pass to Darnell Mooney, and 8-for-8 on the second, which Jimmy Graham ended with a six-yard jump ball.
“I think ‘dialed in’ would be a good word for it,” Trubisky said. “Today my goal was to go out there and be present and just play each play as its own entity.”
That included forgetting about Watson.
“I was just so focused on what I need to do for my team that it really allowed me to block everything else out,’’ he said. “Just the situation that we were in, being on that [six-game] losing streak, that makes you sick to your stomach. So I was willing to do whatever it took for the team today to just go out and get a win — whether it was handing the ball off every time or throwing it every time. Obviously, that’s extreme.”
It’s not, though. Last year, Nagy had him throw 54 passes in one game and 53 in another.
That won’t happen again.
“When you score points, you have a chance to win,” Nagy said. “And we’re scoring points right now, and some of the stuff we’re doing, using [Trubisky’s] legs, doing different things schematically, is able to give us an advantage in the plays.”