If this was the end, the 34-30 loss to the Lions on Sunday felt appropriate — if not, in some sick way, poetic.
Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback that Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up to draft second overall and ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017, stood in the shotgun ready to take a snap Sunday. It was third-and-four at the Bears’ 17 with just under two minutes left.
The Bears led by three; they merely needed to get a first down to run out most of the clock to secure their first win in 49 days and improve to .500.
Matt Nagy, the head coach hired to mentor Trubisky who benched him midseason but changed his mind two weeks ago, heard the play-call, a pass, and approved. Coordinator Bill Lazor’s call, he believed, worked against both man and zone defenses. The Bears practiced it so often that Nagy would later call it a “Day 1 training camp” play. He preferred the play to a run, which would have at least forced the Lions to use their last timeout.
Trubisky took the snap and bounced up and down on his toes. Receiver Darnell Mooney lined up far right and crossed underneath. Allen Robinson streaked down the left sideline, covered. Tight end Jimmy Graham was bracketed. Running back David Montgomery released to the right flat.
Trubisky held the ball with two hands in front of him, at the midpoint in the numbers on his chest. He saw a receiver open — Anthony Miller ran a hook in-between two linebackers — and began his throwing motion by parting his hands.
His gloved left hand began moving forward when Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara, rushing around the right end, batted at the ball with his left hand and knocked it to the ground. Right tackle Germain Ifedi, who had been beaten badly by Okwara, dove to the ground, but the ball got away from him. Defensive lineman John Penisini fell on it at the Bears’ 7.
The play call was questionable.
The turnover was inexcusable.
Two plays later, running back Adrian Peterson ran five yards over the left guard for a touchdown to give the Lions their first lead of the game. Forty-two seconds earlier, the Bears had led by 10 — before the Lions capped a 96-yard drive against a weaker-by-the-week defense with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.
The loss should spell the end of the Bears’ trinity of Pace, Nagy and Trubisky at the end of the season — if not sooner. The McCaskey family has never fired a coach during the season, no matter how worthy. But Sunday’s loss feels unforgivable.
“I don’t get into any speculation on any of that,” Nagy said when asked if he was concerned for his job. “What my job is to do is to make sure that each and every week I’m giving it everything I can as a coach and as a leader with these guys. I have to make sure that I do that.
“Any other thing that’s a distraction, that would be taking away from our team. And that would be not good for me or them, so I don’t even get into that.”
Asked whether if he was worried about Nagy’s job status, Trubisky, a free-agent-to-be, struck an optimistic tone, much like his boss.
“Obviously, we don’t want to be in this situation,” Trubisky said, “But I don’t believe negativity or holding your head down is going to help us get out of this.”
Trubisky said Sunday what he said after the Packers’ loss seven days earlier, in which he threw two interceptions and allowed a strip-sack touchdown return. He bristled at the suggestion that fumbles — he has four in five starts — were an issue.
“I just gotta take care of the football,” he said. “We emphasize that as an offense, but sometimes players make plays. You gotta give them credit for that. But I was trying to take care of the football and it was one [of] those unfortunate situations. But it happens.”
Not to most people.
Trubisky has become the symbol of the Bears’ biggest failures, both in drafting and coaching. Pace took him over two transcendent quarterbacks, and Nagy has watched Trubisky get worse in each of their three seasons together.
Against a pitiful Lions defense, he tried to rally. Aided by a 15-yard horse-collar tackle penalty, the Bears drove 55 yards on 5 of 6 passing in the game’s final 90 seconds. Robinson caught a third-down pass and got out of bounds a yard short. On fourth-and-one, Montgomery ran for no gain.
It was then, leaving the field, that Trubisky was struck by the magnitude of the result.
“I think I was in shock a little bit,” said Trubisky, who was 26-for-34 for 267 yards and a touchdown. “I thought we were pretty much in control the whole game . . .
“We drove down and we were in control most of the game, they took the lead late but I just believed that we were going to down there and get a score. I was just a little shocked — and disappointed, obviously.”