How will Mitch Trubisky react when the lights are brightest? Let’s find out
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With the Eagles-Bears playoff game fast approaching, two competing forces are colliding over Mitch Trubisky.
One is that quarterbacks’ legacies are made in the postseason, when the games matter more and the scrutiny can be poison-tipped.
The other, put in question form, is, “Can we stop talking about that?’’
Sunday will be Trubisky’s first playoff game. The question looming over everything is not how the Bears’ defense will play or what the weather will be like. It’s how he’ll react to a tense atmosphere with a season on the line. It’s whether he’ll be able to handle postseason football.
It’s all tied to the broader topic of what we’ll be thinking about him after the playoffs and, further, how we’ll look at him when his career is over.
Too soon? Of course, it’s too soon! But so is thrusting a 23-year-old into the starting quarterback job, the hardest job in sports, four games into his rookie season, as the Bears did with Trubisky last year. So is expecting a lot from him in his second season, which is what the Bears have done this season.
That’s how the turbo-charged NFL rolls. The finger is always on the fast-forward button. “What have you done for me lately?’’ has given way to, “What will we be saying about you later?’’
“I’m not really thinking about any of that or the other quarterbacks or the legacy,’’ Trubisky said. “We’re just focusing on the Philadelphia Eagles this week. Stay focused on the task at hand. Practice really hard this week, then go out there and execute. We can talk about all that when I’m, like, a lot older or whatever.’’
Eagles coach Doug Pederson knows what the playoffs can do for a quarterback’s reputation, having been a backup to Brett Favre for seven seasons in Green Bay.
“Obviously, there are quarterbacks out there that can light up the regular season, and get to the postseason and they don’t do anything,’’ he told Chicago reporters Wednesday. “Then there are those that light up the regular season, or maybe have a decent regular season, but when the lights get brightest, they shine the brightest. Guys like Drew Brees in the past. Obviously, Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers has done it. You have guys like that who have really shined under the spotlight.
“I think sometimes it’s unfair to a quarterback, but at the same time, they are measured by playoff wins and possibly Super Bowl wins. Whether you win or lose a playoff game, it’s definitely a learning experience that young quarterbacks can take away from and grow and get better.’’
Trubisky has grown this season. After a three-interception performance against the Rams, he admitted he had tried to do too much in an extra-hyped game. In the three games since, he hasn’t thrown a pick. Bears coach Matt Nagy said that every game, every experience and every mistake have been building blocks for Trubisky this season. Even that miserable Rams game.
“How do you use that to help you down the road?’’ Nagy said. “Well, here we are down the road. He’s going to try to take all these experiences he’s had and use it to help us as we move forward.’’
Here we are. With the attendant pressure, attention and raw nerve endings.
No one knows how Trubisky will react to it because he hasn’t been in this situation before. There haven’t been many Bears games with a playoff atmosphere in the regular season. The closest might have been their victory against Minnesota in the regular-season finale. Trubisky’s efficiency was a big reason the Vikings will be watching TV, rather than playing football, this weekend.
“We blocked everything else out on the outside,’’ he said. “We just wanted to go out there and compete and win. And that’s what we did.’’
Nagy said his message to Trubisky this week is simple.
“To not change,’’ Nagy said. “For him to continue to do just what he does. Don’t put any extra, added pressure on himself. Don’t do it [to him] as coaches. We need to be there to help him.
“. . . It’s not going to be anything completely different for him. Last week, he had a little bit of a taste of it, and I thought he did a great job of handling the situation. It will be a new situation for us together for the first time, and I’m looking forward to it.’’
These are the kind of games that can define a quarterback. John Elway was always a great quarterback, one clearly headed for the Hall of Fame even midway through his career. But when he won a Super Bowl (and then another) with Denver, his legend became much bigger.
What will Trubisky’s legacy be? Let’s start finding out.