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First-and-10: Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy pass the test by not taking the bait

We still don’t know if Mitch Trubisky will become Ben Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson or Alex Smith or Blake Bortles or Jameis Winston or Robert Griffin. But he was a big winner last week.

Trubisky and Bears coach Matt Nagy properly did not take the bait and stayed above the fray in The Great Trubisky Debate last week. It’s a tack that will come in handy if they reach the levels they’re aiming for. In the always interesting dynamic of the media-team relationship, both sides did what they do best. The media created a hot topic that elicited spirited debate. Trubisky and the Bears ignored it and then muted it with a command performance. As sideshows go, this sure beats the Jay Cutler body-language debate. That never seemed to end well.

The debate itself had more bark than bite. For one thing, while former Browns general manager Michael Lombardi has credibility as a longtime NFL front-office guy, he’s not Bill Polian or Ron Wolf. His opinion is viable but hardly defining. He could be right. He could be wrong.

And the national chatter on Trubisky isn’t surprising. Trubisky has no curb appeal. He’s an assembly-required quarterback in a first-year offense, learning new teammates as well as the nuances of Nagy’s system. Does he have the “it” factor that will make him worthy of the price the Bears paid to get him? We’re about to get the first indication of that, with the Bears in playoff contention heading into the final seven games of the regular season.

Bears coach Matt Nagy talks to quarterback Mitch Trubisky before a game against Jets. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Bears coach Matt Nagy talks to quarterback Mitch Trubisky before a game against Jets. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Locally, the Bears believe in their guy — no surprise there. The media in general has noted Trubisky’s progress but hasn’t anointed him the next great thing. It’s not like we see Trubisky as the next Aaron Rodgers while the national media sees him as the next Robert Griffin III.

And things can change quickly. After last season, national observers ranked general manager Ryan Pace among the worst in the NFL — and they weren’t wrong. Now Pace is being mentioned as an Executive of the Year candidate. That’s not wrong, either.

So The Great Trubisky Debate remains ongoing. Ten years ago at midseason, a 24-year-old Rodgers had just signed a six-year, $65 million extension after seven starts with the Packers. He lost seven of his next eight games. (the only victory a 37-3 rout of the Bears). But he got better.

The odds are against Trubisky reaching Rodgers’ level. But he, too, can get better and change the national conversation. In the first three weeks of the season, he was 25th in the NFL in passer rating (77.8). In the last seven weeks, he ranks fifth (114.8). Is that progress? Even naysayers like Lombardi would be hard-pressed to deny that it is.

2. Top quarterback ratings since Week 4: 1. Drew Brees, Saints, 123.1; 2. Wilson, Seahawks, 119.7; 3. Matt Ryan, Falcons, 116.1; 4. Philip Rivers, Chargers, 115.2; 5. Trubisky, 114.8; 6. Jared Goff, Rams, 113.8; 7. Carson Wentz, Eagles, 112.2; 9. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs, 107.5; 9. Deshaun Watson, Texans, 107.3; 10. Andrew Luck, Colts, 105.2.

3. Sign of progress: When the Bears scored four touchdowns to take a 26-0 lead in the second quarter against the Lions, it marked the third time in six games they had led by 26 or more points in the first half. They had accomplished that just twice in the previous 11 seasons.

4. Before Cody Parkey’s miserable game against the Lions, NFL place kickers had hit an upright on 9 of 517 field goals (1.7 percent) and 9 of 658 extra points (1.4 percent). Parkey hit the upright on 4 of 6 kicks (66.7 percent).

The Bears predictably did not panic, though they had little choice after signing Parkey to a four-year, $15 million contract in the offseason with $9 million guaranteed. And it’s the right call, as Parkey should return to form. He was 21-for-23 on field goals with the Dolphins last season, with three game-winning kicks in the final 65 seconds.

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5. For what it’s worth, the Packers’ Mason Crosby is 8-for-8 on field goals and 12-for-12 on PATs since missing four field goals and a PAT against the Lions. Crosby, in fact, hit an upright three times in two games in Weeks 4-5 before regaining his touch.

6. As much as the Bears have struggled in the NFC North in recent years, their record against the Vikings at home is encouraging. They’re 13-3 against the Vikings at home (12-3 at Soldier Field) since 2001. All three losses have been by three points on a field goal in the final seconds.

7. The Bears’ downturn in the John Fox era actually paid dividends when the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Bears — ahead of the 49ers and Packers, among other teams — because they felt the Bears’ 2019 first-round pick would be the highest. That pick currently is 25th, pending the playoffs, if the Bears qualify.

8. The Bears lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-13 (24 takeaways, 11 giveaways). They have had a margin of zero or better in all nine games this season. It’s their longest streak without a negative turnover game since 1990, when they opened the season with 10 straight.

Just two years ago, the Bears were tied for last in the NFL with a minus-20 turnover margin.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Matt Barkley, starting for the Bills just 11 days after signing, had a career day in a 41-10 rout of the Jets. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns.

It was Barkley’s first NFL game since Week 17 of the 2016 season with the Bears — when he had a 59.2 rating but caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Cam Meredith in a 38-10 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

10. Bear-ometer: 10-6 — vs. Vikings (W); at Lions (L); at Giants (W); vs. Rams (L); vs. Packers (W); at 49ers (W); at Vikings (L).