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1st-and-10: Can Nick Foles take the heat off Bears GM Ryan Pace?

After Mitch Trubisky’s failure, critics don’t think the Bears’ GM should be the one to find the next franchise quarterback. But Foles’ performance Sunday is — for now — an indication that not every quarterback decision Pace makes turns to dust. 

Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9, celebrating the go-ahead touchdown with Anthony Miller) completed 16-of-29 passes for 188 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 95.2 passer rating in the Bears’ 30-26 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9, celebrating the go-ahead touchdown with Anthony Miller) completed 16-of-29 passes for 188 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 95.2 passer rating in the Bears’ 30-26 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

General manager Ryan Pace got Mitch Trubisky wrong, but he might still get quarterback right for the Bears. What then?

Pace has been unmerci-fully but understandably flogged for trading up to take Trubisky in the 2017 draft when he could have stayed put and taken Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes. Combined with his earlier signing of Mike Glennon in free agency in 2017, Pace is disqualified from choosing the Bears’ next franchise quarterback in the eyes of many fans, fanboys and critics.

We’ll see about that. Nick Foles’ heroic performance in Sunday’s 30-26 victory over the Falcons is — for now — an early indication that not every quarterback decision Pace makes turns to dust.

So with Trubisky officially in the “bust” category, would Foles’ success take the heat off Pace for his quarterback missteps? Even with a more difficult second-half schedule, the Bears still could finish 9-7 and in the playoffs, especially with seven teams in each conference making the postseason instead of six.

Pace would be off the hot seat in that scenario — at least at Halas Hall, if not in the court of public opinion.

And then it gets interesting. Is Foles the quarterback of the immediate future? Will the Bears be looking for a franchise quarterback in the 2021 draft? Or with Foles in place, will they settle for trying to find their Russell Wilson (or Gardner Minshew) in the middle rounds?

Either way, barring a collapse this season — stranger things have happened — it’s likely Pace will be the guy making that decision. The prospect is not as discouraging as it might look. Pace is astute in other personnel areas and seems like someone who learns from his mistakes. And he’ll have more help on the next decision than he had with Trubisky and Glennon.

When Pace drafted Trubisky, his head coach was John Fox. His offensive coordinator was Dowell Loggains. His quarterbacks coach was Dave Ragone. This time he’ll presumably have a little more quarterback acumen on his side with Matt Nagy, John DeFilippo and Bill Lazor weighing in.

They surely had a hand in helping Pace decide on Foles. Pace had nowhere to go but up when it comes to quarterback evaluation. But at this moment, it looks like he’s at least getting better at it.

2. The criticism of Pace for the Trubisky miss is fair and warranted. But it’s also fair to point out that as resolute as Pace was about Trubisky, he was far from the only one who thought Trubisky was the best quarterback prospect in that draft.

In fact, a review of quarterback rankings and mock drafts shows Trubisky was the consensus choice as the first quarterback taken in 2017. Mock drafts — some based on inside information/mis-information — had the Browns, Jets, Bills, 49ers, Cardinals and Chargers taking Trubisky ahead of Watson and Mahomes.

So it’s not like Pace was some rogue GM trying to outsmart everybody else by taking a player nobody else wanted. He bit, and he bit hard, and made a mistake that could still end up being a fireable offense. But you can bet there are some GMs around the league thanking their lucky stars that Pace made their mistake for them.

3. Maybe Foles should have been the starter all along, but he’s in his comfort zone as a replacement player. Since his rookie season (when he was 1-5 as a replacement for Michael Vick), he is 18-4 with a 105.1 passer rating (45 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) in 22 starts as an in-season replacement for the Week 1 starter.

As the established No. 1 quarterback to start the season, Foles is 10-13 with a 76.4 passer rating with the Eagles in 2014, the Rams in 2015 and the Jaguars in 2019.

4. Until Foles worked his magic Sunday against the Falcons, the Bears were 0-34 in games in which they allowed 25 or more points (0-5 under Nagy) since a 38-31 victory over the Browns in Week 15 in 2013.

That streak of futility started the following week when Foles and the Eagles beat the Bears 54-11 at Lincoln Financial Field. Since then, every NFL team had won at least one game while allowing 25 or more points — 231 times in all — except for the Bears.

5. Foles’ heroics Sunday rate as the third-best relief performance by a Bears quarterback since at least 1980 — behind Jim McMahon’s three touchdowns in a span of eight offensive plays (70, 25 and 43 yards) in a 33-24 victory over the Vikings at the Metrodome in 1985 and Shane Matthews’ two touchdowns in the final 4:08 of regulation in a 37-31 overtime victory against the 49ers in 2001 at Soldier Field.

6a. While Trubisky critics are probably wondering what took so long in benching him, Nagy deserves credit for a relatively quick hook Sunday.

Trubisky’s performance this season until the second half against the Falcons (an 87.4 passer rating) was above the standard for poor quarterback play that has warranted a change — Glennon (79.8, 1-3), Rex Grossman (45.2, 1-2), Kyle Orton (59.9, 9-4), Jonathan Quinn (65.5, 0-2), Kordell Stewart (56.0, 1-4) and others in recent Bears history.

Nagy had a 2-0 team with a quarterback who had already overcome mistakes to rally the Bears to victory in the fourth quarter this season, yet he still pulled the plug. It’s a good sign that to Nagy, Trubisky’s poor judgment on his third-quarter interception wasn’t just one mistake, but the latest mistake. It’s not as easy to see it from that standpoint from inside Halas Hall as it is from outside Halas Hall.

6b. Trubisky’s 45-yard run that set up the Bears’ first touchdown against the Falcons — remember that? — was the second-longest run of his career (after a 46-yarder against the Saints in 2017) and the fourth-longest rush by a Bears quarterback since at least 1940. Bobby Douglass had a 57-yard touchdown run against the Browns in 1972, and Ed Brown

had a 48-yard run against the 49ers in 1959.

7. While you’re celebrating the Bears’ victory, consider this: A week after they survived what would have been a game-winning pass in the end zone against the Giants at home, the 49ers beat the Giants 36-9 at the Meadowlands — without Jimmy Garappolo, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas and Raheem Mostert.

8. The List: USA Today’s quarterback rankings for the 2017 NFL Draft: 1. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina; 2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson; 3. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech; 4. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame; 5. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh; 6. Davis Webb, California.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Browns kicker Cody Parkey — notorious for his “double doink” that cost the Bears their playoff game against the Eagles after the 2018 season — was 2-for-2 on field goals (42 and 30 yards) and 4-for-4 on PATs in a 34-20 victory over Washington.

Special mention: Washington receiver Dontrelle Inman caught touchdown passes of 17 and 11 yards that gave them the lead in that game, to no avail.

10. Bear-ometer: 10-6 — vs. Colts (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Panthers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (L); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).