The Packers will decide if the Bears are good. The Packers will tell us if the “improved’’ Mitch Trubisky is fact or fiction.
Very little about the Bears has made sense this season. Not their six-game losing streak. Not their three-game resuscitation.
But this? The hated Packers as the arbiter of the Bears’ season? It’s how you know the universe is ordered properly.
The teams play Sunday at Soldier Field to help settle all sorts of things, but the biggest is whether the current version of the Bears, winners of three straight, is for real. The Packers are the yardstick, which is great until you remember that they usually take that yardstick and rap it on the Bears’ knuckles.
They thumped the Bears in Week 12, leading 41-10 after three quarters before allowing Trubisky to fill up on junk food. The final score, 41-25, was a fib.
The Bears can make the argument that it was a lifetime ago.
In the four games since, they have averaged 35 points, leading to talk of an offensive identity discovered and a team finally found after that six-game skid. It’s a good story, and perhaps even true, but the final judge will be the Packers, who, besides being the Bears’ nightmare the last 25 years, are the best team in the NFC.
If what the Bears are doing is real, then it has to be Green Bay that puts the stamp of authenticity on it. Has to be. One tends to have the sneaking suspicion that the Packers are always toying with their neighbors to the south, that, deep down, they don’t take them seriously. That they know they’re much better and that they know their rivals know it.
There is no better way for the 8-7 Bears to show that their recent revival isn’t a product of inferior competition than a victory over Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers. A victory gets the Bears into the playoffs (though a Cardinals loss does, too). A Bears loss ensures that the 12-3 Packers will have home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. There will be no sitting of starters for the Pack. The Bears will be getting every bit of them.
We’ll see what Matt Nagy’s team is made of.
Is this a buildup for an inevitable fall? No, it’s reality. A good argument can be made that the Bears’ three-game winning streak is more a reflection of the quality of their opponents than it is the blossoming of the Bears’ offense.
That’s why Sunday is so apt. It should tell us exactly who the Bears and Trubisky are. Most of us think we already know the answer, one way or another, but this might help end the eternal debate about Mitch. And, boy, has it been eternal. How often have we had this discussion about him? And yet it roars back at the first hint of a completed pass.
Will a good game against the Packers tell us, once and for all, that he has finally arrived, after stops in “Major Draft Disappointment’’ and “Hey, Mitch, There’s the Bench”? Probably not, but if he plays well, it will show growth. It will show that he can be good against a talented team in a big moment. There hasn’t been a lot of that in his four seasons in Chicago.
He’s 1-5 against the Packers with a 79.0 passer rating.
Nagy has spent three years singing Trubisky’s praises, leading to repetitive eye-rolling among lots of people who follow the team. It’s why Nagy’s recent take, that Trubisky matured after being benched in favor of Nick Foles this season, has been met with skepticism in certain corners. Trubisky has had a passer rating of at least 97.7 in each of his last four games, but those four games came against 4-7 Detroit, 4-8 Houston, 6-7 Minnesota and 1-13 Jacksonville.
So who is this Mitch, and who are these Bears? Hard to believe we’re still asking these questions, but it makes sense that the Packers will be the ones helping to supply the answers.
From a self-preservation standpoint, maybe the McCaskeys would have been better off pushing the Lions, rather than the Packers, as the Bears’ archrivals over the years. Less blood and fewer tears spilled. But that’s not how life works. You don’t get to choose a rivalry. It chooses you.
And so the Bears have a wonderful chance to change the story of their season. Why do I have the feeling the Packers will be doing the telling, as usual?